Wednesday, January 20, 2010

on the downswing

My patience is as thin as a cheap shower curtain. I wish I knew why. Everything's been going so well; I've been calm and enjoying myself and generally upbeat. But now. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. These things come in cycles, come and go, my patience as well as their ability to frustrate. Clark is yelling "no" in earnest now, and some days for Frances nothing can go right. This morning, after many mishaps and agony on her part, we were getting in the car and she was still sort of crying. "Why are you crying?" I asked. "I'm having a bad day," she whimpered, which was the perfect thing to say, because there was no real reason for the drama but that. It slowed me, thankfully, and as I climbed in the driver's seat I said (only thinly veiling my exasperation), "What can I do for you, Frances?" She asked me to come over to her side of the car. I walked around and opened the sliding door and put my arms around her and she rested her head on me. "You don't have to go to school," I said. "You can stay and hang out with Clark and me if you want to. If you just don't feel like going, that's okay." It was interesting--she paused. Before that she said something in jealousy about how Clark got to play with me, and when I offered for her to stay too I think it freed her from feeling like she had no choice. She loves school, and after she paused she said she wanted to go to school, and then she seemed happy about the decision, about the situation, ready to start the car and her day. Before that she felt I was pushing her, making her (I was pushing her to get dressed...).

As I write this it occurs to me that perhaps some of the headbutting we do starts from little things I don't even realize, like getting dressed. Hm. I'm going to have to think on this. When I say, "It's time to ___ " I wonder if that alone sets her off a little. I wonder if I can rephrase things, approach it differently, somehow help her be a part of the decision process. I like that.

Already we use a sticker chart which has been very effective. She gets stickers for all kinds of things she does by herself, like getting on her jammies, or her clothes in the morning, or her shoes and coat without dallying when I ask, or cleaning up the toys. When she fills one row of stickers (only 6 in a row... she can do it in a day if she puts her mind to it) she gets a gigantic gumball--her choice of prizes. Then when she fills the whole sheet (7 rows total) she gets to go out for a special ice-cream outing. She isn't interested in picking out her clothes, a thing that many children use to explore their independence, I understand. I wonder if she's looking for it in other more abstract ways.

But I've got to think this through some more. Truth is, though the sticker chart is working, it's still manipulation. I still control the gumballs. Maybe there's a way for neither of us to be in control like that. Is there? She is only 3 after all. Is there a way for her to be in control too?

(this is prompting for your thoughts, by the way)


Betsy said...

I understand where you're coming from! I've felt all those things, too!
Hope you'll come read my website at

Betsy said...

I wanted to add that there is a way for both of you to be in control. You give her two or three options and then she chooses. It makes her feel independent and you get a little of what you feel she needs.

Wayne Thompson said...

The sticker chart is a great tool. We spend our entire lives in environments where someone else makes the rules, sets the standards, establishes the expectations. We all have a boss of some sort. We don’t always have complete freedom of choice, so why teach that lesson to a child and raise her expectations unrealistically? We’re not always in control of our lives. Politicians are responsible to the electorate. Business owners are responsible to clients and consumers. Frances’s own father has a boss! It’s never too soon for a child to learn how to conform to expectations; and, when the envelope needs to be pushed, push it in a positive (not a selfish) direction, for the good of the entire team, family, community, etc. Keep up the good work with the stickers, and don’t be reluctant to be a gentle, caring, understanding boss. Encourage her to suggest better ways to accomplish the goal, but don’t be apologetic about setting high standards. You’re the one with the judgement and perspective of life’s experience. You owe it to Frances to give her the benefit of that experience, even though she may not appreciate it now. You know the old adage, “You’ll thank me later.”