A sad but ultimately uplifting conclusion to the story of the little boy whose mom let him dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween:
"I don’t believe it is ok to stand idly by, and I hope I am teaching my shorties the same thing. There has been much talk about the three groups of people; bullies, victims, and bystanders. I propose a fourth group; those that stand up. Those that allow their voices to be heard, that give a voice to the victims. Those that will take a chance to stop the bullies. Those that will stand up for and stand by the victims. Those that will motivate the bystanders to not stand idly by.Those that will say enough is enough.
In order to maintain our certification as foster parents (both in case we want more kids and since our adoption won’t be finalized for a long time), we have to do a bunch of continuing education. A couple of weekends ago we attended a two-hour course at our agency about Compassionate Communication in parenting. I hadn’t had any formal exposure to this school of thought previously; I found it quite interesting.
Following the link will get you to the details, but the short version is that we ought to learn to speak to our children (and one another) in ways that allow them to feel like we are empathizing with them, rather than dismissing their feelings and desires, as we frequently do. A simple example: when a child falls down and cries, but has no visible injury, parents often say, “Stop crying, there’s nothing wrong.” Instead we could say something like, “I bet that hurt when you fell down!”
The most interesting thing to me about the class was my reaction to it. I found myself resistant to a lot of the ideas, feeling like being too empathetic with my children might get in the way of being an authority figure for them, or give them too much power in terms of choosing things in our lives. But when I stepped back a little and considered the stuff a little more objectively, I couldn’t really see that my fears were justified. There’s plenty of room in compassionate communication for boundary setting, authority figures, refusal of requests/demands, etc.
I think part of my resistance to these ideas stems from a desire to avoid over-explaining things to kids. I have an early memory of some friends of my parents who came over with their 2 year old when I was probably 5 or 6, and being baffled about the long drawn out explanations the parents were trying to give their child about WHY he wasn’t allowed to do something, when I thought they should just say NO and stick to their guns. I think it’s good to explain stuff to kids when they are able to understand it and in a mindset to be receptive to it, but trying to explain why knives are dangerous to a screaming toddler seems like a waste of time. And I think that Compassionate Communication doesn’t actually suggest that we over-explain why things are forbidden to our children, rather that we empathize with their frustration over being forbidden to do something by us.
The class hit a bit of a snag when one of the parents in attendance allowed herself to be used as an example. She was definitely NOT currently using compassionate communication with her son and they were deeply frustrated with each other. She seemed to be stuck in Catch-22, realizing that her current situation was untenable, but not having any faith in trying compassionate communication as an alternative. I think she was really looking for some empathy from the teacher, who she thought would realize that her son was really a brat who needed a more radical treatment than just compassionate communication. The teacher was actually quite empathetic to the mom’s situation, but the mom never seemed to really grasp that she might try anything but what she was already doing, which made the class a bit anti-climactic. (No magic SuperNanny transformation happened by the end of the class.)
One way I keep trying to think about the material was in the framework of human factors engineering, a field I’m familiar with from my work in graduate school. A wild oversimplification of human factors engineering is that we should try to make stuff in ways that jives with the way people intuitively and naturally respond to stuff, rather than making it first and then trying to educate people about how to use it “properly” second. This relates to child rearing in that we should try to think about whether our ways of interacting with our children are likely to get the reactions we desire from them. For example, we are struggling a lot these past few weeks with the babies crying a lot more than they previously did. This is due to a lot of factors, like teething, changing needs for nap times, developmental stages (beginnings of independence), etc. I find myself saying, “Stop crying!” in frustration with the crying, but of course this does little to actually stop the crying. I wish that the babies could empathize with us a little and see how frustrating constant (ok, frequent) crying is on our nerves. But of course they are too little for that (and will be for a long time), and so the burden of compassion and empathy is totally on us. So I’m trying to stop commanding an end to the crying, and instead say things like, “I know you are frustrated that I won’t let you play in the fireplace.” It feels a little new-age hippie, but I do find that it does actually help me calm down a little if I say things like that, because it forces me to see things from their point of view (they are frustrated with my demands) and breaks me out of being stuck in mine (I am frustrated with their demands). It doesn’t actually change the fact that I won’t let them play in the fireplace, but it makes my reaction to them more loving and calm, which so far seems like it is helping to defuse the situation better than demanding an end to the crying, which I can’t say has ever actually resulted in a speedy end to the crying.
This continuing ed session we attended was the 1st of a series on Parenting via Compassionate Communication, and I’m looking forward to learning more and having more of my assumptions challenged!
Baby V took her first unassisted steps this morning! Baby S is coming right along, too. She likes to walk while pushing a walking toy (or a small table) in front of her. Soon they’ll both be running like crazy. Time for another round of baby-proofing, I think.
First off, while we’re totally starting early with the potty, we aren’t going to be potty nazis. So far I’ve managed to get V over the regular toilet twice in time to poop, and then after getting the potty, had her pee while sitting on it. But I’m under no illusions that they know what’s going on yet, or are have things under control enough to be expected to manage on their own at all. For now we are just trying to demystify the toilets and the bathrooms in general.
Up until now, we’ve mostly kept the bathroom doors closed to keep them out of trouble in there, but I worry that they won’t understand what goes on in the bathroom without getting to spend much time in there. So I’m doing another round of babyproofing in our bathrooms, so they can be allowed a little more autonomy in there. Now we only have the cabinets with cleaners and stuff locked up, but there’s lots of drawers with shaving cream, bath soap, etc. that they try to get into. And especially with two of them, it is hard to be in there with them and not constantly be pulling both of them away from a drawer full of stuff they shouldn’t be into. Once I get those drawers and cabinets secured, we should be able to spend more time in the bathroom with them.
My grandma Ruthie was an expert potty trainer. She was so good that people would drop off their kids for the weekend and when they picked them up they’d be potty trained. Sadly, no one thought to record her technique for posterity, and she passed away about 15 years ago. (Her birthdate is just a few days our girls, making her very nearly 100 years older than our girls, which I think is sort of cool.) I think her “secret” was focusing pretty exclusively on potty training for a few days, which may have been easier during her life time than in ours, which seems full of distractions. One fun memory I have of her was at a family gathering, when she looked around at the gathering relatives and said, “I think I potty trained everyone in this room!” It was very nearly true.
We’ll see how it goes for us and our girls. Obviously, I’d like to be done with diapers sooner than later, but I have no interest in stressing everyone out and making it a HUGE DEAL. That’s part of why I hope starting early works. Right now it is fun and novel for them to sit on the potty and read the potty book. If I seem them making the poop face and it is convenient, I rush them to the potty to see if we can get there in time. Every few days we’ll spend some random time just sitting on the potty reading the potty book and seeing if we get lucky.