Saturday, August 18, 2012

Disciplining/ Discipling a Preschooler

A recent conversation with a friend on spanking got me thinking on discipline. I can imagine that people might think "OK, so you don't spank - what do you do?"

Firstly, let me make 2 points.
1) The most important thing is not about punishing wrong actions, but parenting with empathy and grace (seeing things from their perspective)
2) Its very important to have appropriate developmental expectations of your child.
Let me talk about this a little further.

1) Empathetic parenting. So my child is acting out and testing boundaries - why? Lets try and put my own emotions aside for a few minutes (and practice some Fruits of the Spirit) and see what is the root cause of my child's misbehaviour (Exercising Wisdom and Grace). MOST of the time it is something as simple as they are tired, overstimulated or needing some attention from you. As frustrating as it sometimes is - when  E acts out, it is USUALLY because I haven't been paying proper attention to him and spending quality time with him; haven't been listening to him and validating his right to be heard; been moody and irritable with him for my own silly reasons. If that is the case, amazingly, what quickly fixes some naughtiness is a vigorous tickle game and/or a story and cuddle on the couch. I have written on my wall "Misconnection = Misbehaviour" so that I never forget it, and am often reminded of the real reason behind his actions.

2) Appropriate developmental expectations. Don't even discipline a child under one - they have absolutely no concept of right or wrong. It would be totally unfair. A child between 1 and 2 is purely exploring their new found freedom and environment. The law of distraction works wonders. A 2 year old is coming to terms with boundaries and disappointments on a regular basis. Expect frustrations. This is where empathetic parenting is really needed. A 3 year old (where we are at the moment) wants to start testing their boundaries, and their little personalities are coming out. This is the first time we really needed to assist with shaping and setting boundaries.

So what I am discussing here essentially is disciplining a 3 year old. We are very blessed that we have had to do very little discipline with him in his life. His firm trust and connection with us has made him a lovely compliant child - even though he has a fairly strong will. Ruling out what I mentioned before, in the case of him being purely tired or overstimulated, and if he is having a period of consistent resistance - most of the time a stern warning or look of disapproval will quickly set him back on track. If you have read my previous posts you will understand that, as with our relationship with God, we want to please Him. That is the basis of why we obey Him and his commandments. We like to think that this is why E is quick to listen to us as well. He genuinely doesn't like it when we are hurt or sad by his actions and he will often come out of his own to give us a "sorry kiss". He will also often comment and say, "is mommy sad now?" This means that he can in turn sympathise with us as we try to do with him.

On very few occasions (probably twice a week if that) we will put him on the 'Thinking Chair'. Some might call it the Naughty Step or Time-out Zone. We don't like to use those terms because we don't want to label him naughty, and form his identity in any way as being naughty. For example, if he is doing something naughty we don't say "You are naughty!" or "You are being naughty!". We say "What you did was naughty". I also often make a point of saying to him that he is a good boy, not a naughty boy. His identity is not in what he does - that's what the world believes. His identity is in Christ and what Christ has ALREADY done for him on the Cross!

Back to the 'thinking chair'. Some Attachment Parents don't believe in time-outs, but I tend to think they work very well for  number of reasons:

  1. In a heated moment it gives him a chance to cool down
  2. In a heated moment it gives me a chance to cool down! (Important)
  3. It separates him from his fun/ overstimulating/ dangerous situation so he can gain some perspective on what he did wrong
  4. It gives him some time to think about what he did wrong (I don't believe that a child under 3 can really grasp this though)
  5. Being placed in a quiet safe environment allows us to discuss what happened and reconnect without distractions.
The rule of thumb is generally 1 minute for every year of their age. If I put him on the chair (very rarely) when he was younger than 3 I would sit with him so that he didn't feel like I was abandoning him and so cause separation anxiety.

What usually would happen is if he is misbehaving in a way that I see as unreasonable and disobedient is give him a warning. This usually fixes the problem. If he is being defiant I will tell his what will happen if he doesn't listen, and then count to 3. If he hasn't wised up by 3 then its off to the thinking chair with mommy. I take him by the hand and sit him down. The best place for us is a chair in the bathroom (because its pretty boring in there!). Then I will tell him why he is sitting there, and leave him for 3 minutes. After this time we have both cooled down and gained some perspective. At this stage I will go down to his level and calmly ask him why he is sitting on the thinking chair (only after they turn 3 do I think they can do this), and he will often tell me exactly why. Then I repeat what he did in my own words to him what he did wrong and why he shouldn't do this. Thereafter I will ask him for a sorry kiss and hug. But usually he beats me to that and dives onto me to say sorry. Then we have a big cuddle - and I remember it no more! Just as the Lord does when we repent.

This technique really works well for us and it doesn't put a notch in our closeness by any means. I haven't broken his trust and I haven't had to intimidate him in order to listen to me.

Another important point I try to regularly put across is that I as the parent make mistakes too. I make a point of apologising to him if I do shout or act wrong because its important for him to see that we all make mistakes, but its more important to make right. He responds really well to this.

