My dear husband is constantly poking fun at my parenting style - or lack thereof - because I'm always trying new approaches with our older son. Due to hubby's crazy work schedule, he sees very little of us on work days and by the time he has another day off, something has changed again. I can understand how this situation might be frustrating for him, but I feel that constant growth and improvement in EVERY aspect of life is the only way we, as a human society, will ever evolve. Yes, most people strive to be better at some sort of hobby, sport, career, etc., but parenting IS my career. If I'm not working with my own children, I'm in charge of someone else's and the tactics that worked wonderfully for my son last week, might just apply to one of my students this week.....best to keep a plethora of tricks up my sleeve, don't you think??
I have a college degree that says I should know quite a bit about children and indeed, I do. I can tell you about neural pathways in the brain and multiple intelligences. I can talk to you about early childhood development theorists such as Piaget and Erikson. I can sing songs, recite finger plays and come up with fun and creative art projects all day, but at no point in my college classes did I learn how to truly relate to children. It's all theory and no practice - until motherhood.
Sure, sure, as a childless teacher, I had advice to hand out all over the place, but guess what? I saw those kids for a few hours a day, a couple of days a week. Even in my daycare days, the most I ever saw one child was 40 hrs a week.....not all day, everyday....and night....and wee hours of the morning.....and right in the middle of my first good night's sleep in a month....you get the point.
The problem with evolution is that it's not an exact science. In nature and parenting, there are so many variables that it's impossible to find one method that works for every situation. So, what's my solution? Look at parenting like you would any other scientific experiment.
- Ask a Question: I like to focus on needs here - What do I need? What does my child need? What needs to be done in this situation?
I'll use a recent example. My 3 1/2 yr old son doesn't want to get ready for bed. He says he's not tired, but I know that he is, based on his daily activities and his behavior. I need him to get ready for bed because I need to finish cleaning up the house and preparing for the following day. He needs to learn to listen to his body and recognize when he's tired. He also needs a good night's sleep. In this situation, he needs to follow the routine, but also retain his power.
- Do Background Research: Is what I'm asking my child to do really important? Is my child hungry/tired/thirsty/disconnected/overstimulated. We can't ask our children to do anything unless their needs are met. A banana is my go-to solution for practically everything.
Back to the bedtime issue. Yes, it is important for him to sleep, but it's not overly important that he get into bed at this exact moment, my chores won't take that long and he might need extra time to wind down. I know all of his needs are met, so it's probably more important that he practice getting tired on his own and recognizing when it's time to turn-in for the night.
- Construct a Hypothesis: What will happen if I......???
I wonder what will happen if I just leave him to his own devices.
- Conduct an Experiment: Pretty self-explanatory
So I decide to leave my son upstairs in his room for some quiet playtime. I give him his hugs and kisses and I love yous and tell him when he's tired to go to bed. He still refuses to put his PJs on or brush his teeth, but it's not worth the fight, I'm testing my hypothesis here, limiting variables that might cause behavioral changes.
- Analyze Data and Draw Conclusion: This one can happen pretty quickly depending on the situation. You ask your child to do something and she says 'no', you know you've got to return to step one and try again. Other times, you might just reflect on your day for a while before drawing any conclusion at all. I review every day to myself after the kids go to bed, sometimes I get a chance to talk things out with my husband, which always helps things seem more clear.
After about 30 minutes, I return to my little guy's bedroom to find him tucked into bed asleep in his clothes with toys everywhere. I remove all the trip hazards from his floor and then help him into his PJs and return him to his warm place in bed. Conclusion? He is quite capable of determining when he's tired and can now be trusted to take over control of this aspect of his daily schedule.
- Communicate your Results: No matter what age your child is, you should always communicate with him as if he understands you completely. I talk to my 6 month old just as much and in the same conversational way as I do with my 3 1/2 yr old. It's respectful and sets the groundwork for positive communication and interactions in the future. If you need to, for your own sanity, write things down.
I was not able to talk to my son immediately after the experiment, so it was later agreed that he still needs to get ready for bed according to our regular routine, however, after our usual story, blessing, and hugs and kisses, he is able to read or play quietly in his room until he feels tired enough to head to bed. I also communicate this to my husband so we're all on the same page.
I've been pretty much every kind of parent out there and I'm still not, and probably never will be, set in a stone parenting mold. I try my best every day to do what feels right in my heart and when I'm wrong, I tell my children I'm sorry and that I was wrong.
I think a lot of parents are afraid to say those things to their children; afraid they'll appear weak or not in control. I couldn't disagree more. When you show your true emotions to your child, even if they are wrong or hurtful or angry or melodramatic, your child learns that no one in this world is static. When you take responsibility for your wrongdoings, he learns that recognizing your faults and making amends is an important part of relationships.
Most of all, when you are your authentic self, your child feels secure and is willing to trust that you will always love him even if he's wrong because he loves you.......even when you're wrong. And go ahead and trust me on this one; if you and your little one are anything like me and mine; you're gonna be wrong a LOT! :)