Blog-o! Notes from

Sat, 15 Jan 2011

"I want it back!"

"It's my turn!"

Delphine and Cordelia had both decided that the orange sled was the only sled worth using. We were out with their friend Ursa (and Ursa's two sleds, the green one and the blue one). There had been a horrible misunderstanding when Cordelia lent Ursa the orange sled for JUST ONE TURN, but then Ursa gave it to Delphine instead of back to Cordelia. Delphine refused to relinquish it, but Cordelia insisted she must have it back.

When I stepped in they were in the screaming-tug-of-war stage of the fight — I separated them and took custody of the sled, and then we talked. We talked about Cordelia's preferred resolution ("I want the sled!") and Delphine's preferred resolution ("I want the sled!"), we talked about how much Cordelia was willing to compromise ("She can't use it!") and how much Delphine was willing to compromise ("She can't use it!") We talked about the possibility of taking turns ("No!") and using the other sleds ("I want the orange one!") We talked and talked but neither girl would compromise and I had run out of ideas.

Then Blake made an excellent point. Both girls were under the impression that the orange sled was the best, but how could they be so sure? We should definitely do some experiments to figure out which sled was the best, just in case it turns out they were fighting about the wrong sled! They must pit sled against sled in a rigorous and methodical series of distance trials. First the orange sled with Delphine versus the blue sled with Cordelia, then the blue sled with Delphine versus the orange sled with Cordelia, next the green sled...

By the third round of these trials the girls had forgotten they were fighting, and by the fifth they had forgotten what they were doing altogether and they were just having fun.

The moral of the story is, sometimes you can't reason with them (because no-one wants to be reasonable) but you can usually distract them — the more byzantine the distraction, the better. Daddies are especially good for that.

[Posted at 22:19 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 02 Feb 2010

Since last week we've been continuing the pleasantifying of mornings, and with one little hiccup yesterday, I think it's working.

To review, this is how it goes: we get up and have breakfast together, then I go and shower and leave the children the following list:

  1. two trips to the kitchen
  2. pack snack
  3. get dressed
  4. brush teeth
  5. brush hair

To which Delphine inevitably adds a sixth item: Play. I think they're finally understanding that Play can only come after (and if) every other thing is done.

Cathy suggested creating a colourful chart listing the morning routine, but Delphine is text-oriented and a list nerd like me, so the staid to-do list format works for her. I write a new list every day, and she solemnly X'es off the things she's finished. It works for both girls, even though Cordelia doesn't read yet, because Delphine's essentially in charge of Cordelia in the morning, and Cordelia doesn't mind. (Your mileage may vary.)

Yesterday I didn't include "brush hair" on the list, and when I announced "we have to leave in five minutes" Delphine rashly concluded they had time to play because they were "almost done". Cordelia came downstairs with every intention of playing and justly rebelled when I said I had to brush her hair first. She dug her heels in and I lost my temper and hollered at them. I'm not sure why I took it so badly—could be that I didn't get enough sleep, or I was worried that I would miss a 9:00 appointment. Fortunately Delphine stepped up and was the grown-up. She brushed Cordelia's hair and her own, and helped us all get out of the house in good time.

Today our morning went smooth as butter: I didn't leave anything off the list, and the children didn't muck about. We arrived at school in plenty of time, with no shouting. It probably didn't hurt that the kids were in bed early last night.

I should add that one of the keys to this working is that I studiously don't care what their snacks look like (apart from that they have to contain fruit). Today Cordelia took a little container with some pretzel sticks and a dried apricot—no snack bag, no drink. It's certainly not how I would do it, but I expect it will be good enough for her, plus she has the satisfaction of having created and packed her own snack.

Another thing I cultivate a lack of interest in is what the children wear. Today Cordelia wore a black dance leotard with teal leggings, which might just be a little too gorgeous for kindergarten. Delphine has been dressing herself sensibly (but with a certain flair) since forever, and fortunately she's happy to choose Cordelia's clothes too, on the days Cordelia's not interested.

So, for now, mornings are a success story. As the girls grow and the dynamic between them changes, I guess our mornings will change too, and of course the success of mornings will depend on how well-rested we all are, but for now I'm happy that we have laid the groundwork for a functional start to the day.

[Posted at 10:41 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 27 Jan 2010

I'm not sure this is the post I want to post, but it's on my mind.

Today I did a positive parenting experiment. Normally Blake and I nag and cajole the girls through their morning, until we're all angry at each other and we end up rushing to school in a sweaty rush. Lousy way to start the day, so I decided to Schäfer it up: I would tell the girls what was expected of them and what I would do, and then I would step back and let them take responsibility for their morning routine.

They were forty minutes late for school.

Here's how it went down. We ate breakfast together, and then I went upstairs to take a shower and dress, with the following message: "You guys need to take your two trips [to the kitchen with stuff from the table], pack your lunches and snacks and get dressed. If you have time can you give Thomas his food and water?" At that point they had enough time to complete everything if they got on with it.

While I was in the shower they fought. While I was getting dressed they fought and then played. After I was dressed I came downstairs—the table was not cleared and they were both still in their pajamas. I carried on without agitation or urgency. I finished clearing the table while they played, them I folded laundry. At 8:30 I let them know the first bell was ringing at school—they were still in their pajamas, but at that point Delphine started to rush. She asked for, and received, help packing her lunch, while Cordelia stayed in her pajamas. Delphine tried to get Cordelia to hurry up, and she agreed to pack Cordelia's snack while she got dressed. Finally we left the house at 9:05, and signed in at school at around 9:20.

