Sunday, September 15, 2013

Parenting Young Children, Part 2 (Back for More!)

In a recent post I described a new outreach of our Montessori Mornings group, parenting discussions lead by an expert on child psychology, Dr. Steve McFadyen-Ketchum.  Our first meeting went so well that we've met again!  This time we had different questions, ranging from when we might expect a child to sit fairly still in an hour-long church service to what to do when grandparents won't stick to your rules with the children.

First Dr. Steve clarified some of the points raised in the previous talk.  Here's his take-home cheat sheet:

More on Raising Young Children, by Dr. Steve
All of these require prior agreement between parents 
as to how best use them with their own child.

More on “catch them being good”

Is “good” the same for infants, toddlers, etc?   Children differ in what they are capable of as they get older. So, we have to take this into account when we look for something “good.” When a baby looks at you, paying attention is “good” and one would smile and use the gooey voice. When a toddler uses one or two words instead of crying when making a request, that too is good, but clearly a baby couldn’t do it. And so on. The business of deciding for your child what is reasonable given their developmental level is often a matter of paying attention to what your child is able to do and then expecting them, most of the time, to do so instead of something that a younger child would do. So toddlers are usually able to use a word or two instead of whining to get a parent’s attention, and that is probably what one would usually expect and “catch” the child doing. Then, one would comply with the child’s request (assuming it is reasonable) while saying “Oh, you used your words! That is so (gooey voice) nice!”

More on being worried that expecting a child to behave in a reasonable way will make the child hate the parent

The scientific evidence we have shows that this is not a problem as long “catch them being good” is used most of the time, say for toddlers at least once or twice per day. Where it does become a problem is when parents (and other important family members) are routinely negative or distant. So the idea is to engage actively with the children in positive ways that include reasonable expectations that take development into account. An occasional negative response (none of us are perfect) as far as I know won’t do any lasting harm in this context as long as one avoids abusive behavior.  

What about technology?

As far as I know the only problem here is when children spend so much time with video games and such that they do not engage with others enough to learn the standard social norms of our culture. The science is not as clear on this point as it is for “catch them being good” and “take development into account,” so I have to fall back a bit more on experience. What I have seen happen is that the very young child is so engaged with a cell phone application that she or he is not playing with other children or with parents or grandparents. Now this is extreme and I haven’t seen it often, but it does occur and is, I think, problematic.


This is a bit like the technology issue. As far as I know it works just fine as long as children get enough exposure to other people, especially other children so that they learn the everyday norms that we expect each other to follow.

This is a silver half-dollar just like the one Dr. Steve's grandfather gave him during church when he was five years old to keep him quietly occupied for an hour-long service.  Most children aren't ready to sit still and be quiet for that long until they are 3, although the expectations of each church differ (how still and quiet they are expected to be).
The no-nonsense, data-based approach to parenting has been helpful to the parents.  Here's what some of them had to say:

Thank you again for organizing the Dr. Steve talks! D. and I have loved them! So many times we feel like we are just guessing at what techniques might work as far as disciplining J. and it is wonderful to hear what things have been proven by research to be important when parenting. Also, we found it very helpful to learn what were developmentally appropriate expectations for a child's behavior. Also, since the last talk we have found that it has really been helpful to us to intentionally make time to confer and get on the same page about what we are doing with the boys. Lastly, both talks have been a great reminder to us both to stay positive and I love hearing from the other couples and knowing that the things we are experiencing with our kids are things that other parents are experiencing too! 

Turns out we, as parents, need to be the gatekeepers and rule makers, even when the grandparents are around.   As Mom and Dad we need to come to an agreement about what we allow, when the kids go to bed, etc. for the health and safety of our kids.  Distinguishing the little things (some spoiling) from the big things (not enough sleep, dangerous environment, etc) is important.

Thank you so much for organizing today's session. This session was better than the last as we actually had homework to do from last time and were able to check back in and see how we did. Good stuff! 
Being able to sit and discuss with other parents of similarly aged children in an open and honest format without prejudice or judgement allows us to feel a sense of community and camaraderie as well as learn from Dr Steve as our moderator of sorts. Raising children really does take a community effort!  So often parents cover up and want it all to look easy and like the glossy pages of a magazine which results in other parents feeling isolated and inadequate. For us the best time and way to handle inappropriate behavior was beneficial. I know I need to be more positive and less corrective in my daily parenting approach and Dr Steve's tip of finding the child doing good 2-3 times per day is wonderful and will be easy for us to implement.

Does your group of parents have a similar need for discussions like this?  What questions would you address?

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