Beyond the Sling – A Book Review (Attachment Parenting)

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I remember seeing Mayim Bialik a few years ago on What Not to Wear.

She had this bohemian-bag-lady look going on, and she reminded me of some of the women in my family: quirky and intelligent. I learned that she has a PhD in neuroscience. Then, several years later she showed up in the Big Bang Theory as Amy Farrah Fowler! She’s my favorite character.

(And, did you see the Valentine’s Day episode? Squee!)

Beyond the Sling So, I’m a big fan of hers.

I was in my first trimester of my twin pregnancy when her book, Beyond the Sling, came out. I mainly bought it out of curiosity.

I really liked her no-nonsense approach, and the way she rejects the gimmicks and consumerism of parenting (as our culture would have you believe).

Essentials

According to Mayim, these are the true baby essentials

  • a smooth birth (drug-free, vaginal when possible)
  • milk (breastfeeding is natural, bottle feeding should mimic breastfeeding as much as possible)
  • to be held (baby wearing is a biggie)
  • nighttime parenting (no “crying it out” or sleep-training;  co-sleeping or bed-sharing is appropriate)
  • potty (also known as Elimination Communication)

And here is what baby DOESN’T need

  • all that stuff (can I get an amen from MoMs everywhere?)
  • unnecessary medical intervention (holistic remedies)
  • pressure (“teaching” before baby is ready)
  • punishment (positive parenting vs. traditional discipline)

(There’s also a section on what mommy does need, but that part wasn’t as interesting.)

Attachment Parenting

If you couldn’t tell by her idea of what baby does and doesn’t need, Mayim is an advocate of attachment parenting. I really didn’t know much about it before reading the book, and I definitely think it’s a good “primer” in the logic of attachment parenting.

What I appreciated most about the book was the simplicity of her statements, backed up by science. But she writes in “plain English,” so it is easy to understand.

Diaper-Free Baby??

I particularly found the section on Elimination Communication intriguing, if not a little wacky. (At the time, I didn’t yet know I was carrying twins. I seriously contemplated EC, then discarded the idea at the thought of two diaperless newborns, then reconsidered and had an interesting couple of months!)

Positive doesn’t Equal Permissive

I also liked her section on punishment or rather, not punishing. She plainly explains why conventional discipline strategies like time-outs or threats are not effective, or why they work “for the wrong reasons.” She gives lots of examples of things to do instead and stories from her own children.

I enjoyed reading how the ideology played out for her family. There are many things that wouldn’t work for my own family, or that would be more challenging with multiples, but it was still neat to read about.

Give Yourself Some Credit

As with any book, this is not the answer to all your questions, nor is it a “quick fix,” and Mayim is the first person to tell you. I love that one of her first messages is that “you already know the majority of what you need to know to be an incredible parent.” What first-time mom doesn’t need to hear that? Now, as a parent of multiples, we generally need a little more logistical guidance, but when it comes to the meaty heart of parenting (or maybe its tofu heart, since Mayim is vegan), we should trust ourselves to make good decisions for our families.

For me, this book was an eye-opener and was kind of a “gateway book” into the world of attachment parenting. I would recommend it to anyone with an open mind who enjoys reading pieces that are straight-forward and scientifically backed.

Mercedes is a toddler-wearing, breastfeeding MoM to boy/girl twins living in Scotland. She is the author of an ebook, Twin Manibreasto, and blogs at Project Procrastinot

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk – A Book Review

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First published in 1980, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, is a book that I’ve seen referenced over and over in parenting conversations online since before my kids were even born. Now that R and J are two, I’m much more anxious to find and implement consistent parenting strategies that will work well for us and promote a spirit of cooperation, rather than constant discord, in our household. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk largely fits the bill.

Because How to Talk… was first published over thirty years ago, I found many of the philosophies and parenting strategies it suggested to be fairly commonsensical. The book primarily promotes empathy with children, encouraging parents to acknowledge their child’s feelings rather than dismissing or ridiculing them. This seems like a parenting philosophy that is more mainstream now than it might have been in 1980, and it has been reinforced over the years in educational television programming like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street,” etc.

But while much of the book seemed fairly straightforward and self-evident, the authors pointed out a few things that well-meaning parents often do that might undermine their children’s feelings without ever even knowing it. For example:

  1. Parents often try to reassure their children by saying, “You’re alright!” or, “It’s okay!” if a child falls or encounters a minor mishap. While parents are trying to diffuse the situation and cheer up the child, he or she may not feel alright, and parents may seem unsympathetic. Instead, the book suggests acknowledging the child’s feelings and letting them know that it’s alright to feel what they feel. The parent could instead say, “Oh, you fell and scraped your knee. That looks like it hurt!” to a child asking for comfort and reassurance. Expressing sympathy builds trust from the child to the parent. Another pitfall that well-meaning parents sometimes fall into is immediately turning the situation into a teaching moment. While our impulse might be to immediately say, “This is why I told you not to run on the sidewalk,” kids can perceive that you haven’t “heard” their distress.
  2. Parents often try to solve a problem or resolve a conflict on behalf of their child, rather than giving children the tools to do it themselves. This is a problem we face a lot in my house, where my kids are struggling to assert their own autonomy but lack the skill to do everything by themselves. Rather than jumping in to help by saying, “Here, let me open that for you,” the authors suggest showing respect for the effort and tools for success, by saying, “It can be hard to open a jar. Sometimes it helps to tap the lid gently on the counter.”
  3. Parents can provide harmful praise. Instead of evaluating or categorizing your child, the book suggests describing what you see. If a child brings home a good grade on the spelling test, rather than saying, “What a smart boy you are!”, try describing what you see: “You put a lot of work into studying this week, and it really paid off!”

