Thursday, March 12, 2009

Living peacefully with your Four-Year-Old

I find in parenting I need to keep using what I learned during birth. In labor, when a new phase came, it took a while to figure out how to deal with it. I would be laboring, coping with contractions, and then it felt like they suddenly changed. They became unbearable, and nothing I was doing helped at all.

Now, in parenting, I find that when we develop patterns of whining and misbehaviour, (or parental frustration and anger) when our usual strategies stop working and we just can't seem to catch our rhythm or get along, it often means we're growing! It takes observing ourselves and one another, praying for wisdom and cooperating to figure out how to live together as we grow.
Recently, we were having fits of aggravating the younger brother, misuse of tools, snitching things and denying it, total lack of cooperation in basic things like getting dressed; you know what I'm talking about?

My normal avenues of eliciting cooperation, as well as discipline tactics just weren't working the way they had. Things felt off.
I told Paul and a few friends that something was up and I couldn't figure it out. I wasn't sure if he needed better-set boundaries, or more attention, or it was just a phase, or what? (it's so helpful to know that sometimes things are just hard and there's not way around it.) When we're having troubles I am reminded to pray, to ask for help. I like to make sure the kids know how much we love them in times of conflict; we need extra assurance of love when we're rubbing wrong against one another.

The breakthrough came when Paul commented to me that he noticed misbehavior seemed to happen when our Little Bear had an idea for something he wanted to do. He would do his plan, but not in a sanctioned way; like by taking something he had been told not to, and doing something he wasn't supposed to do with it. Frequently with scissors. I have learned from Montessori that when children disobey, they need more freedom. This does not mean that we don't expect good behavior, but that often lack of freedom drives misbehavior, so Paul's comment really rang a bell. I spent a day observing myself and Little Bear as I pondered this.

Then I talked about it with Little Bear. He agreed that he was bored and had a lot of ideas, and also that things hadn't been going very well lately and that we'd been having a hard time listening and getting along. I shared with him that I do expect him to listen to me, but also that I want to listen to him. And I told him he was ready for his Own Scissors. We worked together to find a place for the scissors where he could get them, but his little brother couldn't. We discussed some very concrete rules for use of the scissors. We discussed consequences for not following those rules. Then I helped him make a special box to keep them in, and signs saying that they were just for him. Ooh, was this fun! He spent all day doing projects with the scissors, and put them away after each use. He had a lot of things he had been waiting to do with them!

Our other problems dissolved. The scissors were the key that unlocked the door to our new phase. Our Little Bear has a lot of good ideas and needs the freedom to do them on his own. He was bored!
Along with the scissors, I found there were lots of areas where I was underestimating him, doing for him what he could do for himself, expecting too little, not too much, and controlling rather than equipping him to handle new levels of responsibility. For, with freedom comes responsibility. Along with the scissors came some new chores and a renewal of our expectations of one another. I hadn't meant to be controlling him, he'd just grown into some things he couldn't have handled and didn't need to a few months ago. Along with greater understanding came new tactics and peace.

I must note that not all of the scissor rules were followed. A few days after the debut of his Very Own Scissors, I found a little brother with a new albeit minor haircut and a new spool of ribbon cut to pieces. There were consequences, kind of big ones, and a lot of tears. Not getting to use his Very Own Scissors for Four Whole Days was rather agonizing, but he accepted it as just, though sad, and has lived up to the new responsibility even better since then. The brief reprisal of privileges didn't undo our new mutual esteem or the advance of four-year-old liberty in our house a bit.


Myra said...

Mamabear, your approach to the "problems" with Little Bear is so wise! You were frustrated, but instead of clamping down and getting stricter, you took the time to observe, think about it, talk to others, and act with purpose. I love the apparent paradox that behavior problems require more freedom, but new freedoms with responsibility and communication. Well done!
Oma Bear

schauers said...

I learn from watching others too - and it is thoughtful to watch you by reading your words in this blog - a very wise woman indeed, miss Libby. Thanks for sharing your insights. You're a good mama!

The Ringdals said...

Thank you Libby for the time you invested in sharing this. I know how frustrating this can be with Kids. You are truly wise in stepping back from the situation and seeing what Gibby really needed. the trick lies in the constant and continuing way that they all change like that. You get one problem figured out and then the next kid will have a whole different situation. That is where your words about prayer are the secret. God is the one who can see into these little lives and really know how and why they are acting out. He has the answers to the puzzles. I am finding out now that there were many puzzles I didn't even know about!! Thanks again for the glimpse into your home. Little Bear has one very loving Mamabear!
Diane Ringdal