Monday, February 25, 2013

What (sometimes) Works (for me)

Huge Disclaimer Right Off The Bat: Nothing works for everyone. Every kid is different, ever parent is different. Every day is different, every moment is different. Your parenting style may differ from mine and no opinions expressed here are meant to exclude any other opinions. This blog is intended for entertainment purposes only.

Ok, I am actually going to talk about a parenting method that works for me, at least, much of the time. In parenting, a solid 60% success rate* is enough to pass on. *Success rate is arbitrary, fake, and not based on any actual studies.

I know I read this in multiple places but I can't remember where. At the very least it's not just one person's idea so I don't feel too badly in using it here without a reference. It's a generally Good Idea that has been around forever.

My son is stubborn. He's demanding. He can be very emotional. He's also smart. When he doesn't get what he wants and he feels strongly about it, he cries, like any 3 year old. Sometimes it's a real cry, emotions coming uncontrollably to the surface. Sometimes, it's a forced act, an attempt to get what he wants via either sympathy or annoyance.

In either case, we usually try what we call "Let's make a deal." Theo often says through his tears, "Mommy, make me a deal!" Yes, sometimes there is no deal to be made, but usually we can find a way to make both of us happy. It can be as simple as saying "We can go outside AFTER we eat." I'll admit, I will bring up things we have to do, just so that I can then make a "deal" with him that I intended in the first place.

Sometimes it takes more than a simple one-for-one deal. If he got whatever he wanted after every little requirement, we'd be watching vast amounts of television. As it is, we watch quite a bit, and anything I can do to keep him interested in non-screen-based activities (and, gasp, chore-based activities) the better.

Today Theo was dead set on watching TV (like every day) and I had a few small things we needed to do around the house. He seemed completely unwilling to cooperate. I was all set to have a wonderfully frustrating afternoon but then my brain kicked in. "Hey Theo, we've got a bunch of things to do! Let's make a list, and you can choose what we do first. Should I use chalk or crayons or markers?" Believe it or not, this works wonders. He stops crying. He's interested.

I make the list process as fussy as possible, as it's the process that pulls him in. He picked crayons, but he specifically wanted me to use the very large waxy painting paper, so I asked him if we could switch to markers instead. He picked the marker color, too.

"Ok, we need to water the plants." I wrote WATER in huge capital letters, spelling it out and sounding it out for him. "We need to move the laundry to the dryer." LAUNDRY. "And we need to vacuum the living room." VACUUM.

You may think that moving the laundry to the dryer isn't enough to merit its own spot, but believe me, it does. Laundry is an all-day process and each step is its own beast that Theo "helps" with. Besides, quick, unrelated tasks are the best things to put on these to-do lists.

This is the part where Theo says "Put TV on the list." I recommend we set a time to watch TV. He says "I want to watch TV at ten seventy-seven." (Ten Seventy-seven is his favorite thing to say right now whenever numbers are necessary. So I say ok, but we can't watch TV until our list is done, right? He agrees, and I and write 10 77 TV. I realized as we were talking about it that accomplishing these chores will take a while and that we will both need a break from each other when they are done, no matter what time it is. He is delighted to see his addition to the paper, especially since he can totally read "10 77 TV".

Then it's time to choose, and he is suddenly very interested in watering the plants, though that was the very thing I was trying to talk him into doing in the first place. When we get out there he wants to rake so we rake and sweep and use the dustpan, then we water with only a trickle out the hose and make mud (which he won't touch or even manipulate with tools but loves to look at) and I talk about roots and leaves and planting ideas for the spring. When we get back inside Theo gets to cross WATER off of our list. Just the crossing off is enough for him, he doesn't need stickers or anything else. Oh, and a nice serving of "thanks for helping me Theo, I really appreciate it, isn't it a nice day outside?"

LAUNDRY involves discussing the clothes as he helps shove them into the dryer ("I love my blue underwear, Mommy"), then pushing the switch that turns the light inside the dryer drum on and off a few times, then messing with the dials on top and talking about that time Theo pushed the wrong button and it made a huge scary buzzing sound. Then, aha, he gets the dryer running. (BTW the clothes are still in the dryer, many hours later. Timing before dinner did not work out. Folding that laundry is on tomorrow's schedule. It's just his clothes anyway. What did I say about laundry being an all-day process? Ok, maybe two days.)

We crossed off LAUNDRY then Theo spent forever putting 100 pieces of jigsaw puzzle right-side-up in the box, because that's what he does. Meanwhile I picked up everything else in the room. He was very proud of his puzzle tidying, as he loves getting it just right. Then he hid in the kitchen with a juice and his little rocking chair while I vacuumed. The noise of the vacuum is one of his least favorite things and you can see him wearing his stoic face as I get it done. Afterward, he jumps at the chance to unsnap the canister from our bagless vacuum and "get rid of the yuckies." He's gotten very good at all the clips involved, and puts it back when it's empty. He used to wrap the cord too but somehow he thinks that's no longer cool.

After VACUUM is crossed off, he asks for TV, and we've definitely earned it, so I put it on. And wouldn't you know it, after the show is done, he remembers to cross 10 77 TV off the list, too.

Later on I came up with another task - writing a thank you note - and as I got the materials out to get it done, I also wrote it on the list. The crossing-off really is the best part of the whole thing.

For anyone who cares...

List writing tips:

--You have to be enthusiastic. "What are you going to pick? Ooh, here's another idea!" Yeah, yeah, I often don't have the stomach for it either. But if you can get outside your inner frustration for a minute it can be totally worth it. Fake it until you make it. Man, I wish I was better at that part.

--Make sure you have a few things in mind. They can be incredibly tiny increments of things, as long as it is something that can be defined and crossed off when completed. The more finite the better. Instead of "tidy room", I'd say something like "put away puzzles". (Vacuum is a big exception as he's very used to what that entails.)

--Allow him to add one or two things to the list. I haven't successfully gotten him to come up with real tasks but he can definitely supply reward ideas.

--The list can be abandoned or taken up the next day. When we don't complete our list for whatever reason, I like to point it out to him and explain that it's fine, we did plenty for one day. Picking it up the next day can be even more exciting.

When I remember to do this trick it works surprisingly well. I'm worried overuse will sap the potency but I would love to make this a daily thing. Perhaps a slow transition? Hmm.