Monday, January 24, 2011

Parenting Thoughts of the Moment

Kelly and I got back to podcasting last night (hope to have a few episodes out very soon) and now I'm thinking about parenting principles. Again. :) I don't have time for a super long post (I know that's a relief), but here are a few general things I'm thinking over.

Parenting principles matter. They matter tremendously, even if 100% of the outcome (the adult that the child will become) is not within the parent's control. Amy Chua has parenting principles, and her parenting tools and style will shape her children for years. I have parenting principles, and I imagine that my parenting tools and style will shape my kids, too (and my failures to live up to them will also affect them). Parenting principles matter, and I think it's so beneficial to be as absolutely clear about them as you can be.

So that's one thought. Here's another:

Punishments and Rewards. We really don't use them at all; we really, really don't. There are no time out chairs or sticker charts at my house. I don't use punishments or rewards on my kids any more than I use them on myself or my husband.

When the result of my actions or decisions occurs, I must cope with it. If I click a link I shouldn't have and it spams my whole email address book (which happened lately), I must do my best to apologize and clean up the mess. If I forget to pay a bill, I must get it paid quickly and deal with the fact that there is a penalty for paying it late. If I have wronged someone, I must make amends. If I cause a mess, I must clean it up. If I make the same mistake a whole bunch of times, I must figure out a new process so I will remember not to make that mistake again.

When my husband doesn't bring his dishes out of the family room or doesn't take the garbage can to the curb, I don't ground him. I don't have a chart on the wall where he can put a smiley face sticker each time he remembers, with a reward for 10 stickers. We talk about the problem and make a plan for handling it.

I make mistakes all the time, every day, and the way I remember to do better is to accept responsibility for my mistake, try to fix it, and try to find ways to improve so that I don't make that mistake again. Same with my husband and all of the other grownups I know.

And that is just what we expect of the kids, only they're little, so they need our help. We help them A.) understand that they need to take responsibility, fix it, etc, and B.) help them implement those steps. No punishment necessary. No reward systems necessary. Lots of reminding people where we keep the paper towels (they tend to forget in the panic of the moment). Lots of honest expression of emotion (from parents and kids). Lots of communication. Lots  of empathy and helping them learn coping skills when they are upset by something. Lots of celebration of accomplishments.

They are learning to take responsibility for mistakes and pride in their accomplishments. No artificial negative or positive reinforcement necessary. Which is good because when I think about punishment and reward systems, they sound like quite a lot of extra work for me, and I'm already really busy.

One more thought, a nicely condensed tweet I sent out a couple weeks ago:

The purpose and goal of parenting is not a well-behaved child. Good behavior is something they learn on the way to self-discipline.

Sometimes this is hard to remember in the moment, when all you really want is for them to stop blowing straw wrappers across the restaurant. But what I want for my children is much larger than the behavior issue of the moment. I'm sure we all want that.

So to sum up my three parenting thoughts for the moment: principles matter; kids will learn how to behave when Mom or Dad helps them handle and accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions/inactions; and behavior matters, but self-discipline matters more in the long run (which is influenced by the parenting principles of their parents....and oh look at that, I've gone cross-eyed!).



Stephanie Ozenne said...

I am *so* with you. We don't really use punishments and rewards in our house (for the most part - work in progress).

Anyway, I'm facing a tough situation right now and given the timing of this post, I thought I'd ask! My 4 year old son has an iPod touch (yes, we bought it for him, yes we knew he would want to play it all the time). He can't self regulate his time with it - he is extremely tenacious and when he's playing a game that is hard he wants to keep going and going and going until he solves it (hello, Plants vs. Zombies!). Trouble is, if he plays *too* much, his sleep is disrupted that night as his brain continues to work on the game. This wakes up the rest of us, which is the big problem. I also just don't want him to use the iPod instead of doing a variety of things during the day. But he's 4, so the list of things he "must" do each day is pretty short, leaving too much time for iPod.

This leaves me in the position of iPod referee, which I do not enjoy. Today I've hit upon giving him the iPod for 30 minutes at a time but several times through the day. That way he *does* go do other things and he hasn't used it so much by the end of the day that he won't sleep. But I still have a bit of a fight on my hands each time he has to give it up. (it would be easier, but not necessarily better to just have him use it once a day for a longer time)

Obviously, I'm struggling with how to give him as much autonomy as possible without destroying his sleep or him doing almost nothing else for the day. Any suggestions for how I should handle this, or think about it?



Kate Yoak said...

Jenn, THANKS. I needed to hear all that. I've been thinking a lot about these issues, sort of like getting a song stuck in my head - and hopefully, this will help it get unstuck. I know, I need to write some about this, too... I don't ever punish kids on purpose - except when I am so mad, I want revenge! And as soon as I figure that out, I apologize. :-) (Go, honest emotions!) One thing we do is - not timeout - but they get to go to their room to calm down, and "I'll be there in a couple of minutes, so we can talk." It's sort of - go, give me 2 minutes, so I wouldn't kill you, and I can be a loving mommy helping you figure out why how to AVOID GETTING KILLED in the future.... I mean... coping with reality.. you know...

Stephanie, I'll jump in. We have iphones running around the house - similar things. What I do is - explain, explain, explain, explain again. Why, in detail, in broad strokes, with jokes, dead-serious... it takes after a while... In the meantime, either setup a temporary rule, or distractions, or rely on my reputation. And I have learned not to worry about "not doing other things." Every such phase passes. A child wants to do nothing but X. Then he moves on. They always do. :-) At least, at that age - and if it's not a defense mechanism. Good luck!

