Thursday, May 7, 2009


I struggle with the boy, I do. Anything I tell him, be it things he needs to do or merely information (such as the time of day), he interprets as "bossing" him around. He refuses to change his underwear, brush his teeth, unpack his backpack or do even the most minor chore without saying charming things such as "you can't make me," "you're not giving me my freedom," or, my personal favorite, "why do I have to do everything around here!" The school crossing guard told me yesterday that O is "so smart, but that boy is cheeky." Yep, 'fraid so.

Anyway, I'm done with it. The pattern came on slowly enough, but I'm doing my best to step back from it (and hopefully change it) with a three prong approach. One, is to just not engage. I tell him the things that need to be told (such as we are leaving in 5 minutes) and I don't react/engage with the fuss that comes back at me. Two, I hold him to the consequences of his actions (a tactic otherwise called "being a hardass"). If he is outrageously rude, he has to leave. I'm not available to be yelled at. This policy has even resulted in him being left home from E's last soccer game. He wouldn't brush his teeth, which I believe is a basic requirement for being ready to go out in the world, so I left him at home. He fussed and cried, but he called me later to apologize for not getting himself ready. Huh. Wow, it worked!

The third prong of my new approach came to me yesterday when I was avoiding life by taking a turn through the PTO Thrift Shop. Books were on sale for half off and I wanted to pull a few for the girl, since the school library is being packed up for the pending renovations, and I'm just not getting her to the public library often enough. I found her a small stack, a book for me (Life of Pi) and then came across a whole stash of Star Wars graphic novels and chapter books. In the game section, I also found a complete Battleship game! Rather than dump these treasures on them all at once I let them pick one book after helping with a school walking audit yesterday.

This morning I woke up to find O making his own lunch. He had already tidied the living room. He pitched in emptying the dishwasher. And he brushed his teeth. Oh yeah, he got another book. I need to go back and buy the rest of those Star Wars books. What was I thinking leaving some on the shelf????

I'm saving Battleship for a big weekend of yard work...


Anonymous said...

Hi Gina. This is Paul in Miami.

Have you checked out the Love and Logic series by Jim Fay. There are books for teachers and books for parents. I think this is what you are looking for. I have not read this one in particular, but you might try "Parenting with Love and Logic." I have found the strategies to work very well in my classroom. The potential problem with behavior modification strategies (rewards for good behavior) is that the reward will need to get bigger and bigger to have the same effect. Pretty soon you will have to buy him a BMW or a yacht. I have found that behavior mod works well for a short time. Check out Holding kids to be responsible for their choices is not being a hardass. Children can feel unsafe when they are unsure if boundaries will be kept appropriately.


Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

Hi Paul!

Yes, I know _Love and Logic_ and have found it helpful for that very basic perspective that one needs to maintain about just who the problem belongs to... so you offer the kids all the sympathy in the world on "their" problem getting their chores done so that they can go to Johnny's house to play, etc., etc.

Coming up with the "natural" consequences for all situations is the rub. Leaving him home when he chose to not get ready for the soccer game was a good one, but that was only an option because W was home. If W hadn't been around, I would have been faced with coming up with other "consequences" to his refusal to get ready but ones that did not interfere with E's game... I'm not sure I can adequately explain the house of cards I live in most days. The book makes it look easier than it is, as you certainly know from running a classroom.

Anyway, the "bribery" language was meant to be (mostly) a joke. But getting your mom to produce a Battleship game out of thin air and playing a round or two with you is also a consequence... just a positive one... the kind that it has been rather hard for me to think of in the last few months of being screamed at... and I do want to be ready to create some positive consequences for the sanity of all of us who live here.

Finally, yes, kids need boundaries. That is why I'm being screamed at. Knowing this sometimes helps, sometimes not. After the kids are well abed and I'm on the other side of glass of wine, I can say that them pushing on those boundaries (screaming) and finding them firm (me not screaming) counts as a success for me!