Sunday, November 27, 2005

On Kids: I was going to post this in my friend's blog's comments, in response to this post, but when it go long, I decided to share with everybody.

I have girls.

And there's only one way to stop having situations like this.

And that's to not be afraid to have situations like this. In fact, you have to be willing to have situations twenty times worse than this.

But it does not go down the way it did for the Mom in the store. You don't melt into a pool of jello.

You leave. Right there. Leave the grocery cart in the middle of the store, and you leave. No train ride, yes, but that's just the start. No cocoa puffs, no pop tarts, no whatever the thing is that gets the kid's mojo going. No groceries.

The store, and shopping, and even food are stuff for kids who know how to behave themselves in public, and they are most assuredly not that, and they are not going to continue to embarrass Mommy.

Now, this probably would not have helped this woman. These are the kinds of lessons that have to be taught before Thanksgiving shopping trips and deadlines and whatever else this woman probably has on her plate.

They definitely need to be taught before four. Even the three year old should have them well in hand--if it was autism, though, that could have either helped or hurt him, depending.

The point I'm trying to make is, in order to win fights like this--every time--you can't make it a fight. Ever. Because if you make it a fight, there's a chance the kid could win. So if it's any kind of struggle--a battle of wills, a battle of bribery, any type of battle--the kid knows he's got you. The mere fact you've given him that much means he's got leverage.

And he knows it.

So you don't yell. You don't fight. You don't raise your voice. You take both kids out of the cart, put them in an empty one, and you cart them back out to the car. You put them in their car seats.

"Grandma's going to be disappointed," you tell them, "when there's no turkey. And no olives. But If all we have with us is kids who act like babies, we can't go to the store like the big kids."

And you have to mean it. You have to honest-to-goodness be willing to leave the groceries at the store and find some other time to go shop.

Yeah, I know you don't want to do it when your mother-in-law's coming and you don't want to have to explain why you can't control your kids.

But two things.

First, if your mother-in-law is worth earning of the respect of, she'll respect you for trying to raise civilized human beings in this world of children who are spoiled by parents' feelings of guilt and inadequacy over failing to raise their children as civilized human beings.

And second, if you had bothered to give this a shot before your kid's fifth Thanksgiving on this planet, Thanksgiving V would have gone fine.

I'm sorry if I don't sound sympathetic.

But when I sit in church on Sundays while five and six year old kids run up and down the aisles, while parents just smile and shrug and say, "I just can't control them!" I'm reminded of the Sundays I spent with both my daughters before they were two training them on how to behave for one hour of church.

Not by giving them toys to quiet them down--lest they feel they've been rewarded for being bad. Not by taking them out to the lobby--lest they see being bad as a way to "escape" from the meeting. And not by spanking them or otherwise doing something that will lead to further tears and lead to me having to hug them to calm them down--another indirect reward.

Instead, I would take them out of the meeting and hold them. Not hug them--it's not a reward--but hold them, so they can't play. If they're crying or fussing, I would sing to them softly or otherwise let them know that I wasn't angry or mad or mean. Once they calmed down, I would talk with them about why they needed to be quiet in the meeting, until they'd agree they could do it.

And then the reward was that they got to go to the meeting and draw or do whatever we did for quiet play. They came to feel that the meeting was the good place to be--not the lobby--and they'd work to be there.

Now that they're a little older, I just use time-outs in empty classrooms. I don't have to do it often, but they know I'm willing to do it, and that's why a raised finger or a knowing smile usually quiets them down now. They just smile back as if it say, yeah, dad, you got me, and they settle down.

So what I'm saying is, it wasn't easy. I know I'm not giving this lady an easy solution.

But I'm saying in the long run, it's easier if you do it early, earlier than most parents are even willing to admit their kids are able to respond to them, than if you wait around until your kids have figured out where your buttons are or how to wrap you around their finger or otherwise learned how to get their way every time.

And, also in this woman's defense, it's easier if Dad's around and doing his job. I don't know how the church thing would work if Mom wasn't around to sit with the kid's who's being good while I'm out missing the whole meeting so I can sing "In The Leafy Treetops" to a crying two-year-old. In this case, I got no idea what continent this guy's husband's on, let alone what town.

But--as harsh as this probably sounds--that's why she's got to get this going now.

Maybe do a couple practice trips with the kids on days where she's got the time for it. Make definite plans for how to react the next time it happens.

Because it's just going to continue. And that five year old who won't mind when you tell her to leave her brother alone really is going to morph into a teenager who won't be able to make sensible decisions when Mommy's not standing right beside her holding her hand.

So there really does have to--have to--come a moment where you stop merely trying to get through each day and you assess where you truly are and what you have to do about it. If you don't know, get help. It's one of the biggest idiocies of our society that we think that just because the kid came from us that we should somehow know everything about how to handle them. I have infinite more respect for parents who admit to feeling overwhelmed--the ones who probably feel the least competent--than the ones who just shrug and say, "I just can't get them to do anything. The former are at least acknowledging the enormity of the task. The latter are basically saying that if there's anything about it they don't know, it isn't worth knowing.

And I fear the life of a child in the hands of someone who puts that little value by doing it right.

Incidentally, to my friend who made the initial blog post--the mere fact that you recognized you were seeing, the empathy you felt for the woman's situation, the mere fact that I know you're tough enough to stand up to complete strangers when the need arises, and you're certainly not the type who's going to allow your toddlers to go careening of course while you stand by wringing your hands and wondering what to do, and the fact that I know you've go the brains and the courage to learn any new concepts you feel responsible for knowing--all of these would make you a great mother.

Even to girls.

1 comment:

theFrog said...

One thing that I can say in her (sort of) defense is that she is a military wife, which means that she's a part-time single mother while her husband is out to sea/deployed (another reason why I'm hesitant about children - I know I'd have no choice but to raise them alone more often than I care to admit). Not that this is an excuse - my mother raised me to not have tantrums in the store as a full-time single mother - but, I can definitely see how difficult it would be to run a whole household and raise two pre-school aged children alone.

You're right, though - when the initial fear of the encounter wore off, I realized that had those been my kids, I would not have let things escalate the way they did. There's no way in God's good green Earth that a 4-5 year old would have gotten me to cry in public.