Pushing Boundries

Dear readers, I have been neglecting you I know and this blog has not been updating as it should. Please accept my deepest apologies but be secure in the knowledge that there are more entries to come lovingly crafted by my own fair typing fingers! Anyway, read on for hijinks with my daughter and buses!

A few months ago I took Beth on the Park and Ride into Cambridge. She was in her pushchair so we took up occupancy in the space by the door, much to her delight there was a button at just the right level for her to push. Her eyes light up and her finger immediately stretches out towards it. Almost as if I have suddenly become Cassandra I see the future spreading out before me, a future filled with bus button pushing and irritated drivers and an extremely annoyed Beth at having the fun prematurely curtailed by her evil mother. But I am not Cassandra, and I can put a stop to it right now. “Beth” I warn, her finger millimetres away from the button, “No.” and I shake my head to make sure my meaning is clear. She stops, her mouth forming a little “oh” and eyebrows raised in innocent surprise, slowly her finger is withdrawn and she goes back to babbling and waving at the people across the aisle from us. However, the siren call of the button is too strong for her to resist and once again it draws her in. Her little hand reaches out once more, but as I open my mouth to tell her again it comes to rest underneath the button and she looks at me with a little grin. Now the cynic in me says that she’s being cheeky and deliberately going near the button, reminiscent of a certain game that children play. As I breathe in to tell her again the realisation suddenly hits me that I didn’t actually tell her what she wasn’t allowed to do. She wasn’t being cheeky she was trying to define what she could and could not do. As far as she was concerned I could have been telling her not to touch the entire side of the bus, not just the button. Quickly I revise my warning and smile saying “That’s okay, you can touch the wall just not the button” and elaborate whenever she goes to push the offending article saying “Not the button” instead of just “No.” By defining these boundaries for her we both have an enjoyable bus trip composing an impromptu musical number with the side of the bus doubling as a makeshift drum for our combined lalalas. Personally I found this a much better use of my time than constantly saying no and leaving her to figure out the rest on her own.

As her mother I am naturally biased towards thinking Beth is a) adorable beyond all reason and b) a GENIUS. Therefore whenever she starts showing that she has developed more awareness and understanding of the world around her I have to fight the inclination to over praise her for something that is actually completely ordinary and well within the bounds of natural development. Her development amazes me because every step is just as new to me as it is to her, however this is just the natural progression that most children show. As they grow older it is natural for them to question and not accept things at face value just because that’s what we tell them. Testing limits and pushing boundaries is a good thing (within reason), it teaches a child how far they can go, what is and is not acceptable at certain times and can improve their relationship with the authority figures in their life.

Many parents would say that arguing with their teenage children is a source of stress and they feel it means that their relationship is not as strong as it could be. Look at it from the teenager’s point of view and you could see quite a different perspective. Arguing with their parents (particularly when it comes to rules about curfews and parties) shows them that their parents are willing to listen to them and their opinions about a certain issue. They respect the teenager for the person that they are becoming and allow them the possibility of bending the rules or even changing them e.g. they are allowed to come home later because they are going out for a special event or can now walk home from school on their own because they are older. Even if they lose a few arguments the possibility for change in the future is still there for the teenagers to attempt again later (check out Nurture Shock for more elaboration on this).

It has been shown that taking a more authoritarian approach (the rules are set and not subject to change) leads children to be more likely to secretly rebel against the rules. They come to realise that no matter what they say the parents won’t change their opinion and so they hide their behaviour, rationalising that what their parents don’t know can’t hurt them. Even should their behaviour be discovered and punished this does not deter them, rather than stopping they simply take better precautions to ensure that their parents do not find out again. By taking an authoritative approach (the rules are clearly defined, but can be changed later on) the relationship can stay more open. The child is aware which rules are unbendable and which are open to the occasional breaking. But most importantly they know why the rules can or can not be changed, it isn’t merely because that is what they have been told and that is what they will do.

As Beth gets older I’m trying my best to make sure that everything I ask her to do, or tell her not to do (playing with laptop cables, leading innocent toys into a life of crime) has a reason behind it. Getting into reasons right now will overcomplicate things for her understanding, but by keeping this in mind and being specific (and flexible) about my expectations it will not only help me to develop a good relationship with my daughter but hopefully will transfer into the classes I teach.

In a bout of solidarity my parents sent me a book on toddler taming, apparently it kept them sane when I was a Satan spawn (which was all the time). Now Beth is by no means a difficult child, but is rapidly approaching the time of independence (terrible two’s) which is going to involve lots of frustration for her as she tries to do more and more things for herself without help from either one of her parents. What has helped me in leading up to these times of potential strife is following what Dr Green has written; really paying attention to what Beth is doing, being present there with her (as in physically and mentally), acknowledging that she is feeling frustrated and rather than taking over and doing the task for her enabling her to complete it with a minimum of aid (NOT an easy task for a control freak like me). So far we’ve managed to cope with a fairly harmonious household and a minimum of timeouts (the same can not be said for certain trouble causing toys…..mouse I’m looking at you), but these guidelines can be applied to much older children as well. Children can tell when you’re not really paying attention to them or their needs, it’s too easy to get distracted and try to focus on the bigger picture rather than taking the time to zoom in and pay attention to one part of a multi-layered activity. That’s where I think our instructors are amazing! They each have the skill to stop what they’re doing and really listen to what a child is trying to tell them, by utilising this skill they are able to take an authoratative approach and allow the child to question why we do things in a certain way and explain what we need from them without the child feeling the need to negatively draw attention to themselves, or try to break the rules and hope that we don’t find out.

In our classes we work on the principle that respect is earned, not given. By expecting the children to do something just because their instructors have told them to is not earning their respect, it’s commanding it.

Articles of Interest

Mothers’ and fathers’ parenting styles and associations with toddlers’ externalizing, internalizing and adaptive behaviours – Christina M. Rinaldi, Nina Howe

Personality and parenting style in parents of adolescents – Rose M.E. Huver, Roy Otten, Hein de Vries, Rutger C.M.E. Engels

The Relationship Between Parental Perfectionism And Parenting Styles – Kooroosh Azizi, Mohammad Ali Besharat

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