Monday, August 19, 2013

Parenting a Toddler (or "What Were We Thinking?!?")

An animated discussion with Dr. Steve, a professor of psychology (senior lecturer) at Vanderbilt University and expert in child psychology.  Despite the ponytail, Dr. Steve offers traditional advice on rearing children:  YOU are in charge!

There is a lot of bad advice out there about raising children these days.  One book I recently picked up (that looked promising at first) is very much against expecting obedience from your young children.  Another advocates explaining (until you are blue in the face?) the rules to your young children.  And still another eschews saying "No" at all!

By the time we parents of young children figure out that a lot of the advice out there is nonsense, we're exhausted, frustrated and a little suspicious of any "wisdom."  Our Montessori group recently had a treat:  a visit from "Dr. Steve," who's been working on behalf of children for 40 years, from the very poor to the privileged.  An experienced father himself and 20-year veteran of the trenches in child psychology, Dr. Steve McFadyen-Ketchum led a discussion on Parenting Toddlers 101.  He did this as a community service to pay back, as he says, "the country that made it possible for me to get an education."

Mostly he discussed the importance of Mom and Dad being "on the same page" as regards discipline. But he also offered these tips:

Dr. Steven A McFadyen-Ketchum’s Notes for Parents of Young Children

Parents need to take time out together (without children present) to discuss their children.  Child rearing in today’s situation requires partnership rather than set parenting roles. Also children change over time (develop) and their needs change. So this partnership requires frequent adult-level talk to decide what is best for each child as time goes by. 
Once a decision is made it is necessary for parents (and others who care for a child) to be reasonably consistent. It takes some checking with each to achieve this, at least two-three times per week (Dr. Steve calls this "conferring").

A child needs at all levels of development (yes this includes teens and young adults):

Enough Sleep. Generally children and adults alike are not getting enough. Chronic sleep loss is associated with childhood ADHD.
Routine. This is another place where adult-level partnering applies. No routine holds up for long in its original form in today’s world with the complex schedules many of us have (children included).
Good Nutrition. Children don’t feel well when they don’t eat a balanced diet. This is associated with behavior problems.
Clean hands. Sick children don’t feel well. This too is associated with behavior problems

Catch them being good. Children learn most readily what is required by parents when they do something that fits the requirements and it gets noticed, commented on, and reinforced (technical term that I will explain) by parents. This is not bribery. Bribes are intended to get someone to do something wrong. This is just the opposite.  (Here Dr. Steve demonstrated that using a "happy" or "gooey" voice to excitedly comment on her accomplishment can work wonders with children under 4.)

This all requires that adult needs for sleep, nutrition, stress relief, etc get met. Otherwise the child's needs can’t be reliably met. For the most part this depends upon the efforts of one’s partner (spouse).  In many cases it also depends upon the efforts of friends and extended family, all of which need to be coordinated in some way so that it is actually helpful and not inadvertently interfering.

After the discussion I asked the Montessori moms to give me their impressions.  Here's what they had to say:

Something I really found helpful was hearing "the reminders" again. She is two... and tantrums are best ignored. Don't talk to her like she's an adult and don't overly explain things when things are hairy. AND Get overly excited about the small stuff it makes them feel really good.  Great reminders for me. I found the conversation interesting from start to finish and I loved chatting with all the parents before and after the lecture. 

[We] loved it and really felt like we got some good ideas. We are going to be conferring tonight again and plan to make it a priority to schedule time to talk and talk about the kids and what we can do better and strategies we can use.  We really liked how Dr. Steve engaged the couples and asked for their real world examples and questions. One of the things that [we] are going to try and [that] stuck out to us was the "bite your lip" and just take control trick. ... I think sometimes I am trying to over explain things to [my son] and it allows him to stall when he is being non-compliant and for example saying "No, may I please not go to bath-time." I am trying to explain all the reasons why we must bathe as opposed to just taking him there.

[We] both found this evening's session very helpful. ... [My husband] said he heard loud and clear that parenting has to come from both parents and that both should discuss or check in with each other often and be on the same page. ...
His approach to 'bite the lip' is a new approach and we plan on giving it a good go. 

I did appreciate the opportunity, most importantly his reassurance that even real behavior issues can be improved with a few days of intensive effort. I also learned that I am yelling too much! 
So, all this to say that there is a hunger out there for basic, old-fashioned parenting advice.  Being positive, being firm, being united with your partner in raising your child takes a lot of work, consistency and adult-time to plan and execute.  If your playgroup or preschool has a hunger for the no-nonsense approach, then you may seek out a similarly service-oriented speaker to facilitate a discussion for you.  If couples can attend together, all the better!

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