Sunday, October 2, 2011

A little love and logic

We were going to go hiking. We were driving out of the apartment complex. And Elliott was asked to cease a loud, irritating behavior because it was distracting for driving. He threw the item of concern and started going bananas. The car stopped. We waited for some behavior to change, but instead it increased to nasty giggling and then crying to go and kicking. So Mike pulled around to our apartment. And then Elliott was begging not to go back home. And then he was screaming and crying. I removed him from the car. Then he started hitting. I stopped and said “this is so sad.” And that stopped him for a moment. He resumed until we reached the apartment. I sent him to his room to take a break and calm down. Once he was done being angry, he wanted a hug. Then I explained that I felt really sad we had to miss out on the hike and that he was so angry that he hit me. I asked him if he had any ideas how to fix the situation. He kissed me and then thought for a moment. He asked if he could do one of the chores we had discussed the other day (his new weekly chore list, with choices of jobs to be completed each weekend). I said that was a great idea, and would make me feel better. After he looked over the list, he selected cleaning the bathroom. Since it was the first time, I explained each step and then allowed him time to complete each section.

When he was done, instead of flaring up again, or asking to be left alone, he asked if he could help with dinner. (To be fair, I asked if I could make the drumsticks he selected today at the grocery while he was cleaning the bathroom.) We worked side by side on drumsticks, he picked the vegetable, and together made these apricot bars for dessert and tomorrow's breakfast.

cutting butter for a double batch of apricot bars
(ignore the mountain of butter and make them!)

The way this all unfolded was a big deal for me because I lose my temper, easily, very easily, when the boys get out of control. And, while it might seem obvious, it does not help them get under control when I am getting angry or upset. Hmmm. I wonder why! I have been reading Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years. I hate the cover graphic, the format was not the easiest to follow, and I don’t care for all the examples the authors lay out, especially when they make leaps from not disciplining your toddler to wild teen behaviors with no real support for such arguments. But by taking the meat of the book and applying it to our family in my mind, I was able to see the main points and put them into practice. The main idea is to give your child the opportunity to make mistakes now and learn from the consequences while they are young. And when they do make mistakes, if the adult stays calm and shows empathy, it sets the stage for better learning from a situation (sounds easier here than in application!). Because the boys are different ages, I made notes about how to approach each child’s situations. Elliott gets to spend more time problem solving when a mistake is made while Oliver is still learning that a behavior is not appropriate and that it will not be allowed. While the Love and Logic approach may not be for everyone, and I realize I might fail to follow everything the way I plan, the past few days have been far better than I realized they could be. I had my doubts and I am happy to find I was wrong.

The key to staying calm? Having a phrase to utter, with lots of empathy, when something happens. I chose “This is so sad” and from there I feel under control. No fake empathy either because it really is so sad. I can then state the problem and roll into a logical consequence. That is only part of the plan and part of the book’s approach, but getting started is the one of the hardest parts for me - staying cool and not allowing his problem to overtake me. Here are examples that I can see happening, all giving me a good start to staying calm with my initial empathetic phrase.

“This is so sad. You are throwing food off the table so you have to leave the table.”
“This is so sad. When you behave like this, we cannot take you to the park.”
“This is so sad. You broke Grandma’s vase throwing the ball. How can you fix this? (Pause for thinking) Would you like some suggestions?”

And so on…

 And, like the authors promised, at the end of the day, while we may have had to give up part of our day to challenging behaviors, in the end, I feel happier and less worn out and the boys are sweet and happy. Oh, and in the case of today, I have a slightly cleaner house.

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