a little east of reality

Friday, March 27, 2009

theories in parenting

If you think that non-parents have no right to discuss parenting, stop reading now. Come back when I'm writing about something else. Because today I'm boldly telling parents something I think is important. And that fact that most of the parents that regularly read this blog probably aren't the ones that need this advice is neither here nor there. I feel the need to say it, especially because offline I usually have to bite my tongue while watching people destroy their children's lives. On the blog I get to be Ranty McRanty. So here we go...

While reading the comments on this post from Nemesis several days ago, I was thinking about the question posed to Audra - how do you get your kids not to be picky eaters? Now while Audra had some excellent gameplay tactics to suggest, there's an underlying principle she's employing that I think any parent (or child carer) needs to learn and stick to. So, as a person without kids but who has helped raise many, let me just say: be consistent.

It's that simple and that not-simple-at-all. Because the theory of being consistent anyone can understand and agree with - you are providing structure that your child can recognise and rely upon ~ but practicing that principle is challenging.

Tips and theories on being consistent

1. Don't change the rules according to your mood. A kid shouldn't be let off with a warning for not completing their chores one week and then grounded for not doing them the next, just because the first time you had a great day at work and the second time you just got a parking fine.

2. Be fair, be reasonable. Kids can handle boundaries and rules and responsibilities that are fair and reasonable. I'm not saying the child needs to believe at that time that everything you consistentently expect of them is fair (they often won't). I'm saying make sure yourself that what you ask is fair, so that you can confidently enforce and explain the rules you create.

For example, say you have a rule that everyone has to take a turn washing dishes (from a certain age) . The concept behind this is that in a family everyone (regardless of work, school, interests, sport or social commitments) needs to contribute to the running of the household. (It also teaches kids how to be adults that other people can bear to live with, but anyway...) So when one kid argues that his younger sister should do the dishes more often because he gets more homework than she does, you immediately know that his logic isn't sound, because there are certain basic responsibilities in life that can't be shunned, and (non-monetary) contribution to the home you live in is one of them.

3. An exception to the rule should be, well, an exception. If this is the fifth time this month that you've made 'an' exception, then newsflash ~ you're just being inconsistent. And a pushover. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Understand that children are GIFTED when it comes to emotional manipulation. This is not, I repeat NOT, because children are evil. They learn to be emotionally manipulative when they are babies, because this is how babies SURVIVE. They can't walk to you or explain what's wrong, so they cry to bring you to them and to prompt you to find out what they need. They have to do this. But as children become older they should learn that manipulating people emotionally is no longer okay, especially when they are not in need, but simply want something.

All a child knows is that it works, until you make it clear that it doesn't. This is your job, not theirs. A child, especially a small child, can't learn this by themselves, because this is a survival skill that, for a good portion of their existence, was the right and appropriate way to act. Which is why you, as the parent:
1. should see it for what it is (and what it isn't), and

2. must never, ever...did I say it enough?...ever, give in to it. The pleading puppy-dog eyes, the sudden tears, the begging, the 'please, please, please,' the 'but I love you daddy', the feigned (and even the real) anger, the 'I hate you' (they never do), the 'you're mean', the bargaining, the silent treatment, the sulking. These are tools of their trade and if you let them use those, they will never pick up new tools and try them out and build their new skills.
What new skills, you ask? Negotiation, communication, reasoning, accountability, understanding of action and consequence, patience, moderation, courtesy. All that good stuff you hope they will acquire by the time they are happy, responsible adults. It doesn't happen by accident and it is a thousand times easier to learn when you are young.

5. When they succeed at learning new and better ways to earn or negotiate the things they want, reward them with trust and freedoms. Don't make rules their prison. Pair the rules and responsibilities that can't be broken or forgotten with freedoms they can exercise. There are a myriad of choices they should be able to make for themselves throughout their lives - hobbies, jewellery, most fashion, part-time jobs, educational choices, careers, (non-druggie, non-gang member) friends. Reward responsible behaviour with trust and don't apologise for withdrawing your trust if they act in ways that mean you can no longer extend it - this applies at any age. But generally, recognise when they are old enough to take on certain choices for themselves. Some parents are so risk averse that they use arbitrary rules to keep their kids from imagined (and even real, but limited) dangers. That can't happen forever. Risks are how we learn. But this is sounding like a new topic, so...

6. Lastly, your kids don't hate you, and get enough sleep. No really, no matter how vehemently they say it, it's not true, and you have to be able to hear it and not be gutted, and not change your mind. Because they don't mean it, even if they sound convincing, even if they think they mean it at that moment. They love you, so much you can't conceive it. I know. I'm the aunt. I'm the babysitter. I'm the teacher. They tell me stuff like that, sometimes in words, sometimes in artwork, sometimes in actions. They reveal it even when they are mad at you. They love you. Trust me on this.

And get enough sleep. Everything I've just climbed onto my soapbox to declare is way, way more difficult to do if you are tired. That's when people give in to nagging. That's when they are led by their moods. That's when they forget why it was they made these rules in the first place. Every single parent I know who is bossed around and harrassed by their kids got to that place via two (sometimes intersecting) paths: they were either two tired to be consistent, or they just couldn't bear for their kids to not like them. Do your kids a massive favour and deal with it. It's fantastic if you can establish a strong friendship with your kids, but in the end you are their parent, and you will always have to make decisions that friends never have to make. So make them. And find a way to get enough sleep.

Ranty McRanty, signing off. Future 'stuff parents need to know' post titles will include:
~ It doesn't matter what colour their hair is.
~ Why you need a lock on your bedroom door.
~ Stop teaching girls that being cute is more important that being smart and strong.
~ Those cigarettes are ALWAYS theirs, no matter what they claim.

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