Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You can ignore it

Children have a tendency to test boundaries to learn where the limits are. I think it is a pretty good idea to let kids know where the boundary is, don't you? Sidewalk - yes. Road - no. Waste in the garbage -yes. Floor - no. Share toys with your sister - yes. Hit your sister with toy - no.

Children and their varying personalities will have a different need to seek what happens when they go past that boundary. I know children who find that simply knowing the rule, they will generally abide by it. Let's call that child "child A". I know far more children who need to test it out for themselves. Let's call that child "child B". I know some other children who seem to need to test that line out again. and again. and again. Let's call that child "Thomas". :)

The Child "A's" in your life are unlikely to need you to correct them very often, but often times we forget to tell them what they are doing right. The Child B's in your life are the normal ones who keep you repeating yourself until they are.. well.. I'll let you know. I'm at 13 right now. The Child Thomas' in your life will require super-human patience, and their other endearing qualities will need to be reflected on repeatedly to keep perspective as you find yourself yet again explaining that throwing rocks at expensive objects is a BAD idea.

As parents, we're rarely just "parents" are we? Many of us work, many of us have other responsibilities, other things on our minds, and especially if we are female - we are multi tasking.

Right now I am making a mental check list of things I have to do before bed and wondering what to make for lunch tomorrow.

When we are busy people, we have a tendency to react instead of being proactive and we are prone to reacting to our children's behaviour that we feel needs correction. Reacting can mean a harsher tone than we needed to use, it could mean scolding or even yelling when - really - the situation did not warrant it. It can mean many things that we, as parents, look back on a few minutes later and go 'uhh, why did I just do that?'

Or maybe that is just me.

One of the side effects of being reactive is that when we parent that way, our children tend to only get our attention for negative things. If 90% of the time your child has your attention is when you are scolding them, they'll just be glad they have your attention and the "scolding" part will just go over their heads.

So here is what I have learned (and "am learning" because this is all a work in progress) that I want to share with the parenting world so that perhaps there will be less children crying in stores with parents sticking their fingers in their little faces spitting at them with teeth clenched.

(for the record, I have, on occassion, been that parent)

IGNORE. Did you see that coming? Was it the title that gave it away? Ignore bad behaviour. Now, I don't have the insane patience when 6 kids are in my house to actually ignore all bad behaviour. But it works extremely well and is fairly easy to do with smaller numbers of children. I have a secondary tactic that saves me in such situations that works BETTER with more children. I'll get to that in a minute.

Let's say your daughter is whining at you. Turn and walk away, or look back at what you were doing. Take away your attention. Think about anything else. If she becomes desperate, you can non chalantly say "oh, I'm sorry, I find it hard to understand you and I much prefer to listen to you when you are talking nicely" and go back to what you were doing. That trick on just whining alone works so well with Anna, I just look away and she knows exactly why I did and it usually makes her change her tune.

Toddlers are extremely counter suggestive. The ignore tactic is especially necessary, because the more attention you pay to ANYTHING that they realize you don't want them doing, they exponentially increase that behaviour. Or maybe that is just Charlie.

I'm honestly much better at ignoring toddler behaviour, followed by preschooler behaviour, then my older children. That may just be because I am so fully aware of how inconsequential Charlie's behaviour is because I've seen so many other kids outgrow it. Or because it is actually harder to ignore older children bickering, or picking the paint off the walls, or smearing toothpaste on my mirror and drawing happy faces with it.

If you succeed in ignoring something inconsequential (and wiser parents than I seem much more aware of how vast the "ignorable" behaviour is) but the behaviour continues and you are an impatient person like myself, you can move on to step 2.

Step 2 - praise the child who is doing it right.

Example: Cole and Thomas are so busy talking about pokemon, they have yet to put on their seat belts and we're all in the car.

I want to nag at them for how annoying it is that they are making us all wait and being inconsiderate to the rest of the family.

But instead I casually mention that I appreciate that Arthur and Haley got in and buckled up so quickly. No matter how much it seems your children don't listen to you or hear half of what you say to them, they seem miraculously able to hear when their sibling is being praised. And they will quickly do what you were expecting them to do. The next challenge is to thank them for getting buckled in so quickly when you get in the car again.

I have never yet seen step 2 fail. It's so magical, that it's too good to be true. It's uses are endless.

but sadly, very difficult to employ with only one child present.

Then you are stuck with ignoring.

And with all that ignoring you are doing, try to praise everything your child is doing right. Catch them doing what you asked right away! Tell them you appreciate that they closed the front door and it's freezing out. Notice that they remembered to wash their hands before eating or put their dirty laundry in the hamper. If you are like me, you will need to remind yourself to ignore the bad stuff and praise the good stuff on a very regular basis... but it's worth it.


  1. Toothpaste....the many uses. :D

  2. Yes, I do the "I don't understand whine" thing, too.

    And I do have to remind myself to praise the good things. It does make a difference.