I found many parts of the book to be helpful, and I’ve been working over the last few weeks to put some of them into action. As the mom of two-year-olds, it can be challenging at times. My kids aren’t quite old enough to understand cooperation and collaboration, and because frustrating moments come about pretty frequently in our house, I don’t always have the wherewithal to think through my initial (often negative) response and replace it with something more constructive. I did find myself asking myself, “Okay, but what happens when THAT doesn’t work?” as I read through the suggestions and examples.

How to Talk… is largely opposed to punishment as an outcome, preferring solutions allow kids to have some input into the outcome. A lot of these solutions are ideas I’ve heard before, like asking children to choose between two outcomes the parent can deal with, or allowing the child to experience the natural consequences of their actions. But the book also suggests some very collaborative problem-solving, involving brainstorming solutions and choosing a combination of solutions that work for everyone. I really like this idea, as it gives kids buy-in into the final outcome, but my two-year-olds don’t really grasp the concept yet.

Overall, I found How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk to be a good read, though perhaps not a complete, bullet-proof parenting strategy. I appreciate the book’s philosophy of treating your children as people to be respected and heard, and I’m continuing to work on implementing some of the ideas I’ve read in my own home.

The Christian Parenting Handbook – A Book Review

Christian Parenting Handbook Review

We’ve reviewed this book here on the blog before, but it’s worth mentioning again. It’s just one of those books that is an all-around great resource, and it’s set up in a way that makes it a pick and choose kind of book, since each chapter is a different strategy.

And, did you know that you can even use these strategies with your spouse? I do! That’s one of my favorite parts about this book – it’s for all ages!

The Christian Parenting Handbook

Here’s my favorite summary of the book from the back cover:

With these strategies you’ll be able to move from behavior modification to a heart-based approach to parenting. Instead of relying on rewards, incentives, threats, and punishment, you’ll learn how to identify heart lessons to teach your child and implement them in practical ways.

So, like Love & Logic, which I reviewed yesterday, you’re incorporating the heart (and empathy) into the mix. But, unlike Love & Logic, you don’t use punishment, and this isn’t about control, it’s about building character, which aligns more with the Positive Parenting approach that I decided to apply after not choosing to go with Love & Logic.

Here’s just a few of the chapter titles to give you an idea of the lessons:

  • Consistency is Overrated (didn’t expect that one, did you?)
  • Consequences Aren’t the Only Answer
  • Don’t Minimize Your Parenting Power Because Your Partner Does It Differently
  • It Takes Two to Argue, but Only One to Stop (this chapter was a great one for my marriage!)
  • Teach Kids to Be Solvers Instead of Whiners (my favorite chapter that I applied immediately with my son)
  • Fair Doesn’t Mean Equal (good sibling advice here)
  • Firmness Doesn’t Require Harshness
  • Children Who Play the Blame Game Lose
  • Don’t Give In to Manipulation
  • Discipline Kids Separately for Sibling Conflict (look, a chapter about siblings!!!)

Are you happy to see that they deal with siblings (multiples in our case) in this parenting book? I know I was! There are some great strategies on how to handle different situations you’ll encounter while disciplining more than one child, and I definitely appreciated that these were included in the book.

The book says it’s for ages 2-18, but I actually started using it when my survivors were 16 months old. My son was particularly difficult (well, normal for the age, but just more ‘curious’ and strong-willed) and I went straight to the chapter about teaching kids to be solvers instead of whiners. And you know what? It wasn’t really about him at all. It was about me and how I handled the situation. That was kind of humbling to realize, but when I changed my approach, things fell into place. You can read about that incident on my original review (scroll to the bottom half of the article where the review starts).

curious boy

As for the Christian aspect of the book, don’t let that turn you off if ‘Christian’ isn’t your thing. While the book does reference scripture, they don’t throw it in your face and you can still benefit from the lessons and suggestions in the book. And, like I mentioned before, it even works on your spouse!

If you’d like to check out The Christian Parenting Handbook, I highly recommend it. An added bonus of this book is that there’s even a workbook add-on you can purchase that helps you apply these principles through practice. This is especially helpful if you’re someone who needs to do more than read to really understand a concept.

See you on Friday, where I’ll share some great relationship building ideas for keeping the romance alive after kids!

Is Parenting with Love & Logic Possible with Multiples?


