Friday, April 29, 2011

Parenting Challenge--Follow Up (Part 1)

I got some great ideas from my readers who read my parenting challenge post of last week. Thank you so much! I meant to follow up on this a bit earlier in the week, but it's been a week of sickness and other (non-parenting) challenges, so I'm just now getting to it.

First, I'll highlight some of the many excellent suggestions and thoughts so you don't have to go back and read all of the comments if you don't want to:

Miranda wrote:

What would be the natural consequences of someone constantly getting into my stuff without my permission?
- Buy your own
- You're not allowed to use this anymore
- I'm locking up my possessions
- Talk about how I feel

Miranda also knows my kids personally and witnessed one of the incidents:

It might also be worth it to make a Big Announcement when you have something that you do not want opened/touched until later. I noticed M rationalizing the craft thing by saying it was for everyone/she didn't know.

Kelly (who also knows my children very well):

Have you brought it up at your family meeting and gotten the kids to brainstorm it with you?


I think this behavior is probably thoughtless, rather than any kind of intent. It seems primarily rude and inconsiderate, and it seems like maybe she isn't in the habit of thinking about what she should do or what you would want her to do about your stuff.
Could you guys make her a chart to help her remember? 
The chart could list the steps you would like her to think through. Such as: 
  1. Does this belong to mom?
  2. Would she want you to take it without asking?
  3. Could it be broken?
  4. Could it get lost easily? 
With a chart like this, you aren't just teaching her the rules to memorize, but teaching her to think considerately and kindly. These are the kinds of questions that we ask ourselves about other people's things, and perhaps she needs practice thinking about them.
Also, thinking this way every time she wants to take something out might make it routine, and since she is a sweet child who doesn't want to upset people,

Hanah (who also knows my kids) suggests that perhaps I've got children who are too independent:

In most situations, you want your kids to be proactive and not ask your permission or help with every little thing. So, essentially, you've trained them well ... too well.
Perhaps a talk along the lines of, it's great that you can do things by yourself and be independent. But people who are independent also have to use self-control to avoid doing things that will hurt or inconvenience other people.
And making sure the boundaries are very clear of stuff you don't want them to mess with. Things in a particular box or drawer or area, or specific items like in the display items situation.
Maybe also ask them if there are things that belong to them that you shouldn't mess with.

Jennifer writes:

I don't think there's any one strategy that will address this particular problem, because there are too many different kinds of "don't mess with that right now" situations, as you yourself list. There are things the kids are unequivocally not supposed to mess with (because they're dangerous/extremely fragile/not toys), there are things that are just messy, there are things that are annoying to have scattered around when you need them, etc. etc. etc.
And then offers several suggestions including putting messy stuff away, letting them experience the natural consequences of not being able to find things, and physically blocking them from access (certainly something I've done with the younger people).

Carly suggests:

Do your older children earn pocket money? If so, you could require them to reimburse you for anything they use up without permission...not as a punishment, but as way of teaching them personal responsibility.

Chris L offers a humorous (or humerus?) way of handling this issue:

Borrow her elbow. Because you need it to push down a stamp or something. If she objects: "Oh does this elbow belong to you? You mean I can't just use it anytime I want? Not even if I really just want to? Maybe I should ask you before I borrow it."

Wonderful suggestions, all! We have adopted not one, but several of them, which I'll tell you about in a minute. First I'll write a bit about what I liked about the suggestions and maybe offer a bit more context.

I like how Miranda listed ways she'd handle a similar situation with an adult such as a roommate or friend. That is exactly the kind of step that's helpful to me when trying to determine if the things I want to do in response to something like this are going to be punishy or not. Obviously I can't (and wouldn't want to) employ every natural consequence with the kids as I would an adult (Miranda points out rightly that I can't and wouldn't evict them!).

But it's a good place to start--how would I handle this issue if I had a similar problem with Brendan? Why? What will the kids learn from my handling this issue with them in a similar way? Will they understand where I'm coming from and possibly learn some principles here? Will I be demonstrating to them how I'd like them to behave if they are similarly wronged by someone in the future? And will this be a way for me to possibly get what I want (both respect for my property and independent thinking children)?

If the answers to the last three questions are "yes" then it's a good bet that my reaction is not a punishment but rather a natural consequence.

