Performing Parenting

shopping1

Do you ever find yourself performing as a parent? I know that I do. When we’re in a public place, among other parents and children (and especially other adults without children), there is a tendency to want to show them that we are doing the right thing; that we are not neglecting our duties; that we are on top of things.

There are a lot of reasons for this. We have four girls, and according to some yardsticks this is classified as a “large family.” Having a “large family” prompts such statements as “you must really have your hands full” and “you must be busy!” These can feel like judgments even when they aren’t (and sometimes they are). When another person is trying to walk down the aisle in the grocery store and see that we are taking up the entirety of the space, it’s easy to notice what we perceive to be a sigh of exasperation or a narrowing of eyes that suggests annoyance. We don’t want to inconvenience people with our big (even if often joyful) presence. And when our kids are having a hard time to boot, that feeling is increased exponentially. Really, we might think, why are we trying to shop for food right now? In public?

Or how about this: we’re at the library and there’s another family whose children are maybe not as well put together as ours just now. We might put on our best parent voices and say only the most positive, affirming things, thus reinforcing our superior skills and making a display of how good our children are. We did this, is the implication we are trying to get across. Or maybe we are the other family, whose children are struggling, and are probably hungry or tired or in any case just not wanting to be at the library right now. In the face of this pressure, we feel the need to show we are in control, so we begin to perform this for our audience. We chastise the kids for making noise, for not keeping still; maybe threaten a time out. The message is: We got this.

In all these cases, what’s happening is that we are not parenting authentically, but giving a performance: rather than meeting the needs of our children, we are accommodating the other people in the room. And this is not helpful.

What’s the solution? We have to hold our kids in priority over what we imagine will be thought or said by others. After all, we probably don’t know what other people are thinking anyway, and in any case they’re not coming home with us.

I often say that the toy aisle at Wal-Mart is a fabulous place for a toddler to have a tantrum. It’s roomy, it’s well lit, and the muzak is not that good anyway. Let the child do what he or she needs to do. In the end, they’re the only audience that matters.

Share

Yelling and Screaming and Time Outs (Oh My)

 

This week’s guest post is by Tara Webster. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tara.

iStock_000016278227XSmall

I was a mom of a very angry 3 year old, just a small time ago. My daughter was angry for many reasons and like most first time parents, I was at a loss as to how to help her. She would yell and scream, slam doors, and throw things, so I did what every “good” parent does, I watched Super Nanny. You know the show, where the British Nanny comes in and saves the whole family through time outs.  So I followed her example and used time outs regularly.

My poor daughter would be throwing a tantrum and I would pick her up and sit her in the “time out spot” and tell her that she could get up in three minutes. When she would get up–and she would always get up–I would put her back and add another minute. I remember at one point she was up to 15 minutes in the time out spot! I thought this is ridiculous. At that point I had no idea what she was in trouble for and neither did she. All I knew is we were both very upset and exhausted. That night I decided we both needed some help.

I found the most amazing counselor for my daughter. He taught me that there are other ways to handle difficult problems.  First he gave my child and me the language to keep each other accountable. He would ask my daughter, “When that happened and you were upset, were you growing up or growing down?” He told me that this was easier for children to understand because it was more visual. He even told me I could use it as a reminder: “Are you growing up right now, or growing down?” Now, when my child was super upset, she would say “I don’t know.” The response from her counselor was, “Oh well, you have time to think about it.” I thought, “Wow, what an idea, to give them time to come up with the right choice.” I started using it at home, and it helped so much.

The next step was addressing “time outs”. He told me that they don’t work. It only becomes a control issue; your focus is on time and control rather than the real problem. This is where he gave me the best gift ever. I can let go of the control and give it to my child. This may not sound like a good thing, but it changed my relationship with my daughter.

How I did it was the key. “Time outs” turned into “Taking a break” or “time away.” When my daughter was getting worked up and started doing things she shouldn’t, I would ask her if she was growing up or growing down. If that did not help her to calm down I would ask her to go to her break spot. (We had discussed with her counselor what was going to happen during these “growing down” behaviors. Then my daughter could choose her break spot). She did not take it as a punishment, because she got to choose when she was ready to come out and talk again. When she came out we would talk about what happened; she would give me a way to handle it better, and I would give her a way to handle it better (if you are trying this with your child and they cannot come up with a way, give them ideas). We always ended with a hug and “I love yous.”

The first time we did this, my daughter sat for fifteen minutes before coming out. Sometimes it was shorter. When she was really worked up, she would come back and still be upset. In that case I would give her a hug, acknowledge how upset she still was, and tell her that she may need more of a break to talk. She would always go back to the break spot until she felt better.

 

Tara Webster is the Home Based Supervisor at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Share

Time Out: Alternative to What?

becerraphotography-5

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about time outs, and my observation that, not only do they often fail to achieve what we want for our kids, but there are several unintended side effects as well. I suggested that time outs were nevertheless ingrained in our culture and would continue to be a go-to form of discipline unless we had alternatives close to hand.

In this week’s post, I wanted to touch on some of those alternatives. First, let’s acknowledge some of the ways in which time outs do work. Then we can discuss a way to accomplish those things in a way that is both more nurturing and more effective (the two tend to go together).

  • Time outs can be effective because of fear.

By withholding our affection and attention, we are taking away what is most important to a child’s sense of safety, security and well-being. Our kids don’t want to experience that, so they will attempt to change their behavior, at least for the moment.

Why not flip the equation, and give a child our time and affection, rather than holding it at arm’s length? Parents are good and determining when a child is escalating, or heading to an out of control place. It is still possible to step in, not with a warning, but a hug, or a few minutes on the floor playing with toys or reading books. By fulfilling the child’s unspoken need before it becomes “behavior,” we could prevent the “behavior” from happening. Even better would be to recharge those love batteries in a calm, happy moment.