Mary said...

Excellent post, Jenn. I love it, and the condensed tweet is a great quote. I've been having the same thoughts lately, discussing with my husband how grateful I am to have the positive discipline principles in our lives. It's so wonderful to have principles you can verbalize. Handling situation by situation without any guiding principles would be so daunting. (Hey, just like living life without philosophy!)

Despite the popularity of parenting as a topic, there seems to be an abundance of "tips, tools, and tricks" and "how to" guides out there, but unfortunately not much on basic principles. (Just flip through any parenting magazine.) A lot of the material is good, but without the underlying principles, doesn't unite the ideas together. Parents are left trying to piecemeal various different ideas into how they parent.

I haven't really been put to the test yet of having to stand up to my parenting principles, since my only child is a toddler and isn't old enough to really test me yet. But I think through how I would handle different scenarios all the time. My current struggle is how to handle situations between my parents and my siblings. My 6 younger siblings range in age from 23 years old - 6 years old. My parents have one teenager at home now, and I witness the opposite of positive discipline all the time. My mom tells me about the difficulties she has with them, which opens up the door for sharing advice. It's very hard to try to give advice to your parents, who have 7 kids, two of whom are grown and on their own now. (And turned out pretty well I have to say!) I say to her that I'm not an experienced parent yet, but I definitely have experience as a teenager, and sometimes try to talk about it from that perspective, and remind them of the things they did that helped me. Then I try to tie that to the general principle I am trying to illustrate.

Thanks for the great post!

Stephanie Ozenne said...

Kate - thanks for the reminder to not worry about him "doing nothing else." He has done this before with other video games! You'd think I'd know by now that he'll get over it eventually. And to be perfectly fair, my husband obsessively played Plants vs. Zombies in the evenings for quite a while when *he* first found it. And now that the kids are playing it, he's pulled it back out again a little. :)

Kate Yoak said...

Glad you liked it! I am not as big into Plants vs. Zombies as I am into The Creeps! I suggest you show *that* to your husband who clearly does not have a current diversion/obsession.

It is amazing to me how often I have to be reminded about the parenting principles I have discovered, believe in, and succeeded with. Why is it, each time there is a new parenting challenge, I have to rediscover all the solutions anew? This is why blogosphere is so helpful!

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks for the comments. :)

Stephanie, your question would be an excellent one for our podcast. Do you mind if we use it (you would be anonymous if you want)? I'm wondering if since the issue is related to disturbing his sleep, maybe he should stop playing it earlier in the day, so his brain has time to "come down" from playing it for a little while before bedtime. Perhaps an upper limit on when he needs to stop playing for the day, like 6pm or something?

Just a thought for now. I do agree with Kate that sometimes they go through phases just like we adults do. I'm in the middle of a rather serious knitting obsession these days, for example. But I'm better at self-regulating because I know what the consequences would be if I neglected my other stuff in favor of knitting (tempting though it would be). This is all good experience for him, really, and it's great that you are there to help him make the connection between his sleep issues and his inability to take a break from the game.

Kate, I totally understand about the need for Mommy Time Out (that's what we call it here). Sometimes I need to just step away in order to prevent "red laser beams" from shooting out of my eyes and onto my kids. :) In fact, Ryan was recently congratulating me on the fact that red laser beams have NOT shot out of my eyes lately. I'm doing much better at handling my anger, go me!

Mary, it must be hard to be in the position of offering advice to one's own parents. My parents follow my lead with my own kids, but they aren't currently actually parenting anyone. My mother-in-law is legal guardian for my brother-in-law who is developmentally disabled, so she has a more active parenting role and we talk about issues sometimes, but it's definitely more conversational and less advice-giving.

Kate Yoak said...

You reminded me of something that happened.

Alex: "Mommy, may be you should go to your room to feel better. You know, it's what I do to calm down."
Mommy: "I'd love to, but you guys will bother me every two minutes, so I'll be even more upset at the end!"
Alex: "This time we won't. I'll take care of Lily. You can go. It's important."

Seriously? Well... it worked!

Jenn Casey said...

Kate, that is awesome! How mature he sounds! It is harder to take a Mommy Time Out when you have a toddler or baby. I've been known to take the littlest one with me to my own time out, because he's usually not the one I'm mad at anyway. :)

By the way, I have been remiss in not thanking you for the kind things you said about me on your blog recently. It meant a lot. So thanks.

Stephanie Ozenne said...

Jenn - please do use it on the podcast (I subscribe!). :) No need to make it anonymous. I'm looking forward to the next release!

Stephanie Ozenne said...

As for the iPod stuff, he does respond pretty well to "it's getting close to bedtime so it's time to stop." He usually wants some time after dinner because Dad is home to help with the Zombies, but it hasn't caused problems. I've also had success in getting him to play *other* games - there are lots of simple / less intense games that don't seem to cause problems with sleeping. Also, I think the sleep disturbance may have only happened for a few days when he was first learning the game - thankfully they have not been a common occurrence!

I remember when I first played Guitar Hero, when I closed my eyes that night I could see notes streaming before my eyes, but it didn't last too long. We've talked about how your brain works on your problems while you sleep, so if you're problems are all Plants vs. Zombies that's what your brain will be working on all night - he seems to get that.