Parenting with Love & Logic

This is a book review of Parenting with Love & Logic. This post is not meant to be judgmental, I’m just sharing what has (and hasn’t) worked for me.

I don’t know about you, but getting my children to behave and do what I want them to do is not easy. Times two. We throw food, we pull hair, we say no, we ignore directions. It’s a ton of fun. So, how do I handle it?

Coming from a background where my mom and stepdad parented one way, and my dad and stepmom a completely different way, I was fortunate to see how I didn’t want to parent. While you’ll never see me spank my child, and I rarely yell at them (unless it’s a dangerous situation), I realize that every person parents differently.

My MOMs group recently had a parenting guru come out and talk to us about the Love & Logic approach and how to incorporate it. Initially, I loved the approach. It didn’t advocate spanking or yelling, and I thought I’d give it a try.

Love & Logic book

When reading Parenting With Love And Logic, I started to have some reservations about the book. It has some great points and talked about how to let kids make mistakes (I agree) and learn from them with natural consequences (I agree) but it kept using the word ‘control’. How by being calm and loving, and using logical consequences as punishment, we could control our kids and their behavior. The book even says it will help you “establish control over your kids.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not that into being controlled. And when I try and control what my child is doing, it usually ends in tantrums. 

I also had an issue with the fact that the book didn’t address how to handle multiples. When the coach was speaking to our group, she was asked several questions that she couldn’t answer. She did say that it would be like any sibling sets (yeah, right), but when one mom brought up what to do when one child throws a fit at McDonalds and the other is being good, her response was to leave McDonalds. Doesn’t that punish the other child, too? She then followed up with a solution to leave and just explain to the ‘good’ child that they will get some benefit by leaving that the ‘bad’ child wouldn’t. A lot of the moms scoffed at that. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that this might encourage more sibling rivalry, and it will certainly build up a heart of hatred between family members who feel wronged.

Imagine: your twins share a room. You have to punish one by taking out all the books because they are tearing them up, but the other twin hasn’t done anything wrong and loves to read. So, you are now punishing both of them, when only one did something wrong. You’re also still punishing, and the child who is getting punished is going to feel controlled and angry. Even when you approach it with love and logic. Have you taught them to treat the books right? Have you asked them why they tore the book, gotten to the heart of the matter (although, some examples do have you do this in the book, not all do)? Have you taught them to manage their frustrations and cope so that they know what’s normal and acceptable? Or that’s it’s okay to be angry, but this is how you handle it? No. If you’re using the Love & Logic method, you’ve just taken the books away and tried again the next night to put them back, repeating this until they no longer tear books. AND you’ve also punished the ‘good’ twin, who is now probably angry at the ‘bad’ twin and maybe even you.

I realize that we can’t always be ‘fair’ in parenting, and I do think there are some benefits to the Love & Logic method (like the empathy, logical consequences, and responsibility aspects), but I don’t think that consequences have to equal punishments.

So, I moved on. Looked for another angle – one that would meet the needs of my preferences and family. I became very interested in the Positive Parenting method (this is NOT the same as attachment parenting). I am a huge fan of Aha, Parenting! and have linked to her article about what positive parenting is, but the basic definition is this:

Positive parenting is parenting without punishment. It’s parenting that teaches the child to want to behave, to be considerate, to recognize and regulate their emotions, and eventually, to self-discipline.

Now, you do still discipline your kids, but did you know that discipline comes from the word disciple, which means, ‘to teach’? It’s not the same as punishment. That was important to me.

Another great resource for positive parenting comes from the Positive Parenting Connection. I love how she explains that kids respond better to guidance vs. control. How many times have you given your child milk, but they didn’t want it and it became a battle of wills? Guide them, instead. Help them feel a tiny bit in control and give them choices. Teach them to tap into their feelings and understand their emotions.

That article I just linked to above? Here’s a great excerpt from it:

Punishments and disconnected consequences like standing in a corner do not help with any of that. Like when my daughter ripped the picture, sitting in the corner was not going to make the picture whole again. It also was not going to teach her how to manage her frustrations or how to make amends with her brother.

So, this solves one of my issues with Love & Logic, but what about the multiples issue? Well, when you aren’t using punishment, you don’t run into as many fairness issues or anger issues from either party. When you use methods of guidance, you’re teaching everyone at the same time, and even fairly most of the time.

This method has worked significantly better for me with my surviving triplets than the Love & Logic method, and I’m happier too – I feel more connected to my children and like I’m helping develop them, not just control them. And I especially love that I am starting to really see the benefits and the learning set in. I have some really loving, helpful, considerate children. Well, most of the time.

Instead of being selfish, we’re caring for others and helping (she wanted to wear the hat, but couldn’t figure out how to put it on).

kids helping

Instead of fighting, we’re sharing (even stuff that’s exclusively ours!).

kids sharing

Instead of getting ‘in the way’, we’re learning expectations and life lessons (like cooking, cooperating, helping – and patience).

kids cooperating

And, ultimately, we’re able to be this:

happy mom and kids

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about another book I use that comes from a Christian perspective and mixes in some of the principles of each of these two methods.

