Julie Lyles Carr: Just When You Think You Have It Figured Out...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just When You Think You Have It Figured Out...

I love receiving questions from readers, love how it makes me think a little harder and evaluate what I believe about parenting. I received an email from Shelly a few weeks ago and have been contemplating it ever since. She writes:

I have a question for ya. We have a two year little girl. She is an amazing piece of God's handiwork and the biggest challenge in parenting we've had so far. We have two boys that are older. They respond just fine to the system of a time outs and 'consequences' we have in place. She does not. I never once had to get something out of their noses because they thought it would be a good idea to stick something up there. I've fished out little round objects from the same nostril on my daughter twice within a matter of weeks. The boys never once tried to climb out of their cribs or up on dressers or on countertops...you get the picture. She's a climbing master. I thought I had strong-willed boys, then my daughter turned 10 months and I was apparently wrong in that assessment. :) She is a mixture of a whole lot of sweet preciousness and all kinds of not!
Anyway, we are at quite a loss as to how to train her in the discipline area. She is very me-oriented which has good points and bad points. We are expecting our fourth child any day now and though I know it will be good for her, I know we are going to experience a step up in the training craziness with her as well. 'Consequences' make a dent for about 10 seconds while she cries, gets her snuggle in afterward and then she'll go right back to doing something that she is fully aware is wrong. If she wasn't aware of the boundaries and what is off-limits and such it would be one thing, but she KNOWS! We've also put her in her room until she stops throwing a tantrum, but recently that stopped working as she just got into all the drawers and closet and made her room into something Monet would have been proud to paint! We recently tried to implement putting her in a chair in a corner for a time-out for two minutes at a time (I actually set the timer, so I don't leave her hanging...) and while it seemed to have a very good effect on the first day, the next couple of days didn't seem to have any effect at all. Its nearly like she doesn't get it yet, so that doesn't seem to be effective at her developmental stage just yet. I've been told that she needs more attention, but I'm pretty sure that is not the case in this matter. We do lots of snuggling and with the exception of trying to get a meal ready or the dishes washed or using the bathroom all by myself, I will stop whatever I am doing and give her my full attention.
SO, with all of that and knowing you have 8 pretty different personalities in your arsenal, do you have any suggestions?

Girl, I applaud you for being willing to re-evaluate and reassess what you are doing and if it is working or not. I encounter parents on a frequent basis (and I've been there myself) who are bound and determined to parent a certain way, even when the outcome is not showing validity. So good for you for being willing to open up the play book and see what other strategies might be.

Let's start with the Family Dynamic Issue. My first two children were very compliant. Parenting them was a pretty straightforward affair. Here's the behavior I want to see. Here's the behavior that is unacceptable. Sign here on the dotted line with that big ol' Crayola that you agree and we can go on with our day. The end.

And then I had my third child. Wowza.

People used to tell me that it was because my first two are girls and then my third was a boy. But now that I'm eight kids into my research, I can tell you it wasn't a gender thing. Some of my boys have been easy-peasy and some of my girls have been tougher. And while I know there are those who really ascribe to the first-born, second-born, baby of the family thing, I just don't see it with my kids.

In my world, every kid has been new terrain.

With their own unique subset of cooperativeness. And combativeness.

That said, you are dealing with a kiddo who has removed you and your husband from man-on-man play to zone defense, as one of our friends like to say. You are now outnumbered. And don't think your daughter doesn't know that. It's not that she may be acting out for attention or is feeling so depleted of your focus that she's willing to do anything to catch your eye. It's just that she is being parented in an environment that does include two brothers who, though obedient and well-behaved, still require attention and focus themselves. In my experience, every kid figures out their niche early, maybe even before they exit the womb. We've had The Cleaner, The Whiner, The Comedian, The Giggler, The Climber, The Play-In-The-Toilet Maestro...it kind of reads like a Batman comic book of alter egos.

And you're also dealing with a child who is still very young. How would you assess her verbal skills at this time in her development? For my children who were early verbal, my ability to connect the dots between action and consequence for them was much easier. My kids who were more kinesthetic early were not great candidates for explanation and a good talking-to. Developmentally, she's still in a vague area when it comes to how much she can really string together in terms of desired behaviors and outcomes. Sometime around the age of three, children have about 90% of their brain development installed...but that remaining 10% plays a huge role in impulse control and behavior/consequence comprehension. So it's no surprise given the milestones of brain development that most kids take a while to acquire the ability to be more patient and to think ahead to the consequences of their actions.

Not to make any excuses, however. Because obviously, desired behavior outcomes have to be trained. And that training may have a shorter course for some kids and longer ones for others.

I've definitely had some personalities in my crew that sound a lot like your little girl. As a matter of fact, there are many aspects of her shenanigans that sound just like 8 of 8. I don't know if this is helpful, but even with all the parenting I've done, 8 of 8 still kicks my mommy hiney on a regular basis. He is adorable and unpredictable and destructive and creative and active, active, active.

Tomorrow, I'll put some suggestions out there for managing this kind of kiddo, but for now, I will tell you this: 8 of 8 is the kid who has required me being on him All.The.Time. I have to monitor him continually and it was at its peak when he was the age of your daughter. It wasn't really 'giving him more attention'~~like your daughter, he has a houseful of adoring fans who are always available for a cuddle and a giggle. It is more a kind of close observation that sort of assumes he will be pulling down the drywall. The earlier in an undesired behavior I am able to intervene, the better. He has the attention span of a gnat and if I came upon one of his creative disasters 30 minutes after the fact, the teachable moment was gone for him. So consider tethering your daughter to you for the next few days. And watch what she does. Observe. Exhausting, I know. Not fun, I know. But helpful in the long run and it will also give you great information on her behavior patterns. When does she get bored? What's going on in the home when she takes on that moment to scale the fridge and scalp the cat and pour shampoo down the toilet? Believe it or not, you may begin to see patterns.

I'll have some more specific strategies tomorrow. And Readers, weigh in! We'd love to hear how you've managed your more active little ones!

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