Thursday, October 25, 2007

I am flexible, not a push over

The best parenting advice I ever received was to trust my instincts. Despite all of the "helpful" suggestions other people would be quick to offer, I would know my child better than anyone who didn't live with him, so I would be in the best position to figure out what he needed. Not that this has kept other people from offering their thoughts, but it has helped me stay true to what I think Scooter needs.

I suspect that a lot of the parenting I do looks more like "indulgence" and "spoiling" than "flexibility," as I like to call it.

It is true that Scooter gets much of what he requests. And, although I started typing a list of the general categories of his requests and why we fulfill them, I've decided that I don't need to do that sort of justification. The long and short of it is that we tend to fulfill those requests, within reason, that are food-related or strike us as "it won't hurt anything and it will make things easier for everyone."

The first affirmation that I received for this parenting style was when I read Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Child. One of the things she advocated for children with food-related issues was to offer primarily those foods that the child would eat and not to push new foods too aggressively. We had pretty much been doing that anyway, but it gave me permission to feel fine about doing it.

More recently, the developmental pediatrician told me that the best way to determine if an parenting approach works for Scooter it to consider his reaction. Not in a give-him-everything, hop-to-it, he-shouldn't-ever-cry way, but in a trust-your-gut, you-can-read-him-best way. He even gave as an example an exchange from the beginning of the appointment.

Scooter had been rolling a toy truck on top of one of the plastic chairs before the doctor arrived. Once the doctor had come in and we'd made introductions, Scooter started up again. I turned to him and said something like, "Why don't you play with the truck on the floor now?" To which Scooter responded, "Uh... no." So I switched from a question to a request: "Scooter, please play with that on the floor." Again: "Uh... no." I pondered for a bit, determined that the noise really was too distracting for me and took a new tack. Maintaining as even a voice as possible,
I said, "Scooter, it is very noisy when you roll the truck on the chair and makes it hard to hear the doctor. It would be helpful if you played with it on the floor." He paused and looked at me, then pleasantly said, "OK," and moved down to the floor.

Not exactly an amazing moment, but a good illustration of what works. Scooter is stubborn and generally doesn't want to change what he's doing just because someone tells him he should. (I can clearly picture Trillian saying, "Gee, I wonder where he gets that?") But, he is interested in the way things work and cause-and-effect; additionally, he does like to help. So presenting a simple explanation and appealing to his ability to improve a situation goes much further than a command.

Today was one of those days that walked the flexible/indulgent line. After a slightly late start and a short debate with Trillian about letting him stay home (cough and a low-grade, but not exclusionary, fever), which Scooter decided by saying he wanted to go show his stickers to his friends, Scooter and I made it to daycare. But things were a little off from the start. Free play was ending early since there was going to be a fire drill. So not only did he miss out on the time that would have served as a gentle transition, but he got worried once he knew the alarm would be going off. (My bad for telling him.) I stayed for the drill, carried him down the stairs--the stridency of alarms overwhelms him enough that he can barely move--while I helped marshal some of the other kids. He cried the entire time and got more worked up when we headed back in since I got stuck holding a door while he was swept up by the other kids going up the stairs.

And so we sat on the side of the room for a while as he cried and told me that he wanted to go home. And we sat and sat and sat. And then we went home.

He mostly played by himself and watched DVDs. No, I didn't get quite as much work done as I might have otherwise. But truly, my one regret is that I didn't bring him home sooner. The shift of events had been such that his day had veered off course. And it just so happens that Trillian and I both had days that were light on scheduled items.

So I bent, but not over.


Lisa b said...

I wouldn't leave my child in that situation either and I'll bet you will get lots more comments to that effect.

I'm working my way through 'Kids, Parents and Power Struggles' that Marla recommended to me. What you have written here not only fits with what I feel but what I have been reading.
Clearly a lot of thought goes into your decision making. I would not say you are anywhere near being a pushover.
I also believe the kids know when there is room for negotiation and of course try to get what they want. If I waffle on sending the girl to school there is trouble for the rest of the day. Of course if they are ill there is trouble anyway. That is what videos are for.

bubandpie said...

See, today I'm feeling like I've crossed that line from flexible into push over. Not because I've been especially indulgent but because I've been rushed and unable to be as flexible as usual, and my kids have been enraged by my temerity in not allowing the usual ten minutes of choosing a book, picking up pebbles en route from door to car.

That "trust your instincts" advice has always driven me crazy. Early on, it was just a nasty reminder that I HAD no instincts - I was too green for instincts at that point. Now it bugs me because it seems to be trotted out only when the speaker (not you) is sure that my instinct will be to do what they think is right.

cinnamon gurl said...

I totally agree.

Mouse said...

"Trust your instincts" gave me permission to ignore what other people were telling me. There's also an aspect, one I have to keep under watch, of "correcting" what my parents got "wrong."

kittenpie said...

I'm big on explaining why, too. I figure, I don't like to just be ordered to do something without knowing any back story, why should she? I also think it makes sense for them to understand the way their behaviours impact others and that other people have needs that they might need to accomodate, too, sometimes.

I think fire drills, while really important so that kids don't freak out the first time they are faced with that srieking alarm, are really, um, alarming (sorry) for kids. Pumpkinpie always tells me the day they've had one, and notes that she didn't like that. The loud noises really get to her.

Laural Dawn said...

I kind of struggle with this too. Lately it's causing some arguments in our house because my husband and I don't quite see eye to eye.
(we're working on it).
With Matthew there has to be reason and motivation.
I find it hard to trust my instincts sometimes. And, where is the line?
In my ideal world some things would be absolutes that Matt doesn't question while other things I would be flexible on. It's not exactly like that. But, he's 3 and I think we are getting there.
Sometimes I feel like it just takes so much energy to debate/discuss and compromise.
By the way - I would have left daycare with him as well. And, I have in the past but in different situations (in Matt's world the fire alarm is the coolest event ever).
sometimes they need to know you're there for them.

Karen said...

you know, I play these games particularly with my middle child - much of it is because of his sensory issues - sometimes I have to remind myself that it's okay - my expectations need adjusting from where his older brother was at this age, but adjustments are bad. I'm his mother. I'm am meeting needs, sometimes we enter into fuzzy territory, where wants and wishes meet up with needs - but sometimes he needs his wants to be fulfilled, for feelings of safety, security and love -and sometimes a cookie is really just a cookie. As we say in our house: "no harm, no foul."