What about you? What type of parent are you? Do you punish? Give choices? Use consequences? I truly believe there is no one right or wrong way, and that only you can decide what works best for your family.

What Are They Thinking?

What are they thinkingHow often do you look at your kids and say, “What are you thinking?” If yours are anything like mine, it’s probably about every 30 seconds.

I know we can’t ascribe reason to our children’s reactions to the world. I know that their brains aren’t fully formed and they don’t have the experiences yet to lead them to good decision-making. I know all that, but still, I’m human, so I ask, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I mostly ask silently, without hope of response, because I really do try to apply humankind’s growing understanding of child development and psychology to my parenting. My kids are too young to know what they’re thinking much of the time.

What’s nice, though, is that my children, at 7, are old enough to be capable of attempting to answer.

We’ve been having a serious issue with 7 year old disobedience of late. (Okay, it’s not that serious. I don’t need an intervention yet. I’ve only yelled once. But it feels like a backslide to age 3. All the great progress of years 4, 5 and 6 has vanished.) As I told my daughters, M and J, on leaving church this morning, their behaviour there having been way out of bounds, I’m not used to being the mommy of kids who don’t listen. I’m used to being the mommy of role models.

We had a family meeting after lunch. I was honest with my J and M. I told them that I felt like perhaps I hadn’t been a very good mommy recently. I had been trying to help them make good decisions, because that is my main job as their mother after making sure they have their needs fulfilled. (A lot of our decision-making comes down to a discussion of needs vs. wants.) I wasn’t seeing good decisions being made consistently.

J was the first to respond. She told me that she thought that I was a very good mommy. She had tears in her voice when she said that the problem was her listening and M’s. I asked if they wanted help going back to being excellent listeners and role models. They said yes.

I asked them how I could help. They didn’t know. They both thought that the consequences we employ are reasonable.

  1. I dock their allowance varying amounts for different transgressions. They get $3 a week, and I reduce it in $0.25 increments for things like leaving their dirty clothes on the floor, chasing the cats or leaving their shoes on the dining table. (What was she thinking?)
  2. I supplement their allowance for good behaviour. If J puts her clean laundry away without my having to hound her, she gets an extra $0.50. If J leaves her dinner plate on the table and M picks it up for her without taunting J about it, she gets $0.25. There’s no set fee schedule.
  3. Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    I’ve instituted a politeness jar, where we deposit a nickel each whenever we interrupt someone, forget to say “Please,” “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome,” make an inappropriate face, or are intentionally hurtful. I contribute to the jar too, although I haven’t had to put in more than a dime a day so far. I mostly struggle with appending “please” to my commands/requests. We contributed our collection to the local YMCA recently, and our next collection is intended for the food pantry.

  4. Toys that aren’t cleaned up lose their place in the girls’ open access toy collection. They become toys that the children must ask permission to play with. So far, they’ve lost Monopoly, Scrabble, paper dolls and markers.
  5. I wash, dry and fold clothes that are in the laundry basket. I need a 2 day warning if a particular item of clothing is needed and is dirty. If the girls still can’t find what they’re looking for, tough. This meant that J couldn’t fully participate in water play day at summer camp last week. She couldn’t locate a swimsuit. (As it turned out, there were 3 clean ones at the bottom of a very large bin of clean clothes they’d been avoiding dealing with. Natural consequences.)

I suggested that perhaps we start our efforts of behaviour improvement with sleep. It’s very difficult to make good decisions without enough sleep. Especially with school starting in a few weeks, we need to get serious about bedtime. Perhaps a focus on bedtime would be a good step in the right direction.

M and J agreed to try it out. We wrote “Get to bed on time!” in large letters on the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, where we would all see it constantly. We would convene another family meeting after lunch next Sunday and review the effectiveness of our focus on sleep.

The rest of the afternoon went pretty well. J called her grandmother to get her tuna sandwich recipe, insisting that there was no way Grammy’s yummy tuna had mayonnaise in it. “Eww, mommy!” Of course, Grammy’s recipe turned out to the same as mine. We had tuna sandwiches for dinner. With mayonnaise and relish.

Photo Credit: reb

Photo Credit: reb

Then came bath time. The girls were surprisingly non-combative when I told them to put up their things and get ready for bed. If they could be completely ready for bed by 8:00, we could watch 15 minutes of Star Wars before bed.

Things were going fine in the bathtub until I drained the excessively bubbly water to replace it with some clean water for rinsing. I asked both girls to scoot up the tub because the water would start coming out cold and …

J immediately scooted her body down, her legs taking the full force of the water coming out of the faucet.

I looked at her for a full second in disbelief, then lifted her out the tub, still covered in bubbles. I began to dry her as she began to scream. The bubbles were bad, mommy. They would give her eczema. I wasn’t listening, mommy.

