Thursday, 11 December 2008

Hotels or homes?

"Many kids are being raised in hotels instead of homes today."

I heard a great "Focus on the Family" broadcast the other day about parenting techniques today. The observation was made that many parents are making their homes like hotels for their children. The cleaning, the cooking, the tidying all done by parents wanting to raise "happy kids". Is there anything wrong with wanting to raise happy kids? No. But are kids really happy these days? No. The harder we try to make our kids happy, the unhappier they seem. It stands to reason then that the things we are doing to "make them happy" are in fact having the reverse effect.

We talk, cajole, explain, and reason with our kids. We treat them as equals, try to see their point of view, and try to be their friend. We let them explore, test boundaries, and reason with us.

And somewhere along the way, we seem to be forgetting one thing: that we are the parent and they are the child. Sometimes the answer is no "because I said so".

Caught up with many of the current parenting books, I have adopted the "talk to your kids about what you're doing" approach. I have explained to my three-year old why it is wrong to hit and why it is important to share. I have spent hours calmly finding out the reason for a meltdown and working through it with him. I have given my one-year old latitude because of his age. I have met his every whim because babies have needs, not wants.

And I'm seeing now how much it is not working.

I'm seeing how our problem areas are mounting, and how my kids are not the understanding, grown-up happy children I was promised they would be.

So I'm trying something new.

If I recorded my house for a day, I think I would be shocked at just how much I talk at my kids. I'm forever trying to explain life. And I forget that kids hear nothing more than the first five words before they tune out. Especially if my voice becomes a white noise machine. So I'm vowing to talk less, and let actions speak for words.

Yesterday Colin started screaming at me to stop playing the piano while I was practicing. I had not been playing more than 5 minutes, and I have told him before that crying and screaming while I play is not acceptable because Mommy is busy right now and I'll be with him in a few minutes and I just want to finish this song and to play with his toys for 5 minutes and...and...and...

So instead, I just picked him up, took him upstairs, sat him on his bed, closed the door and came back downstairs. He screamed. He screamed for a good 45 minutes. And then he stopped. At this point I went back upstairs, opened the door and announced that he could come back downstairs to play. We didn't talk about what he'd done, why it was inappropriate, why he was removed from the situation, and why he was now allowed to come downstairs.

I was nervous about it at first. Would this really work?


Later on while I was practicing a song with James, Colin started to fuss. But within seconds he stopped, looked at me, and said "But I'm not going to cry now, because then I would have to go upstairs again like this morning."

I kid you not. I was shocked and amazed and overjoyed. He got the message, loud and clear. And there were no more meltdowns while I played the piano.

This philosophy begins and ends with actions. Here's one more example of how it's worked for us. I picked Colin up from nursery school the other day, and he ordered me to carry his bag to the car. He is plenty old enough and big enough to carry it on his own. I told him that. He hit the floor kicking and screaming and crying. The nursery teaching assistant tried to talk, cajole, and coax him into carrying the bag. I simply sat silent. After a few minutes, I pronounced that it was time to go and if he didn't want to carry his bag, we would leave it there. But that would mean he would have nothing to bring his snack tomorrow in. In the end, I partially gave in by putting the bag on his back and whisking him away. I paid for that, though, because when we arrived at home, he ordered me to carry the bag inside. This time I dug in my heels. I left the bag in the snow. After 10 minutes Colin came inside sans bag. I quietly sent James out to rescue it and hide it in the garage. I told Colin if he left the bag outside someone else might very well carry it off. And that was it. The next morning, Colin came downstairs ready for school. He looked me square in the eyes and said "I have to carry my own bag, or another kid might take it."

My home is not a hotel where the customer is always right. This is my domain, and my children are my responsibility. And they don't have to be happy all the time. They are loved, they know they are loved, and they know this because I am raising them to be responsible, loving, caring adults.


Kevin H. said...

This is some of the stuff I'm most concerned about when I daydream about parenthood. The difficult decisions that seem to involve what many would consider a kind of emotional abuse: and we don't want to "punish" them in that way for fear of losing them, their affection, etc. But you're absolutely right: you can't reason with a four-year-old (and younger ... and older, for that matter). It just doesn't sink in.

I was about to write, "they just don't understand it," but I'm not sure that's true. They may well understand it just fine, but human beings, like all other animals, are hard-wired for power-struggles: we fight to be dominant (whether actively or passively) and there's just no getting around it. Someone's got to be the boss, and the best thing to do is to assure that the parent's got the position wrapped up before the kids try to steal it away in whatever fashion they can manage.

Great post, Terri-Ann. And good for you. Making these kinds of decisions is tough (on both the parent and the child, I imagine), but I pretty firmly believe it'll pay dividends down the road...

heather80 said...

You can't beat logical consequences. Works with adults too.