I hope that this helps give you some practical tips on what has really worked for us. Please don't think that just because we don't hit our child that we are permissive parents, and that he runs the roost and bullies his parents. He is by no means a spoilt and naughty child. I often get compliments on how lovely he is. Yes, he has moments - we all do. But we are all growing and learning. Parenting with Grace really calls for asking God for wisdom on a regular basis, because we are growing and learning as parents too. Putting your emotions and feelings aside and acting in love, in times of frustration, is really a growing experience as we grow in character and self-control ourselves. Lets model these things to our children.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Focusing on what he's doing right

During my 1st trimester of pregnancy I was feeling pretty lousy most of the time, and I must admit that some of my best parenting intentions went out of the window. I felt ill, exhausted and moody, and that made me snappy and irritable. I could see the impact it had on E and my relationship with him. Murphy's law is always so that when you're not at your best, your child will act out as well. Nearly as though there are two children in the equation. And because E has a relatively strong will - this often ended in power struggles, misbehaviour and shouting (from both sides).

Boy am I glad that those months are over! And thank goodness for my mother who picked up a lot of the slack. However, as soon as I started feeling more like myself - I vowed that I would make right and correct the damage or gaps that might have grown between E and I.

What I have been doing for the last couple of weeks and seeing some amazing results, is purely focusing on what E does right, and let him know how pleased he makes me. I brag on him to others (in front of him) as often as I can, and tell him whenever he has done something positive, no matter how small. What I've started doing with him is give him a high 5 for a job well done - whatever it may be. Its lovely to see his face light up and his self esteem soar in these moments.

I find this quote from Dr Laura Markham in her post on the same topic very true:
"Finding fault with kids doesn’t help them change.  (Does it help you change?) Children, like other humans, grow and change when they feel loved, accepted, appreciated, respected. That lets them drop the need to defend themselves.  It makes them want to cooperate."
I encourage you to read her whole article here. She is a very wise woman.

Why would someone who hears what they are doing wrong all the time want to change? I have found from personal experience, positive affirmation makes me want to be a better person. Why would my child be any different?

If my son hears how happy he makes me and in turn feels good in his own skin, he will act 'good' because he feels 'good'. It is after all my job to build him up, not break his spirit.

Proverbs 31:26
"She opens her mouth in skillful and godly Wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sticking up for my unborn

We recently found out that we're expecting another boy!

At first everyone thought that it was a girl because my morning sickness was considerably more intense, and then the gynaecologist also suspected that it was a girl. He said he was 85% sure.

So there we are walking around for 3 weeks certain it was a girl, buying pink. And then at the next gynae appointment we saw without a doubt that it was a boy! One cant imagine the presence of a certain anatomy that is missing with a little girl!

The first time you have a baby you are just so thrilled with whatever you get. The second time around there is an unspoken pressure and expectation - mostly from other people. Everyone has a comment on how I must just be wanting a little girl next, and how that would be so perfect - almost setting up an 'external' expectation in myself. A Pigeon Pair - they call it. So you start imagining the life that could be with 1 boy and 1 girl. Perfect in theory. Textbook.

And then you find out that its another boy. Another E? That's all I know - raising a boy. No pink? I thought about the scenario I might find myself in that it would be another boy instead of a girl. I wondered if I would be disappointed on hearing the news. Would I feel as if I was being short-changed? But when I heard the confirmation of the sex I felt disbelief, yes, but disappointment - no way! I was actually quite surprised that I wasn't disappointed. 

But immediately after the surprise of this news, I felt a different emotion, a very strong emotion. It was defensive. Protective.

Defensive of my unborn child towards the world. Protective of his uniqueness, his right to be special in this world. Just as special as his big brother. My heart hurt for him even at this early age. When E came into the world he was so anticipated and celebrated. The firstborn on both sides of the family. The first boy in 50 years on the one side of the family. The first baby out of our group of friends. He was cooed over and made such a fuss of. To the degree that I felt claustrophobic of all the attention we were getting. 

So when I broke the news that my other baby was in fact another boy I couldn't help but pick up a sense of disappointment from others. Some outwardly expressed their disappointment, and some tried their best to cover it. The novelty of a little feminine energy wasn't happening anymore.

So understand my defensiveness, my protectiveness. The need to promote how truly special this little one is in his own way. Yes, it is hard for me to imagine how another boy can bring something so different to E. E has fulfilled all my expectations. He is the apple of my eye, and everything I could expect an angel boy to be. But my prayer every day is that this second one will be born with the same love and specialness as the other. That he will be valued and cherished for who HE is and not as a mini E. That he will have the opportunity to show his own idiosyncrasies and quirks without having to stand in the shadow of his big brother.

I will make sure that happens my little prince, your Mom is your biggest advocate!

Friday, January 20, 2012

From toddler to preschooler

My baby is no longer a baby...

Last Friday he started playschool. That was a great decision as far as we're concerned. He was more than ready. This child of mine is turning out to be a real social butterfly - like his Grandad.