I asked her to blow her nose. She screamed. I told her that, on the count of 3, I would take a nasal syringe to her nose. It was either that or blowing her nose. She chose the latter. She was now calm enough to talk.

Me: “Do you know that you did exactly the opposite of what I asked?”
J: Nods
Me: What were you thinking?
J: You were wrong. The water doesn’t come out hot right away.
Me: If you’d have let me finish, you would have heard me saying that the water would come out really cold and then really hot. I didn’t want you to be exposed to either extreme!
J: Oh.
Me: You have to trust me. When I’m telling you to do something, I need you to obey first and argue second. You do know that you did the opposite of what I asked?
J: Yes. I didn’t know you knew it was cold.
Me: Because you didn’t listen. Because you didn’t let me finish.
J: I guess I scooted down because you told me to scoot up.
Me: Seems that way. Can we just talk if we disagree?
J: You didn’t listen when there were bubbles on me.
Me: That’s a fair statement. However, I did listen to what you were saying. I just didn’t think you were capable of hearing my response while you were screaming.
J: Oh.

So that’s what she was thinking. Great. I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s no magic bullet here. Maybe I can work with the understanding that the girls’ disobedience is part of them realizing that the adults around them are fallible. It’s their way of questioning the status quo. It’s their way of getting closer to being independent adults.

Yeah, I know. Just wait until they’re teenagers.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

School-Age Consequences

Earlier this week, a summer camp counselor, Ms H, let me know that she’d had to ask my 7-year-old daughters repeatedly to put away the yarn they were crafting with. There had had been an incident related to yarn in which a child had suffered a minor injury, so everyone was required to forfeit the activity. My kids hadn’t been involved in the injury incident, but this was the first time the counselor had seen disobedience from either one of them. She thought I might want to know about it so I could have a discussion with J and M to get to the bottom of what was causing their uncharacteristic discipline slip-up.

At first, M and J protested their innocence. Mr. K had told them they were allowed to bead, so they didn’t understand what they’d done wrong. I asked them both to walk me through the events of the afternoon, but all I got was a muddled mishmash of contradictory statements. I had been able to tell that Ms H had really tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, so I wasn’t too quick to dismiss her concerns.

I told the girls that instead of playing with the kitten after dinner, they would write letters to Ms H explaining their side of the story. If they had been wronged, this would be their opportunity to set the record straight. If they were in the wrong, I figured, identifying the sequence of events might help them realize it and would form the base of an apology.

M began to wail. This consequence was just. too. hard. Couldn’t she go to timeout instead? She could forfeit her week’s allowance. It wasn’t faaaaaaair. There’s little point trying to be heard when she’s in that state, and I was driving. When she stopped to breathe, I told her that my decision was final. She would write a letter.

J didn’t bother trying to wriggle out of her punishment. Fortunately for me, my kids rarely act out with me at the same time. I don’t know whether seeing the silliness of Sissy’s whining is a wakeup call or whether they want to fill the roles of the “difficult and cooperative twins.” Either way, it does simplify my life.

J began to list out what had happened, planning out her letter. By the time we pulled into the garage, I’d heard the whole story.

  1. She had observed her friend Caroline finger knitting. (Yes, this is the same Caroline from yesterday.)
  2. She asked Caroline to teach her.
  3. Caroline taught her.
  4. J decided that M would enjoy the activity and called her over.
  5. M learned to finger knit.
  6. M messed up her knitting and Caroline helped her rescue it.
  7. A little boy got hurt.
  8. Ms H asked them to put their yarn away. They tried to finish up some stitches.
  9. Ms H asked them again to put their yarn away. They started to think about doing it.
  10. Ms H asked them to put the yarn up. This time, they did.
  11. Later in the afternoon, they asked Mr. K if they could make beaded jewelry. Mr. K said yes.
  12. M and J took the beads out.
  13. Ms H asked who had given then permission to take the beads out. They told her it was Mr. K.

I told J that it sounded to me that she’d had a listening problem. She agreed. I told her that, since she understood what had happened, she needn’t write it all out. An apology letter, including a description of what she’d done wrong, what she should have done instead, and an “I’m sorry,” would suffice. M would need to write everything out, since she still needed to get a grip on the whole thing.

M sniffled and confessed that she had, in fact, been wrong and owed Ms H an apology.

J elected to write out the whole step by step list, while M limited herself to short version of the apology for her letter. J’s letter ended up being a two-page treatise, and the poor girl had a cramped hand by the time she was done. M went a little overboard on the artistic embellishments on the first few lines of text, but then decided that plain old print would work fine.

It’s been a challenge to find logical consequences to use to discipline my daughters since The Time of the Timeout. This one seemed to work pretty well. Ms H was surprised and grateful to receive the letters, and told me she’d taken them home to show her fiancé. His reaction has been, “I didn’t think kids these days did that any more!”

Maybe my discipline techniques are old-fashioned. Regardless, they work for me.

How do you get to the bottom of the things your kids tell you about their day? How do you tackle discipline issues that come up when you children are in someone else’s care?