Kelly reminded me to Assume Positive Intent. Always good to be reminded of that, and I think she's got Morgan pegged correctly. Morgan has been acting thoughtlessly (Ryan has been acting sneakily, which is a different issue, though I have handled this the same way as you'll see). Remembering that Morgan isn't trying to drive me insane helps me remember not to be driven insane. Her chart suggestion is also perfect for Very Visual Morgan.

Hanah points out that these are the kinds of mistakes kids who are pretty independent might make--ask forgiveness instead of permission. I also like the idea that I ask them permission to use their things. I do this already, but making that explicit might help them see this principle more concretely being applied respectfully toward them. And it models how I'd like them to ask me (and Brendan and each other).

Jennifer offers some good concrete suggestions such as putting precious things up and allowing natural consequences.

Carly thinks they should pay for the things they've used up out of their allowance, and indeed, Morgan paid me back for the craft project she used up. She did this eagerly and without delay, I think in part because she felt remorseful about what she'd done. When applicable, I plan to continue to do this, mostly because it's only just that you pay for things you used up.

Chris L's suggestion that I use playful parenting to demonstrate the principle is excellent. I should have considered that before now. When I remember to use playful parenting, I'm generally good at it (and it's enjoyable for all of us). But sometimes I get so caught up in being Supremely Irritated that I forget all about Humor! Particularly not-good that this hadn't occurred to me before now, as I like to consider myself an amusing person.

Okay, so thank you all for your wonderful ideas and thoughts. Here's where we are with this currently.

We discussed this in our Family Conference last week and did some group problem-solving. I'll spare you the particulars of the lengthy and vigorous discussion.

What we came up with is a chart similar to the one Kelly suggested:

Morgan and Sean decorated it. :D

I think posters like this one really help Morgan who is quite visual and tends to forget these sorts of "societal norms" kinds of rules. They just fall out of her head somehow.

It will help Ryan, too, who is more deliberate (and sneaky, as I said) because it's officially Out There--something he agreed to--and can be used to remind him of his previous agreement. He is definitely one for exploiting loopholes and violating the spirit of the law rules regulations policies of our house. But he also respects the idea of a contract and has a sense of honor and justice about his agreements. So this visual contract will help him remember, too, but for totally different reasons.

The wording we chose was deliberate. We want them to ask "Does this belong to me?" instead of "Does this belong to someone else?" because we thought it made more sense for them to determine the relation of the item to themselves first and then choose their course of action. It's also a not-so-subtle (to the grownups) way to help them be focused self-interestedly instead of altruistically.

After answering the question Does this belong to me? there are really only two possible courses of action based on the answer. If yes, you're good to go. If no, you need to get an idea of whether or not you can play with or use the item. I think if the answer is 'no' and the owner in question gives blanket permission to always use the item, then it's okay in future instances not to bother the other.

Brendan and I were hoping that this very basic way of illustrating the principle and helping them determine what to do next will simplify things for them. We thought it boiled down the essentials nicely into something easily understood by all. In fact, they came up with some of the specifics themselves during the conference, with Brendan and me (mostly Brendan) acting as Socrates, asking probing questions at strategic moments. I hope that the process of going through this thinking and the ideas behind it were beneficial to them. It was beneficial to me at any rate!

So far, this chart strategy has been helpful. I feel a little less crazy and I think both Morgan and Ryan understand what needs doing, and possibly the principle behind it a little better, too. We are beginning to explain these ideas to Sean--have been for a long while, of course. He can't read, so this chart won't help him, but I have given him the words "Ask yourself: Does this belong to me?" and walked him through the process on at least two separate occasions this week.

I definitely will ask for recompense if when this occurs again in the future. And I am definitely going to work on remembering to use some humor. Morgan in particular will find the borrowing-her-elbow-without-permission joke hilarious!

Thank you all so much for your ideas! I'll write another follow up in a couple of weeks or so to let you know how things are going.

1 comment:

Lady Baker said...

Whenever I'm faced with a situation that is not working with all the brief/basic responses, I do the sit down and discuss thing. I've always done thinking before hand so I have some suggestions to get things rolling. It seems like your family meetings work well for you and... Ryan is such a talker like Cameron. Something I haven't had to do for awhile is form a contract, but that used to be an awesome tool for us.
Here's what I wrote about it:
Happy parenting :)