This would be the first time I would be leaving him in the care of someone besides his granny or Ouma. I was quite nervous, but at the same time really exited and peaceful that it was the right time. I decided that for this year I only want him to go 3 days a week from 9 - 12, as I read that a toddler can only benefit from one hour of social time for every year of his age.

So, worried about tears and separation anxiety I bought a great book called first day at school. It has stickers and activities about the first day at school. We read it very often in the weeks coming up to school. I also made a note of talking him through what was going to happen nearly every day. I explained in great detail what would happen step by step as if I was telling a story. A story about E going to school, and playing with his friends. That mommy was going to take him in the car, and say "bye-bye' for a little while, but that I would come and pick him up later. I also explained that school isn't a place for mommies, but that mommy will always come and fetch him. I saw on his face when he realised that I wont be coming with him to school that he was a little upset - but that helped him get used to the idea of me leaving him BEFORE he realises at the school that I'm leaving him.

I'm so blessed that there was NO tears or anxiety. He would actually happily kiss me goodbye and run off to the slide.I would always make a point of being the first mom there so that he didn't have to wait for me to arrive after seeing all the other moms greet their children. I would think that would cause some anxiety.

But luckily the new season sf school is turning out to be a pleasant and successful one, and this will give me some time in the morning to do some work and when the new baby comes... to have some quality time with him/her.

And then there was four

So about a week ago I found out that we are expecting another baby! We are super excited as this was planned and happened only the second time around.

We chose to wait a bit longer than most families as we wanted a few things to be set in place:

  • That I was in a position to leave work (in an office)
  • E was potty trained
  • E was getting settled into a playschool
  • As close to a 4 year gap between siblings as possible
Deciding to have another child was a big decision for us and not something we took lightly at all. I'm very concerned how a sibling will affect E. I really don't think I'm cut out for two babies at the same time. I am a highly responsive, high touch kind of mother and I don't want to have to split myself totally between two children who need to be held so often. Luckily E is getting to the sage now where he wants to do everything himself, including walking up the stairs (with me behind him), going to the toilet, washing hands etc. I think I'll really appreciate this independence when I reach my 3rd trimester.

When E was a little baby and up to very recently, he was almost constantly in my arms. We both loved it and it has secured a strong attachment between us. Now he still comes for a cuddle on the couch now and then, before jumping up a few minutes later to go and do something more interesting. I want to provide my second baby with the same privilege E and I shared - those special moments of closeness. I know it wont be to the same degree but I will try my hardest to come as close as possible. 

As with my pregnancy - I am still feeling great! Besides being really tired and having the appetite of a lion. I even took another test a couple days later to see if I was still pregnant. Yup still there...

I am extremely privileged that my husband wants me to be well looked after, and has allowed me to stay home in this season. I already notice a huge difference this time around compared to my first pregnancy, where I was working a full day. These days, I will snuggle down with E for a nap after school - we are both enjoying that. This extra rest I'm getting allows be to be functional after 17:00 and make supper, and keep me in a pleasant mood with my family. Its making the world of difference.

I will try and update you as much as I get a chance with my pregnancy as it goes along.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fun family things to do around Cape Town in December

In an effort to find some fun family activities to put into my advent calendar, I stumbled onto some great activities and events in December around Cape Town. I had to share - a lot of it courtesy of Cape Town Kids!

Any day fun things/ places:
  • The V & A Waterfront has some great Christmassy things on over this festive season. Things like Christmas carols every night, fun rides for the kids, giant Christmas tree, Santa's village, World record museum. Check their calendar out here
  • The Aquarium is always a great place to go if you're looking for somewhere to go. Especially if you have a membership - which allows you free access the whole year. Children under 4 go free anyways.
  • Bugs play park at Joostenberg on the way to Paarl is always great.
  • Talking about Joosenberg, there is a favourite restaurant of mine called Klein Joostenberg. It has a bistro and playground for the kids with a huge lawn to run around on. Bottomless coffee for moms is always a pleasure! There is also a nursery next door to pick up something on your way home.
  • Delvera estate has a great kiddies section, and on Sundays they have cart rides and shows for the kids. going to check that our soon!
  • The Crocodile farm at le Bonheur in Paarl
  • Giraffe House on the way to Stellenbosch
  • Spier is always great to take a blanket and have a picnic
  • Table Mountain - really want to try that with E going up the cable car
  • The Ostrich Ranch
  • Picnic at Kirstenbosch
Special events for December:
  • Whole of December - World of Records museum at the Waterfront
  • 9 December - the Spier Festival of White lights
  • 9 - 10 December - Paarl Monument full moon picnic. Meet Santa (who hands out gifts to your kids) and picnic under the stars. They also have a Carols by candlelight picnic on the 4th.
  • 15 December - Meet Santa at the Waterfront Santa's Village
  • 10 - 15 December - The Caretaker at the Zip Zap Circus
  • 15 - 17 December - Carols by Candlelight at Kirstenbosch
Hope this gives you some ideas for what to do as a family during December!