I was just reminded today how so many of the infuriating things kids do are just part of everyday learning. No matter how you baby-proof, children will find new, exciting (OK, hair-raising!) things to do in their environment. For example;
Minimus (he’s the little one) has discovered the space between the couch and the wall. :} I am sure that he watched his older brother hide there, and decided to try for himself. The first time, I was doing something and didn’t notice that he had climbed up on the arm of the couch, and he fell. He fell- you guessed it- on his head! To be more precise, he managed to wedge himself into the corner upside down. I heard his muffled squeal and turned to see no more of him than his tiny feet flailing in the air! I rescued him; much relieved to find that both of the big couch pillows had been stuffed down beside the couch first so that he at least had a soft surface to land on. (Before anyone gets upset at me for using this in a humorous way- I know exactly how dangerous that was, he could have suffocated.) I made sure he was ok, told him that beside the couch was ‘not safe’, and redirected him to an activity I hoped would distract him from that mysterious, enticing space. Do you think it worked?
For about 30 seconds. :} Long enough for him to maneuver back to the arm of the couch. Agh! This time he very carefully dropped into the space feet first. “thtuck!” “thtuck!”, he said. I barely swallowed my laughter, put on my best concerned/stern Momma-face and said, “Minimus, you are stuck because this is not a safe place to play.” I redirected him. 5 minutes later, I extracted, reminded, and redirected him again. 10 minutes after that, I again extracted, reminded, and redirected my tiny boy. Thankfully, something more interesting captured his attention, and he forgot about it for a day…or two. Every few days for the last two weeks we have readdressed this issue. Obviously if I see him up there, I take him down. Or I say, “Minimus, you are not safe, get down”…”Minimus, put your feet down on the floor”…”Mommy is coming to help you get down”. I don’t often have to go through all three of those steps. The key here is that sometimes, “get down” doesn’t make sense to an almost-two, because their grasp of language is a tenuous one. So I make it more concrete- “put your feet down”, and he does. Sometimes, he cannot make himself do what I have asked. His ‘I will’ is still incomplete. As I have mentioned before, a baby’s sense of self- his understanding of existence as a separate being- is still developing at this age. It took me awhile to realize that my kids might want to comply, but somehow cannot. That was a huge jump from assigning defiance and disobedience the way Dr. Dobson suggests.
Brief tangent- Know what happens when you punish a child for disobedience when they simply could not comply? They get angry. Then, YOU get angry, and you punish more because they are angry at your ‘discipline’. Then they get angrier. Can you see how this happens? If someone accuses you falsely- what do you feel? Do you meekly accept their judgment of you? If they exact a ‘consequence’ against you, do you participate without protest? If you do- something is very wrong. Think about it- most of us would NOT accept that type of treatment, but Dr. Dobson suggests that we should use this technique as discipline on our children, and recommends that we punish again if they do not accept and comply. When a child is required to embrace these patterns they stick around in adulthood. I encourage you to think about what kind of adult you want your child to grow into; think about how he will feel about himself. Think about what he will believe is true about himself.
OK, back to Minimus… He’s so cute- he’s gotten really tan this summer, and has big brown eyes, and dark blond hair with twinkly highlights from the sun. So this morning I hear, “thtuck!” and sure enough, his tiny brown face is peeking up over the arm of the couch. “augh! thtuck!” Extract, remind, redirect…go out to the kitchen where dear husband is doing dishes. 😀 “I just pulled Minimus out from behind the couch again! Why do you think he keeps doing that?” I asked him. “I don’t know, you’d think he would know by now that he gets stuck,” he mused… Yeah- you would think that wouldn’t you! Almost immediately I hear, “thtuck!” from the living room, and call to DH, “He’s stuck again!” But before I could even reach my tiny boy, he gave a huge grunt and with what appeared to be massive effort, hauled himself up and out!!! He was obviously quite pleased with himself, too. *teehee* (my mother was muttering to me from her corner in the back of my head- ‘see, he’s been playing games with you this whole time! If you had spanked him the first time he disobeyed you would have saved yourself a lot of trouble’, she hissed) As I watched him climb out, I had an idea; he kept climbing back there because he wanted to figure out how to get himself back out! His favorite expression right now is, ‘I do it!’ At the core of our being is the desire for mastery. Not to BE a Master, but to actively master difficult things. This is why we climb mountains. It is also the motivation behind riding horses, writing a Doctoral Thesis, spelunking, and a host of other challenging; sometimes life- threatening things humans do just so we can master them. We do it because it’s wired into us to shoot for excellence in something- anything, as long as we can do it well. You see, getting rescued by Momma was not rewarding in any way for Minimus. I could have taught him to 1) not go back there (avoid challenges) 2) wait to be rescued (avoid working it out for himself) 3) feel badly for making trouble for Mommy (feel ashamed for wanting to succeed). The effort involved in getting himself into a situation for the sole purpose of trying to figure out a way back out again was its own reward!!
‘Oh Greenegem- you exaggerate!’ you say. ‘Surely that is not what you would have taught him!’ Well, yes. That is precisely what I would have been teaching him. This is what I meant when I talked about teaching things we don’t mean to teach. When we react rather than teach we miss an important step. It takes work to learn to do this; to stop and say to yourself, “What am I actually teaching my child?” It is harder to Parent with intent, than to blunder along trying to modify behaviors with punishment and reward. It is harder to learn your child and study developmental information- than it is to read the latest popular book on childrearing. It is harder to earn trust and win a heart than it is to ‘train’ a body. It is harder to think for myself and make my own decisions, than to let someone else think and decide for me and then tell me what I should do. My job is to raise my baby up into a fully-functioning, self-aware, living-with-purpose Adult human being. It’s hard work.