  • Time outs can be effective because of safety.

It is absolutely true that sometimes a child is being unsafe to themselves and to others and needs to be moved to a safe place. And that is exactly how it should be approached: “I see that you are having trouble controlling your body. I’m going to help you move away.” When a child is feeling out of control, this is exactly what they need, and want, but are singularly unable to express.

What if the child, having been moved to a safe place, continues to escalate? The short answer is, “so what.” Tantrums happen. But if they know that a caring adult is with them and available when they’re ready, the tantrum is likely to be far less severe. It probably won’t last long, either.

  • Finally, time outs can be effective because they provide a time out.

Sometimes a break, even for a couple of crucial minutes, is a necessity. The trick is, it’s for us, not for the child. If we as parents find that we are overwhelmed and unable to deal with the behavior in question, it could just be that we need a minute. Giving ourselves a time out, whether it means a moment on the porch or just that rare and precious chance to use the bathroom alone, can make all the difference.

Share

Time Out on Time Outs

becerraphotography.com-230

Time outs have endured as a go-to method for parents who are faced with behavior issues in their kids. I have encountered many parents who have a plan for how to make time outs work, and though I’m not sure where the rules come from (magazine articles? TV nannies? Other parents? Those are my best guesses), they all seem to agree on the basics.

Here are “the rules” of the time out as I have seen them in action:

  • Remove the child from the situation and coax, compel or simply place the child in a particular spot.
  • Instruct the child to remain there for a fixed amount of time—generally one minute per year of age (again, not sure from where this formula comes, specific as it is).
  • Following the time out, usually immediately after it’s over, talk to the child about why it was they were placed in time out.

The goal here, presumably, is that the child will make a connection between the discipline and the behavior it prompted. Unfortunately, it often does not work out that way. Here are some things I have observed about time outs as performed in this manner:

  1. If there are other children present, they are not getting the supervision or attention they would otherwise be getting, and are recruited by circumstance as spectators to the behavior and the power struggle that ensues. The other children are thus more likely to emulate the targeted behavior, if only because they see that it’s an excellent way to gain attention from a parent and to “stop the show.”
  2. And it does become a power struggle, as inevitably the child in question does not wish to be placed in time out and will resist (screaming, becoming aggressive, dropping to the floor, or simply leaving the designated area). I once heard this advice directed at teachers, and I think it applies just as well to parents: “If you enter a power struggle with a child, regardless of the outcome, you have already lost.”
  3. With small children, there is a real disconnect between the behavior incident that prompted the time out and the intervention itself; especially if it becomes a prolonged affair that leads to more acting out and further reaction from the parent. The time out may serve the function of removing the child from the situation, but there is little chance that they will understand why one thing lead to another, and be able to correct the behavior.
  4. The reason for this is that a time out, as described above, is neither a natural consequence (if you go outside without your jacket, you will be cold) nor a logical one (if you hit your sister with that stick, it will be taken away). It’s just too abstract, and the child is no longer in the moment. They will likely not come away with the lesson you intended. This is played out in the simple fact that parents tend to give time outs repeatedly for the same behaviors, and often in the same situations (where a likely explanation for the behavior is that the child is hungry, or tired, or having difficulty with a particular activity or transition).
  5. One thing I frequently observe is that after a child has been given a time out they are given special time with the parent to reconnect and enjoy some positive attention. I think that this is probably the best possible outcome. It is also probably what the child needed in the first place. Since time outs require time and effort from the parent, why not be proactive and take time to allow that connection to happen beforehand? You may find that the behavior—which is nearly always an unmet need that the child can’t otherwise express—does not happen nearly as often.
Share

When All Else Fails

dadteachboy

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

Bedtime routines are a cornerstone of parenting in our house. We have worked out, over the years and with a lot of experimentation, how to give our children what they need to have a calm, predictable and nurturing routine in the evenings. And when things change—for example, the clocks Fall Back—it can throw everything into disarray. Suddenly bedtime no longer looks like bedtime. It’s not even dark yet! And it feels like starting all over again. Tonight my four-and six-year old had an exceedingly difficult time going to sleep.

This post is not about bedtime. It’s about what happens when this job that we do, surely one of the most difficult jobs around, suddenly seems too much to bear.

I am employed as a “Parenting Expert.” When I tell this to people, particularly the families with whom I’m working, I can’t help but put it in air quotes. After all, I am equipped with every tool available: the latest research, the best strategies, the right language; all the tricks of the trade. I spent much of last week attending a Nurturing Parenting Facilitator’s Training, where I was surrounded by experts and picked up more information than I know what to do with. And tonight, it just got to be too much. Those kids were not going to sleep. They were going to cry and scream. They needed help, and at some point I simply forgot everything I had learned.

I failed, people. Parenting fail, big time. So I reached for the last tool I could find. I gave myself a time out.

When all else fails, and a parent feels that it is no longer effective or even safe to remain in what looks to be an impossible situation with a child, it is the parent that needs a time out. Walk away, find a quiet place, take some breaths. When I did this I felt like I was giving up; as a “Parenting Expert,” I was ready to turn in my proverbial badge.

Ten minutes later, when I returned to the bedroom, The Situation was more or less the way I had left it. The screaming was in full effect. Nothing had changed except that I had done the only thing left for me to do. And I had just enough charge left in my parenting battery to try it again. To be the calm presence, to assure them that they were safe. To apologize for the words I had used and to offer better, kinder ones. To hold a toddler’s hand.

They’re sleeping, for what it’s worth. And tomorrow is a new day.

Share