Do The Right Thing, even if it’s incredibly annoying.

10 Jul

I find myself in a constant battle now about what’s the Right Thing.  By this I mean what is the best thing to do for my child, rather than the easy, quick or most accessible thing.

For example, the easy option for me would be to give my 16 month old toddler-friendly ready meals for her lunch and tea, but it’s not the best thing for her, surely? Also at £2.60 a pop, not the Right Thing financially (it’s a whopping £156 a month!)

The quickest and least messy way for me to get dinner done is to spoon feed her, but the Right Thing is for her to spoon feed herself, make a huge mess and develop her skills.

I don’t think you need to do the Right Thing 100% of the time. There will always be occasions when the Quick Thing or Easy Thing are totally appropriate.  Also, I need the freedom to be flexible.  I’m not one of those mothers who has paused their life in order to provide a constant flow of organic, home baked meals and snacks for their child.  I have a job.  I have friends.  I have other stuff to do which means I have not the time, energy or inclination to spend the day doing even more cooking, baking and washing up than necessary.

The next step in our house is to include our daughter in our evening meal.  This is quite possibly the Right Thing.  It is definitely not the Easy Thing.  I want us to eat as a family, but I will admit that I like eating after she’s gone to bed.  It means I can cook without her lurching around the kitchen, emptying the cupboards to create baked bean trip hazards and attempting to excavate the cat litter tray.  It means I can eat my dinner with my husband, have a chat, relax.   I cook and he washes up, so after I’ve eaten I just slump on the sofa for a bit.

These days are numbered.

I know we will all adapt to the new routine, but still it fills me with some trepidation, but it’s the Right Thing to do, so I will try to do it.

I think it’s easy to slip into the Easy Thing trap.  I recently saw Supernanny scold the mother of  twin 4 year old twins who still drink from baby bottles, and rightly so in my opinion. It was easy, quick and mess-free for the mum, and the kids resisted the change and she wanted to avoid the hooha and stress of taking the bottles away.  Kids need to be shown what is appropriate behaviour, and they learn this mainly from siblings, parents and other caregivers.  I use the word shown.  Not told.

Do What I Say Not What I Do. 

DWISNWID  is fucking bullshit.  My Dad used this phrase and even as a kid I thought it was lazy, crappy parenting (and it is).  It’s a sure-fire way to promote undesirable behaviours in your kids.  An authoritative strategy which relies on mindless obedience and it confuses kids as they look to parents to learn what is acceptable and appropriate.  It makes you seem mean, unfair and children resent it (and you) for using it.   I don’t believe that good behaviour is the same as obedience.  I don’t want my child to be mindlessly obedient.  I want her to have a strong sense of morality and the confidence and intelligence to implement it.

The best way to promote any behaviour, good or bad, is to model it consistently.  If you don’t want your child to pick their nose, then don’t do it in from of them.  If you don’t care, then go for it.   Obviously there are certain behaviours that children need to learn are not appropriate for kids; drinking alcohol for example.  This can be done with an explanation rather than just DWISNWID.  I was always allowed a tiny glass of watered down wine with my Sunday lunch (legal from 5 years of age) and my dad would let me sip his beer occasionally.  I don’t know what effect this had on my later behaviour, I still went on teenage benders with friends who had never tasted alcohol until they were 15. I don’t know if it made any difference, but I understood as a child that booze was for adults. I was never tempted to raid the (unlocked) drinks cabinet.

But what if you want to change a behaviour your child has already established for one reason or another?  I spoke to a friend at length about dummies a few weeks ago, and then to DadBlogUK last week about behavioural psychology for kids.  I hate dummies in toddlers gobs.  I really HATE them.  I think if they can talk then they’re too old for a dummy.  It’s just my opinion.  A kid who has had a dummy for years sees it as a normal part of their existence and will become upset if the dummy is removed.  So far, not rocket science, no?  You need to establish a new normal.

