Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Battery-powered parenting

When Eldest was a preschooler she hated green pepper. She refused to eat anything containing it. I told her, "Don't worry. When you're a big girl your tastes will change. Some kids don't like green pepper until they're, oh, seven or something!"

And indeed, one day when she was about five Eldest announced that she liked green pepper after all.

I don't always do things that well. There are days when I look at a melting-down child and sputter, "Kids your age don't have tantrums any more!" It doesn't work.

In my mind I carry a picture of a battery-powered toy that rolls along the floor until it bumps into something. Then it backs off, and tries a different angle. It keeps on trying new approaches until it finds the one that allows it to move on. I'm not sure if this toy really exists or not, but the image of it is my model for parenting. You look at a problem and try approach A. When that doesn't work,  you try approach B. And so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, until something works.

Of course, when we face the same frustration repeatedly there's a weird brain thing that happens which deludes us into thinking that our strategy isn't working because we haven't made ourselves clear. My worst failing like this is what I call The Rant. The Rant relies on volume and emphasis and a never-ending loop of the same complaint in sixteen variations. There are certain Rants that could probably take place around here even if I weren't at home. The hit, "When Are You Going to Learn to Pick Up After Yourself?" probably tops the list.

When I find myself Ranting too much, it's time to back off and shut up. Ranting is a sign that I am too frustrated and need more detachment in order to solve the problem. It's as if my battery-powered parenting toy is jammed and hammering the same spot repeatedly. It needs to back up -- way up -- and reset.

For the problem with Ranting is that it aims at behavior and hits a child in the soul instead. It bellows, "You should feel bad about yourself!" Children will oblige you by hearing this, but not in the way you hope. They will hear that Mom is disappointed in them, that they are for some reason unlovable. The message that they need to change their ways gets lost in the emotional noise.

Right now I've placed myself on a two-week Rant diet from the Picking Up After Yourself issue. Deep in my heart I know (can you hear me kicking and screaming as I dredge up the unhappy truth?) that if I really want to solve this problem it's going to take consistent, unremitting supervision. In other words, I am going to have to do some work. But that's usually the case when a parenting approach isn't working. It's the parent who has to change direction first.


  1. It can be so darned hard to change direction -- and then stay changed.

  2. I really like the imagery of the battery powered toy for your parenting approach. I found myself doing the Pick Up After Yourself rant just the other day, and this post is bang on -I am the one who needs to change direction on it. Well said!

  3. There is a toy kind of like that....have you ever seen a Hexbug? It vibrates around very quickly and when it bumps into something, it sort of backs up and tries another angle (the cats love them!) I will now dub my attempts to teach something by saying the same thing over and over, hoping for a new outcome as Hexbug Parentling. (and by the way, isn't that the definition of insanity as attributed to Einstein?....doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result?)

  4. has more to do with trying to do things "right," and that if I just read the right book and then follow what it's saying, then I'll get a gold star on the scoreboard in the sky or something. Anyway. Sorry for the rant. Go on and write your book! (Victoria) best double stroller