Children Lie

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to blog about this incident. It’s embarrassing to one of my daughters, but not atypical for children their age. Seven-year-olds lie and even steal. It’s developmentally appropriate, but not socially or morally acceptable. Maybe our story will help another parent know that she’s not alone in tackling these issues. Here’s what happened.

For their 7th birthday, I got each of my daughters a gift card to a local bookstore. I like to use gift cards to teach my girls financial decision-making. The finite balance on the gift card teaches them that paying with plastic should be treated as responsibly as paying with cash. When they run out, they’re out. It encourages budgeting and exercises their basic arithmetic while they’re shopping. They have to factor in sales tax. Whenever possible, I try to set up situations where my daughters spend their gift cards over multiple shopping trips. I figure it helps them understand the idea of debit and the longterm record-keeping required to track their gift card balance is a good exercise.

The gift cards I gave J and M were identical. Although I suggested that we simply write their names on each one, the girls elected to distinguish them differently. One of them decided that she would remove the hangtag from her card while the other left hers intact.

Nearly two months after our initial shopping venture, the girls asked to go to the bookstore this weekend. I asked them to grab their gift cards and buckle up in the car. I gathered up my things while they packed up theirs. The one who’d left her hangtag on let us know that she’d found her gift card, but removed the tag so that the card would fit in the wallet. The other child was upset, feeling that Sissy had gone back on an agreement. It didn’t help that she couldn’t find her gift card.

I happened to know where the second gift card was. Someone had just left her card lying on the floor of the living room last time we went to the bookstore. Despite two reminders, it was never put away, so I picked it up and set it aside.

I retrieved the gift card and discovered that it was the one with the hangtag still attached. My daughter had claimed her sister’s gift card and concocted a lie to cover it up. I showed her the gift card and she instantly knew she was caught. Sister didn’t even realize what she was witnessing. I explained it to her, and she was understandably appalled. Her sister had essentially stolen from her and then lied to cover it up.

The offending party volunteered that the appropriate consequence for her actions was my permanently confiscating her gift card. I didn’t want to do that, but I did tell her that she would not be spending her card on this trip. Sister not only forgave her, but bought the offender a book with her own card.

The next day, I took a moment alone to talk to my daughter about why she’d made the series of choices she had. She didn’t want to talk about it because she felt bad. I reminded her that she had made some pretty bad choices, and one of the consequences of those choices was feeling guilty. She was going to have to talk about it and she was going to have to feel bad. Once she finally agreed to discuss the whole situation, she explained to me that she knew that she’d done wrong by not putting her gift card away. All the wrong actions that followed were to cover up that mistake.

I told her clearly that lying and stealing were far worse than the original offense, and those were the choices I was truly disappointed in. Dishonesty and theft would not be tolerated. Mistakes happen and can be fixed, but lying was unacceptable.

I live what I preach. I admit my mistakes to my children. The only lie I’m guilty of is eating chocolate at work so that my girls don’t know the quantity of sugar I consume. I’m working on fixing that one. I even struggle with the mythology of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Those feel like lies, even if our entire community is complicit.

This is another one of those ways in which parenting gets harder. You leave behind the sleepless nights and the diapers and potty training, only to have to help your children navigate morality and peer pressure.

What would you have done in my shoes? How do you tackle lapses in honesty?

Goodbye, Timeout for Two

seated kid

Photo Credit: Frodrig

After over 6 years of effective use, I am retiring timeout as a discipline tool. At age 7, it’s more humiliating for my oh-so-grownup children than it’s worth, and it’s hardly effective. Thanks to my daughters’ relatively mature ability to understand causes and effect and long term consequences, I have many more nuanced discipline approaches at my disposal. I need punishments and rewards to fit the crime rather than the one size fits all gem that was timeout. My 7-year-olds are old enough to understand delayed consequences, something a much younger child just isn’t capable of.

I suspect that every reader of How Do You Do It? is familiar with how to use timeout to discipline young children, but I’ll spell it out just in case. Timeout is, essentially, using a brief withdrawal of parental or child-giver attention as a consequence of undesired behaviour. Most parents I know have a specific location designated for timeout, and the child has to remain there for the duration of the punishment, essentially ignored by everyone. Some parents have their child sit on the bottom step of a staircase or have a timeout seat. I went for the convenience of a washcloth placed on the floor next to a wall. It was portable, and my daughters knew that they were expected to sit on the washcloth. Best of all, on the rare occasion that they both needed to go to timeout, I could just put washcloths next to opposite walls, and I instantly had 2 timeout locations that lacked the distraction of Sissy.

Hit your twin? Mommy won’t hit back; that would just teach that violence is acceptable in the home. Instead, for a few minutes (1 minute per year of age, starting around age 1), Mommy won’t make eye contact with the child or speak to him. That’s the real punishment. Children crave and need attention. It’s pretty counterintuitive to ignore them when they’re kicking, screaming and being all around obnoxious. It takes a thick skin to do that in public, knowing that you’re being judged by people who don’t know what children are really like. The long term payoff of rewarding good constructive behaviour with attention and withdrawing it for bad is worth it, though.