I was calm on the outside but on the inside I was freaking out while they played as if they hadn't a thing to do all day. It was a miracle of parental self-restraint. I didn't even nag on the way to school, I let being late speak for itself. (When you say "I told you so" or "let this be a lesson to you" it's called piggybacking and it turns a natural consequence into a punishment, which just gets you caught up in a power struggle and demotivates the child.) Being on time for school is not my problem, it's theirs. My job is to provide them with the tools and information to get to school on time.

Tonight we're going to have a family meeting to talk about mornings. My suggestion will be to make a morning routine poster, and I will let them know that a) I will only remind them of their morning responsibilities once, b) I will not play with them in the morning, and c) I will let them know what time it is every ten minutes. Hopefully they will come up with some ideas of how to stay focussed in the morning.

I hope tomorrow goes better. I know I'm supposed to be detached and aloof, but the school expects the parents to "get" their children to school on time, so I do feel responsible and guilty when they are late. Also, I have a few morning meetings and appointments coming up which I don't want to be late for. I'll have to review my parenting books and see what I'm supposed when my kids are making me late. In the meantime I will repeat the following phrase: "It will get worse before it gets better. It will get worse before it gets better."

What I Did Wrong: I sprung this new behaviour on them without warning. As I said, normally we nag and hustle and bother them all morning and I think that's where they get their clues as to how late they are and what they should be doing. Today I remained calm and I think the girls interpreted that to mean that we were on time, even though I told them in words that we weren't. Actions really do speak louder.

Also, we were running a teeny bit behind right from the start. Not behind enough to make us late, but behind enough that we needed to be brisk. So I would say I'm responsible for about five minutes of that forty. I would rather our mornings were leisurely but focussed, which will mean I need to be more disciplined about getting up and fixing breakfast on time.

What I Did Right: I think otherwise I applied the principles of positive parenting correctly. I remained kind yet firm, I didn't get into any power struggles, I told them what I would do rather than what they should do.

[Posted at 11:02 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 15 Nov 2009

Positive parenting, or democratic parenting, is essentially parenting as if your children are human beings who deserve the same amount of respect as the adults in the household. It is about raising your children to understand that they are part of a community, with rights and obligations, and it's about getting them to behave without punishments or rewards. It's also evidence-based parenting, with a grounding in scientific research and knowledge of neurological development and psychology.

I was raised with respect and I want to raise my children with respect, so I am using the tools of positive parenting to guide me.

My leaders in this endeavour are Alfie Kohn and Alyson Schäfer. They have both written excellent books on the subject. Both Alyson Schäfer's books are about positive parenting (although I prefer The Good Mom Myth), and Alfie Kohn's parenting book is called Unconditional Parenting. If you're interested in positive parenting I recommend you pick up one or both of those books. (And then everything else Kohn has written, because he's awesome.)

I'm not an expert on psychology or positive parenting, so I'm not going to give out advice here, but what I will do is write about situations in our house, and how we managed them. Some of these situations go smoothly, some of them don't, so I'll talk about what I think worked, and what I wish I had done differently. I hope this will give other parents some ideas about how to parent positively, and I'll admit I hope that rehashing these situations will reinforce my knowledge of positive parenting, and help me apply positive parenting techniques more often.

What Happened: Today Delphine (6) was invited to a friend's birthday party. Fifteen minutes before we were to leave for the party, I told Delphine it was time to get ready. She was wearing a stained t-shirt and a pair of leggings with a hole in it, so I told her she would have to change into something nicer.

She hated that idea. She wanted to wear what she was wearing, because (she said) she didn't have any other leggings. (It was a gymnastics party so she wanted to wear leggings rather than jeans or a skirt.) I stuck to my guns and explained that in our culture we show respect for people by wearing clean clothes to their gatherings. Delphine countered with "But Erika won't care!" Which is probably true, but I pointed out that Erika's mom will care, and she did most of the work for the party. We finally got to the point where I said I wouldn't take her to the party unless she had some clean clothes on.

The situation was resolved by Blake going upstairs with Delphine to help her pick out something appropriate—she ended up borrowing a pair of leggings from Cordelia. It took quite a lot of gentle persuasion and friendly helpfulness from Blake to get everything smoothed over.

What I Wish I Had Done: I wish I had started the whole conversation by saying "In our culture, we show respect and affection for people by wearing clean, tidy clothes to their special occasions. Are you happy with the clothes you're wearing, or would you like to find something else?" Alyson Schäfer (can I just call her Alyson?) calls that TTFT, or Take Time For Training. Usually she's talking about more mechanical things, like doing up a zipper or cleaning a bathroom, but it applies to social conventions, too. Giving Delphine ownership of the problem would make her feel responsible, and there's a pretty good chance she would have just changed without a fuss.

If she still protested I could have gone with the "when-then" tactic: "When you're dressed for a birthday party, then I will take you to the party." That's a little more coercive because I'm basically saying, "I won't take you to the party until you're dressed the way I want you to be dressed", but the wording is impersonal and it does reflect the needs of the situation (societal norms) rather than what I want. (Rather conveniently, what I want is for Delphine to conform to societal norms. When she's older she can go to parties dressed like a slob, but she's still young enough that I don't think she fully understands the messages that dressing inappropriately sends.)

Finally I wish we had started the whole thing earlier. One of Alfie Kohn's parenting guidelines is "Don't be in a hurry", and it's great advice if you can manage it. So much household tension is caused by running short of time. If I had left more time, we might still have had the drama but at least it wouldn't have forced us to rush out the door after Delphine got changed.

In the end, Delphine got to the party on time, in nice clean clothes, and hopefully we all learned something.

[Posted at 22:34 by Amy Brown] link