Monday, April 19, 2010

Carrot, Not Stick

While generally I am not a huge fan of incentive programs, we have started one. Why don't I like them? Well, they smack of manipulation sensu Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards". We want them to learn to take initiative for personal reasons, not just because of the "carrots".

Frankly, little T wouldn't do anything for a carrot -but, chocolate is a different story. It is a new deal. If T gets up, dressed, eats breakfast, gets in the car and buckles on his own in the morning... he receives one chocolate to eat on the way to school.

We are hoping that if he develops the habit - he will learn to do these things sans chocolate. The jury is still out on whether he will ever do this without the carrot chocolate - but, for now the kid is waiting, in the car and buckled twenty minutes before I am ready.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Not so cute.

T, our littlest one, is experiencing a crisis. He used to be so cute when he needed help with his socks and shoes, and help eating and getting dressed, and on and on. But, at 4 and a half - it isn't cute anymore. So, his cries for help are escalating to shrieks (less cute), and whining (less cute still) and moaning (frankly annoying).

So, he is struggling with getting dressed in the morning. He is unpleasant to be around. And, his inefficiency has reached such heights that one morning last week, after I warned that he would go to school in whatever attire he was wearing when we got there - I carried the boy into school wearing only underpants. His teachers appreciated the notion of punishment by natural consequence and helped him get dressed there.

I'd have thought that the underwear incident would have cured him, but here he is, wandering around, whining again and wearing only underpants.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Go team.

I just had guests for the weekend. Among the familial guests were a set of parents with their four-year-old daughter and 11 year-old son. For fun, let's just call them Buffy and Jodi (if you don't get the reference, you are too young). For the parents, let's just call them Carol and Mike.

Mike is not the most attentive parent in the world. He didn't really want kids and isn't really plugged into their developmental stages. He lives more parallel to the rest of the family than in concert with them. Recently, however, he lost his job and has since felt as though he wanted to participate. So, he has started (on his own schedule) intervening with Carol's parenting. Mike is not so much pitching in as questioning Carol's strategies.

Carol is not perfect either (no one is). Carol is a driven career woman and can sometimes be a bit distracted in parenting from her job. She has trouble being consistent in rules or following through with her contingencies. That is, she might impatiently threaten to remove television all week, then later remember that she'll need them to watch tv during her teleconference later that day - so, she can't always follow through. She may even just carelessly threaten a consequence that isn't feasible. The kids can't really know when her threats for punishment are real or not - so, their responses are inconsistent.

Since Mike's been laid off, however, there's been a constant barrage of push-me pull-you parenting. Mike wants Jodie to excel in one class, and works for three hours ever day on that, but is angry that Carol can't get Jodie to satisfactorily finish all of his work in the other five subjects. Carol is angry that Jodie is so tired from one subject that he can't get through the rest when she gets home from work. Mike wants the kids available to snuggle and visit with in the evening, but doesn't want to deal with any problematic bedtime issues. He also sleeps in and has no interest in getting them to school in the morning. Carol is frustrated that the kids are too tired to move in the morning and every morning is a struggle, and that her efforts for bedtime routines are undermined (until Mike disappears into his family office leaving Carol with tired and grumpy kids). Mike cannot bear to see his four-year-old princess upset - so, he will stop at nothing to keep her from being unhappy.

This weekend, we saw the epitome of Mike undermining Carol's (inconsistent) parenting to keep this child from exploding into a tyrant worthy of Violet Beauregarde (the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka). The kids ate dinner at a separate table from the adults, so they could cut-up a little and we could have adult conversation. I had made a "Bunny Cake" for Easter dessert. Neither Mike nor Carol were completely on with this - we put out plates (appropriately cut and divvied up) for each child, set their places, gave them drinks and told them to eat their dinners. Mike hovered back and forth over Buffy to insure her safety (?). She cried that she wouldn't eat this or that. Mike tried to negotiate, "Oh, sweetie, if you eat this we'll give you lots of candy and lots of the bunny cake". Carol sporadically left our table to berate Buffy for not eating - you won't get dessert if you don't eat. We let our kids cut their own meat, get seconds, and generally be independent through the dinner (if a bit giggly). Our youngest lost it and was briefly incarcerated on the stairs (time-out) before he got to rejoin the bunch.

Finally, our children were all finished, as were the grown-ups. Jodie had eaten his dinner. But, poor Buffy was suffering with the dreaded green beans (yeck!!). Mike continued to cajole and Carol threaten. Finally, Carol stated "you need to eat these three green beans, if you do that - you can have cake". While I wasn't there, a credible witness has told me that Mike popped the three green beans into his own mouth and told Carol that Buffy ate it. So, finally, after 45 minutes of threats from Carol, cajoling from Mike, and shrieking from Buffy - she got her cake. Mike undermined all of Carol's parenting efforts, and everyone suffers the consequence of a child being rewarded for behaving like a tyrant.

If there has to be one basic rule for parenting - present a united front. Don't let the kids tear you apart. In the end, what you have is each other, and the kids will figure life out easier if there are fewer sets of rules to navigate.