It’s ideal, of course, if the child stays in the timeout location of her own accord. That idea didn’t stick until my kids were convinced, around age 2, that no amount of screaming or running out of timeout was going to get me to back down and give them my attention.

I recently had the opportunity to care for my then-2-year-old nephew. I was only there for a week and timeouts had not been a consistent part of his life. It didn’t take long for him to get it, though. The first three days, I’d sit him in his timeout seat and wait for him to start to climb out of it. Silently, and without eye contact, I’d lift him up and sit him back in the chair. Over his 120 seconds of punishment, I’ve had to reseat him up to 35 times. From day 4, on, though, he got it. He stopped trying to fight it. At the end of his 2 minutes, I’d pick him up, kiss him, tell him I love him, and remind him of the behaviour that had earned him a timeout and ask him to do the opposite in the future.

The popular book 1-2-3 Magic offers an effective and simple methodology that hinges on timeout. I didn’t read the book until I needed to help a friend struggling with managing her young kids. Consistency didn’t come naturally to her, and the book gave her encouragement when she needed it. My then-husband and I didn’t get much from the book, primarily because we were unknowingly already practicing its teachings: Use timeout consistently.

Some parents vary the length of time spent in timeout in accordance with the gravity of the offense. A second or third offense may also get a longer punishment. We didn’t take that approach. The beauty of timeout is that it’s super-flexible, which helps explain its ubiquity.

The other day, I found myself in the odd position of needing to distil my parenting approach into a bulleted list. It came down to this: be consistent, reward good choices, and maintain a focus on the adults your children will become. For me, timeout was a big part of consistency and the other side of rewarding good behaviour. I hope that the core understanding that actions have consequences has set my kids up for success throughout their lives. It’s certainly been working well for them so far.

Do you use timeout as a discipline approach? What variations work for you? How do you handle your kids’ escape plots?

 

I'm a Home Run Hitter

I’m a homerun hitter in this game called Parenting. That’s right! Some days I practically “hit the ball out of the park” with my parenting skills…but (of course there’s a but) then there are other days…those bleak days…where it’s three strikes and I’m out and I haven’t even finished my morning cup of cold coffee yet.

Last week I took part in a workshop, put on by a local social service agency in partnership with the Parents of Multiples Births Association I am part of. The workshop was on Positive Parenting and Raising Responsible Children (us multiples moms and dads need all the advice we can get, right?!) The facilitator used a baseball analogy in her explanation of positive parenting, which I will explain shortly.

We all want to raise awesome children and give them all we can to achieve success…but we learned maybe that is not exactly the right approach. We need to let children make mistakes, as painful as it may be to watch happen. We need to let them learn from their experiences, not clear the path or fight their battles for them, while thinking we are doing them a favour. We talked about the importance of give and take when it comes to the parent and child relationship. We heard about the reasons why children may seem to be “misbehaving,” when perhaps in fact they are having a hard time verbalizing or expressing what it is that’s actually making them react in ways we consider “bad.” We also learned from other parents’ reactions we are not alone when we wonder where the heck The Parenting Manual is and why didn’t we get training before we had multiples running around the neighbourhood when the lights are out and all the other kids are home in their beds?? Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

The facilitator of this workshop discussed the importance of understanding the difference between praise and encouragement. Another key thought was to consider the difference between punishment and discipline.  At first glance I am sure many parents, including myself might think these words are one in the same, just a different way to state them…but with further explanation many of us had our “a-ha moments” going off one by one through the session.

For starters the facilitator explained a concept called STEP – Systematic Training for Effective Parenting. The main point that drove it home (like a homerun) for me was praise is used to reward only for well-done, completed tasks. From this the child begins to develop the ideal that “to be worthwhile I must meet your standards,” allowing the child to develop unrealistic standards and measure worth by how closely the child reaches the parents’ perceived level of perfection. From here children learn to dread failure. On the flip side, in comparison, encouragement is when a child is recognized for effort and improvement. The child internalizes the idea that he or she does not have to be perfect and that efforts and improvements are valued and important. Based on this type of repetitive experience the child learns to accept his/her and others’ efforts. It also enables a child to learn discipline and persistence to stay on task.

Bringing up the rear were the concepts of punishment versus discipline. I thought, Aren’t they the same?…one just seems to have a meaner tone? I looked it up, because that’s what I do, and yes, they do have similar meanings…but “discipline” is also defined as activities, exercises or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training.

