Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Well Behaved Child...PART TWO

Here is PART ONE.
I've been trying to figure out how I was going to write this...And I guess my point really comes down to this  question:

What is moral and what is cultural?
As I've gone down this path of following my instincts and my children as they cue, a few things have become apparent to me. Some times (many times) this isn't very convenient for me. And when things are really inconvenient  I try to work towards making changes...

But some times it means seasons of just plain being inconvenienced. For example my babies didn't tend sleep well on the go. If we messed with morning nap (be it by timing or location), we had a very cranky baby on our hands. So for several months of baby's first year (and with Friendly, into the second) that meant staying home and missing  play dates (or scheduling appointments for later in the day). On the other end of that bedtime was pretty inflexible. If we missed that "sleepy window" we were up for hours with an overstimulated CRANKY little person. That meant events in the evening were pretty much off the table unless it was a very special occasion (and worth the DAYS spent getting our littles out of the over-tired nasty cycle). Sunday mornings were so very much dreaded because it meant missed morning nap, and screwed up the entire day...It usually took until Wednesday to get sleep patterns straightened back out, exhausting. And frankly, during rough stages...I stayed home with baby. 

 This was some thing that surprised me. And also left me feeling a bit like a neurotic control freak about sleep times. I don't know anyone with "normal" babies who've had to be this weird about going out- at any time. People (albeit mostly people who hadn't had kids yet..or for many many years) were always a bit puzzled as to why we were so "no we can't that's BEDTIME [dun dun duuuuuuh]!!". It left us feeling very misunderstood and isolated.

I am elated to say, that at nearly 21mos Friendly is just now starting to be able to handle evening activities with out epic meltdowns and over-tired craziness after-math. It's been a long 21 months (actually about 36months as Roo was just leaving that stage when Friendly was born)! But for the sanity and health for every one involved, staying home was what was best. For that season.  Oh and how lovely to be coming out on the other side and realize, it truly was a season! WOW! We can be out until 7- 7:30 and still have relatively happy littles, whoa!!! Shock. Awe. Yipeeeee. Now mid-day nap time cannot be fudged too much...But that seems pretty normal to most people.

So my question, is the fact that my babies were inflexible and not-the greatest sleepers a moral issue? Are they inherently sinning against God because they wake often at night? Or don't nap well unless things were a certain way? Absolutely not.

Am I immoral or a bad parent because I'm in this situation? ha.

Setting my kids up for success, that's my job If it means staying home, I do. If it means strapping them into a stroller before they can taste freedom (erm, run away) I do it, even when they loudly protest. It's my job to keep my kids safe. Help them respect the boundaries that do that. And to help them be successful in any situations we find ourselves in. Letting my child run into the street, not successful at accomplishing any of those things.
Setting our kids up for success, what it looks like...

Reasonable expectations:  Oh how I've learned about this in the last 3 years! It's unreasonable to expect a baby to stop crying when they have a tummy ache. It's unreasonable to expect a 2 (or even 3, 4,5) year old to have impulse control (all the time).  If you want some thing to survive your toddler: keep it out of reach.  If you want your toddler to survive, keep them with in reach.

We started a container Garden this spring (this is related I promise!). It's been a lot of fun. The girls are very interested in anything involving dirt (or getting messy), so this has been educational for all of us. It has also involved a little creative planning and a lot of supervision on my part. We live in a sunny apartment (YAAY!). The best sun is in the morning, and the very best sun is on the floor in front of our patio doors. It's been a very very rainy spring and so on the sunny mornings I would capitalize on the sun being around and put our seedlings  (or as Friendly calls them "babies") on the floor. I was trying to get them to soak up as much sun as possible. 
I'm not tooooouching them Mommie (yet!)

I knew putting those plants on the floor could very well mean we would never eat of their fruit (to put it poetically).  I knew it would be a failure on my part if the seedlings were destroyed. It would be unreasonable to expect a 1.5 year old (or even, under certain conditions, a 3 year old) to leave them alone. But ...They were plants they needed the sun, and I accepted the fact that they could get hurt. It would suck if they did, but it wasn't a big deal to me.
What would have been unreasonable is if I were to get upset about seedlings being pulled out, or leaves being plucked off.  Little people are not adult little people. They are young, and lack the maturity to control themselves in all situations, all the time, no matter what. That is definitely a pet peeve of mine involving our Western culture. We as a culture, greatly overestimate the amount of control young children have over their bodies, decisions and emotions. And we have popular teachers (*coughsupernannycough*) giving us bad information and spreading the lie that we need to come down hard and control these little miscreants. It's not our job to control, it's our job to set them up for success.

I was NOT setting us up for success in this least not physically. But on another level I was, I had reasonable expectations. And I was willing -as much as I was able to do so- to supervise those little plants and little people when they were on the floor together. I also taught the girls about the "baby plants" and how they needed sunshine to grow. That we must never ever never hurt the babies by pulling on them. And if we needed to touch them we could do it sooooo gently. And SUCCESS! My seedlings (all but one or two but I planted more than I needed), survived all the love Friendly lavished upon them (and I'm talking, sprawled out on the floor singing Baby Mine to them and ooooh so gently stroking them- they were babies after all!) .
singing to the babies

And they are now happily out flourishing in their containers on the patio... I mean we've definitely had a few casualties... Friendly + a trowel = dead tomato plant. But hey, considering how much she loves da babies, I'm not complaining!

I want to clarify some thing about boundaries, and little people, and reasonable expectations, and setting children up for success...

Okay I want to clarify my whole post! Just because little people lack impulse control, or have a hard time keeping their emotions to an appropriate level doesn't mean we back off whenever they do some thing outside of the boundaries (they run away when we say "wait". Or totally meltdown when we say "no"). No that's when we physically show them what we need them to do. No I'm not talking hitting them! 

When we say "wait" to a young child we take their hand in ours, and stand very still to show them what we mean. And we do this until they learn what it means. Also, while they are learning we always try to keep very small ones close enough so that we can remind them if they forget. And have a back up plan (a stroller or carrier) if they are having a hard time following through.

When they melt down we run through the HALT questions to see how we can help them
  • are they hungry
  • Are they angry (feeling misunderstood)? 
  • Are they lonely (have we been too busy for them and they are just acting out to remind us they exisist)? 
  • Are they tired (have we pushed this play date to it's brink of what their energy really can hadle)? 
When we set up our kids for success we take those things into account first so we're not reacting to some thing they had no control over in the first place. In general we also strive to be proactive to ensure they are getting good food in their bodies and enough rest consistently. Because kids who feel right, act right.  
I also want to say that kids don't come out knowing what every thing means automatically and in all situations. Big wordy explanations do zip for small children. We have to make our actions (gentle and intentional guidance) speak louder than our words.

Do I always handle things this way? No. Some times my kids get too far away from me, and I get upset. A lot of times it's frustrating to balance reasonable expectations and what I wish was the reality. Some times I don't set us up for success, and ugliness ensues...It's a learning process and mistakes happen, we move along with new knowledge, more experience, and hopefully more tools.

I'll leave you with a great parenting resource: GOYB Parenting check it out, it has a lot more of what I've been trying to explain/process.

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