Assuming your toddler doesn’t have the wherewithal to order from Amazon or pop to Sainsburys, then he/she only has a dummy because you buy it and give it to them.  You could just throw them all away.   Going cold turkey is HARSH, especially at bed time and even more so if they share a room with another child.  Cold turkey is the plaster-ripping method.  It works, but its painful, but they’ll get over it relatively quickly without long lasting psychological trauma.  If your kid is old enough to understand then I think a more mutually agreed process is better.  A visual countdown to the day the dummy goes to the Dummy Fairy or swapping it for a desired toy or activity is a good strategy.  Also using a reward chart after the dummy has gone to reinforce the new dummy-free regime is good.

But what about behaviours when there’s nothing to physically take away?  Thumb sucking, nail biting, skin scratching and hair pulling are all behaviours I’ve seen in a professional capacity. They are usually linked to either comfort or anxiety.  Anxiety in kids in complex and I’m not going to get into it now.  Another time.  Comfort behaviours though are reasonably simple to manipulate, as they are regular, occur at similar times of day and have clear triggers, usually tiredness, zoning out or grumpiness.

Using thumb sucking as an example now, here’s a basic behavioural strategy to stop a child doing it.  This is suitable from around 3 years of age.

  • Explain to your child that the thumb sucking has to stop.  This should be calm, gentle and clear.  Children need to know exactly what is expected of them without any ambiguity, loopholes or exclusions.
  • Explain to them the reasons you want them to stop.  This can be done with both positive and negative examples.  Successful reduction then cessation of thumb sucking will equate to a reward.  Also explain to them the negatives, the damage to teeth, the need for visits to the dentist or braces when they’re older.
  • Provide a visual representation of time which will highlight their success but also show their failures.  I suggest a calendar star chart with the day split into smaller chunks.  If thumb-sucking mid morning is a sleep cue then that needs to be represented on the chart so each time they look tired and don’t suck the thumb then they get a star.  Also include times when they never suck their thumb.  This will highlight their success and make them aware that they don’t need the  thumb sucking.
  • When a predetermined amount of stars have been earned then a small predetermined reward is given.  The reward must be desirable to the child and can only be given when they reach the target.  I suggest this is a daily target.
  • Longer term targets must be set with a bigger reward at the end.  For example they need to have achieved a certain number of stars or 5 out of 7 daily rewards to achieve the big prize.  This is done as a rolling target rather than Monday to Sunday to boost motivation.
  • Negative consequences of failure.  A small aversive doesn’t do any harm and it makes the child aware of the value of success. Removal of a previously earned star is good, but do give them a warning first. Note that failure is to be expected, which is why they shouldn’t have to achieve 100% of the starts to get a reward.
  • Keep your own notes of the times when your child struggles as this will help you to help them succeed at this time in future. If sleep time is an ongoing problem then Stop n Grow nail-biting treatment can be used.  Award a star for using the Stop n Grow as this reinforces using it and highlights to the child that it is a good thing.

The most important indicators for success are:

  • PRAISE EVERY SUCCESS but don’t dwell on past failures.
  • BE CONSISTENT. All caregivers must do exactly the same.
  • KEEP AT IT.  It might take a week or so, it will be a pain in the arse, but it will work if you persevere.

Loads of kids suck their thumbs while watching TV but how many adults do you know who do it in the cinema or watching the footy? Not many.  If  TV is a trigger then gently remind your child to stop and if they persist then turn the TV off (or pause it) each time, or use Stop n Grow at TV times.

The key to any behavioural change is understanding and consistency.  If they understand then you can give them lots of reasons to stop.  They need to know exactly what is expected of them, and be able to predict what will happen when they succeed or fail as this will help them to be motivated.  Reward when  they succeed.  Implement a gently negative consequence when they fail.  Keep at it.

It’s hard and it comes back to Doing The Right Thing.  If you’re battling a stropping 5 year old it’s easy to give in and let them suck their thumb if they (and you) are exhausted and running on empty.  Bear in mind though this this undermines all the previous work and you will most likely have to start all over again.  It’s very easy to lose your credibility with your kids.  They thrive on consistent parenting and understanding  what’s expected of them.

I shall have to do this thumb sucking strategy with my daughter at some point.  All of a sudden dummies don’t seem so bad.

2012-08-30 11.55.03

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