During the workshop, “punishment” was outlined as our belief that we must teach a life lesson and that a punishment, such as taking something away will make the child think before acting next time or “suffer the consequences.” You may randomly take something away, that has nothing to do with the problem or situation and will make no sense to the upset child. That sounds scary and frustrating…Then on the other hand is the concept of discipline, which is to train the child by working with him/her to develop effective strategies for expressing their emotions and managing behaviour to avoid grocery store mid-aisle meltdowns for all to see (and judge.) To discipline, you have to work at achieving your own skill of understanding a child’s reasons for behaviour and misbehaviour, use firmness and kindness in your approach, look for solutions and alternatives and the ultimate goal is to teach the child self-discipline. In other words don’t start screaming and yelling, thinking you’re going to help the already frustrating situation. In this sense you’re really reverting to child-like mannerisms because you can’t get your point across. I get it…but it’s going to take a lot of practice to make it right…and ultimately this whole concept of parenting indicates we should not strive for “perfection,” but rather a balance of confidence in our abilities and a willingness to persevere and try again next time.

To close, the way the facilitator of the workshop summed up these ideas is that when you start to learn to play baseball, you don’t immediately know how to swing and hit a ball, or pitch and throw a strike. This was my a-ha moment, after playing many, many summer baseball seasons over the years, I knew what she meant. I realized this idea of baseball is similar to learning to parent; these are all things that take time, dedication and potentially many mistakes along the way to become as good a parent as you can be. Rarely does a pitcher ever throw a perfect game and so it’s reasonable to think parents will make mistakes, feel like they should be thrown out of the Parenting game and maybe even take themselves out of the game for a few minutes to collect themselves and then start again with a fresh approach.

Our friends at GoNannies.com asked us to share some of their similar thoughts shared on their recent blog post, How to Gain Your Child’s Cooperation Without Yelling, so please feel free to check them out for more advice on discipline and gaining your child’s cooperation.

Switcheroo

My daughter J cried herself to sleep last night, as she had the night before.

The first night, it was because I made her go to bed without a bath after she earned a timeout. She earned the timeout for backtalk and kicking at me for asking her to take a bath. Yes, that’s exactly as circular as it sounds. Last night, the tears were because I didn’t let her finish her science homework because she remembered it (after I’d asked 2 hours earlier and she’d told me she was done) 1 minute before bedtime.

Over dinner tonight, I had to lay out our ground rules again. I’m willing to hear the girls’ opinions, but they are to listen/obey first, then talk.

We’d talked specifically about what had gone wrong last night earlier in the day, after we’d all had a chance to sleep on it. I reminded J that I’d made it very clear that both my 6-year-olds were to be in bed at 8:30, no matter what.

“You didn’t explain that properly,” she retorted. “‘No matter what’ isn’t even words!”

“I know what ‘no matter what’ means,” her twin, M, piped up helpfully from the other bed. “It means, ‘no exceptions!’”

My girls have a tendency to react to bad behaviour from Sissy by being extra-helpful and extra-cheerful. It’s actually a great arrangement from my perspective, since it means that I have only rarely had to deal with both girls crying or acting out at once. Most of the time, they’re both very good-natured and bouncy, so I’m glad they don’t get down in the dumps together.

When I go to the bottom of what was bugging J, it was concern about the next week. Spring break starts tomorrow, and the girls will be driving off with Daddy to spend the week with him in El Paso. They live with me, and this will be the longest they’ve spent with Daddy since he and I separated last April.

Tonight, it was M who cried at bedtime.

“When the overwhelmness fills my whole body,” M explained through her tears, “it makes tears come from my eyes. I’m going to miss you too much. I hate this divorce. Divorce is a ugly stupid word. I wish no parents ever fought ever and there was no word of ‘divorce.’”

J was the one to try to lighten the mood, reminding her sister of a movie they’d watched with their school counselor at ‘divorce club,’ the monthly meeting for 1st graders with divorced parents.

The nutty thing is that, until the last month or so, J has been the one completely in touch with her emotions. She’s been the one who explains to me clearly exactly how she feels about all the recent changes in her life, while M has acted out and needed a lot of help to get to the root of her worries.

This sort of role switcheroo happens all the time with my girls. One will be extremely mature and in touch with her feelings, while the other is a mess with no idea what’s bothering her. After a few days, or weeks, or months, they’ll suddenly switch roles. One will bury her nose in a book 24/7, while the other wants to play, and one day, the arguments will remain exactly the same, but with J and M reversing positions. When they were babies, M was the one who loved to be held and rocked and snuggled, while J would cry to be put down. Today, J’s the one who lists “snuggles” in the “need” column on school assignments on needs versus wants, while M tells me that my goodnight hug was “too much squishing.”

Of course, there are a lot of ways in which M and J are consistently distinct from each other. M can talk the hind leg off a donkey and just be getting started. J takes earnestness to a fine art. M is a picky, picky eater, while J is usually open to liking new things if I can convince her to try them. J has the ability to warm a stranger’s heart with one word or look, while M can leave people writhing with laughter with her wry humour.

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing conscious about the way that J and M go about reversing roles and maintaining balance, but I can’t help thinking that the sensitivity that they’ve learned from adjusting to each others’ moods and needs will serve them well in personal and professional relationships throughout their lives.

Do your multiples switch roles?

Sadia lives and overthinks matters of parenting in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is newly divorced and works in higher education IT. She will be at work, not at SXSW, this week. Her daughters, M and J, are identical 6-year-olds in 1st grade.