Thursday, February 19, 2009

applying theory

I have tendinitis in my right elbow (tennis elbow without the tennis) and it makes typing hard. I think I've mentioned that before. It's been bothering me more lately which is why I haven't been posting. That's most of why I haven't been posting as often, anyway. The rest is because sometimes it's easier to just observe my life rather than process it. I think I've been observing, a thing that has its own merits.

The kids have started to play together, something that is satisfying on so many different levels. It's like a little cup of bright sunshine just under my ribs. Recently I took them to the childcare room at the gym and when I came to pick them up they were sitting facing each other with a toy between them, Frances explaining to Clark how to push the buttons. The room was teaming with children and Frances chose to play with her brother. She's started to call him "my brother" rather than by his name. Sometimes she says "my baby," or "MY baby." And he turns into pure lit joy when she talks to him.

Remember the book I was reading that was against timeouts? I found another. I haven't gotten very far into the 2nd so can't comment on it overall yet but the ever so strong railings against timeout got me thinking about it and its purpose. So I pulled back on it. Instead, I've been just talking to F, telling her it's not nice to pull the dog's ears, no you can't push Clark, don't climb on top of him, what's he saying to you when he screams. I also had been creating more of a democracy here in this house, letting her decide sometimes if she'd rather we go to the grocery or the kidtown at the gym, go to the library or stay home and play.

Then a few days ago Mitch and I were commiserating that she'd been pretty needy sort of suddenly, had been whiny and clingy and also acting out, and it wasn't until the next morning that it occurred to me it might be connected to these new changes. I knew already that she needs the limits to be very clearly stated. She feels insecure without them, doesn't know where she stands, and I suspect she feels frightened of her own power, exposed in the big world. A couple of days ago I started putting her in timeout again. It only happens probably once a day. Reading about timeout and considering its purpose has changed the way I approach it, however. I'm much more detached about it: "Welp, you hit Clark so I guess you have to go in timeout... that's the rule." This feels better to me, feels less aggressive, more right for my style and her needs.

Also, yesterday afternoon I decided we needed to get out of the house (Clark was having some serious cabin fever plus teething and was screeching non-stop) plus I needed some exercise so I settled on a walk in the stroller. Frances said she wanted to go on a walk, but when she realized there was a stroller involved she got pretty riled. "I walk on my own feet!" was what she said. Recently I might have thought that just getting out of the house was the point, so if she wanted to walk rather than ride that would be okay. But since I suspected my giving her too much power was a problem, I didn't let her choose. "Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to," I said (oh the triteness, the oversimplification, the pitiful voice of the parent...) and I strapped her into the stroller screaming at the top of her lungs. I did try to help her by letting her bring her blanket and her baby and the baby's blanket. In the end I also allowed a pacifier but insisted that it's only for the stroller and not when she gets out. We had a great time. In fact, she didn't want to come back at the end of the walk. We pointed out the fire hydrants, the flags in people's yards, the small mountains of snow. I told her about evergreens and deciduous trees and daylight savings. Clark sat completely contented, just looked around.

Her insecurity and whinyness have gone. Quite suddenly she's happier again, less needy. I believe these two changes (reinstituting timeout and limiting her power in choice) are the difference. One thing it makes clear is that you can't apply a child-raising theory across the board. Every child is different and some things work for some children and not for others. And for Frances, she needs the limits to be very clearly drawn, at least at this age. Will have to wait and see what she needs later on. It's hard to remember to be so flexible; we adults work so hard to be staid, steady. But the truth is that the kid is always changing and so we should be too.


Paige said...

Cali, I'm so tired right now, so I won't write much, but I just wanted to say how much I admire you and your parenting. And I miss you!

Rebecca Barry said...

Hi Cali,
I've been meaning to visit your blog again for a week--thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on the Main Street Diaries! (I figured out which post you were talking about pretty quickly, no worries.) But I loved this post because it reminded me of how you have to be constantly vigilant about depersonalizing the argument. It's so hard! We have trouble every morning with getting out the door to school. And Liam and Dawson's Montessori school teacher said to use a timer, because it diffuses the situation--it becomes more about the timer than Mommy. So I'm about to go see if I can find one right now...

I loved Frances saying she walks on her own feet. It's nice that she's not using yours.

Your children are gorgeous!