Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swiftly Approaching Disequilibrium

fI love these books by Louise Bates Ames & Frances L. Ilg in which they describe the development and behavior of different age groups. Here is the description of the three year old on the back cover of Your Three-Year-Old Child: "A three-year-old child is a real puzzle to parents, sometimes anxious to please and befriend, sometimes strong-willed and difficult to get along with. At the heart of the three-year-old's personality is often an emotional insecurity--and this causes a host of problems for parents!"

The first chapter of the book describes the three-year-old as easy-going and eager-to-please. Then, it describes an interesting phenomenon: at three and a half, the child undergoes a period of disequilibrium. Other Ames & Ilg development books describe how, usually at half ages, children undergo periods of emotional, physical, and behavioral "rockiness". This period is usually followed by a period of peace and stability. Here are some characteristics of three-and-a-half year old disequilibrium: "Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child....he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him.... (5)," "...characteristically inwardized, insecure, anxious, and, above all, determined and self-willed....The three-and-a-half-year-old child seems emotionally very insecure from the word go...(6)," "....stuttering...tensional, too, may pose special problems...emotional insecurity....sometimes it almost seems that nothing pleases...(7,8)."

When Aydon turned three, I immediately read and reread this Ames & Ilg book dedicated to three year olds. I do not follow all the discipline advice in the book, but I appreciate the description of age-appropriate behavior; it helps me be patient and understanding when my little guy has trouble.

At three, Aydon was so happy and easy to manage that I thought perhaps at three-and-a-half he would be an exception to the "rule". I am beginning to believe otherwise! Aydon is not three and a half yet, but he is almost there. Little three-and-a-half year old behaviors are manifesting themselves. Yesterday, at supper, he screamed, "Don't look at me!" to his dad, and then a few seconds later, sweetly offered to share some of his food with said longsuffering daddy.

But that is not all that happened yesterday! Earlier in the day, at the end of a long grocery-shopping trip, as I was sighing with relief and feeling proud because baby was sleeping peacefully on my bosom in the sling and Aydon was cheerful and visiting with me from the front seat of the cart, I encountered some astonishing behavior that ushered me swifty into the world of three-and-a-half. It all started with a small dollar-bill-like slip of paper that children are given at the checkout. It is called an HEBuddy buck; children place it in a kiddie slot machine located at the store exit, in exchange for stickers. Now, usually the cashier gives Aydon several said "bucks." But today, Aydon received only one. Being that Aydon was holding the buck, I thought that he realized he only had ONE to spend. I scooped Aydon out of the cart and set him in front of the machine. He skillfully fed the buck into the slot, and withdrew his sticker. "Ok, let's go home!" I cheerfully exclaimed, feeling like a GREAT momma (keep in mind that this slot machine is at the exit to the store; in other words, the kids using the machine are on display in front of all shoppers checking out). And that is where the trouble I lifted Aydon back into the cart, he loudly declared, "No!!! I don't wanna ride in the cart! AAAAHHHH! I want another HEBuddy buck!!" (flailing and ruckus ensue). A grandma nearby, seeing my son's distress, offered him an extra buck (, thank you, grandma). Foolishly, I took my screaming child out of the card and let him use the next buck. Then, as I lifted him back into the cart, drama ensued once more (oh, at this point he was also holding some pamphlets he had grabbed off a shelf), "NOOOO! I don't want to ride in the cart!" I finally managed to get him seated, upon which he angrily threw the pamphlets to the floor. Once again, foolishly, I lifted my boy out of the cart, growling, stifling my embarrassment, "Oh, no, Aydon, we need to clean these up." I held his hand and walked him to the pamphlets, placing one in his hand. "No! I can do it myself," exclaimed my suddenly-maniacal child, dislodging his hand from mine, and running like a madman toward the front door. At the last minute, he veered away, then made a wide arch towards the pamphlet stand, tossing the pamphlet onto it. And yes, horror of horrors, before I could get a grip on things, he repeated this with each of the other three pamphlets. Finally, I managed to grabbed my son and lifted him back into the cart. There was some good that came out of this: my son and I had an excellent and bonding conversation about the importance of listening to mommy on the way home.

As I reflected on the grocery store experience, I came to a startling realization: three-and-a-half is swiftly upon us. So, here are some decisions I am making in regards to how I want to handle things:

     1) As one of my sweet readers pointed out: parent by the Spirit. Allow Him to control me. When a situation presents itself, take a deep breath, recognize that I do not have to let sin (anger, etc) control me, and allow the Spirit produce his fruit in my life (gentleness, patience, self-control, etc).

     2) Revert to a main strategy used at two and a half, namely, remain near my child at all times, enforcing rules through swift, kind, firm action. For example, he absolutely must hold my hand in the parking lot, he will ride in the cart at the store, and if I make a request, I will stand near him so as to ensure that my request is heeded. This is because I realize that my son's inner world is rocky and out of sorts right now, and he needs stability in his outer world because he will have more trouble controlling himself than he used to.

    3) Spend a lot of time outdoors, engaged in free play. Limit television, which winds little man up. Provide my precious child with a routine that is not too rigid, yet allows life to feel somewhat structured.

   4) Remember that aberrant behavior is the result of inward upheaval, respond with compassion, don't take things personally, and recall how quickly this stage will pass, therefore enjoying each moment, whether easy or difficult to navigate.

Most of all, I want to remember that love and grace trump all other actions and attitudes, for my own Heavenly Father is constantly pouring out His love and grace on this often-crazily-behaved momma, as He gently reminds me that I need Him to take control, lead, and guide me at all times!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Al Naturale

I was watching a TV show last night, which featured a large family. One of the children had written on the counter with marker, and the mom immediately marched her five littles in and demanded to know who the culprit was. Of course, none of the children would fess up, so all five had to stand in the utility room, noses to the wall, for four minutes (one minute per year of age). When the time was up, the mom explained to her children what they had done wrong, again, and sent them off to play. Now, I am not criticizing this mother...she clearly loved her children, but I do think she could have employed a different method. I noticed the sad looks on the children's faces after time-out, the look of children who are so sorry to have disappointed their mommy, so sad that their behavior forced her to punish them: the look of  shame. I know from experience that long after a punishment has been implemented, the punishee (forgive me for coining a word here) worries that the punisher is unhappy with her/him, and also that the punishment is often more recollected by the punishee than the "crime" itself. 

I posit that natural-like consequences would have been much more effective in this situation. The goal of Christian discipline, I believe, is to teach, correct and guide. So, when we discipline our children, we should ensure that our method will teach our children without shaming them. In the instance of the marker, the mom in question's goal was to teach her children not to write on counter tops. Why not invite them all into the kitchen, show them the marker stain, and then calmly declare, "Uh, oh, marker on the counter. Marker is only for paper. We need to clean this off."? Then, she could have handed her children each a rag, or a scrub brush, and let them work the marker off, possibly lending a hand here and there. This would need to be done without shaming comments, lectures, or angry words. In fact, it would be fine if, in the course of the consequence, the children actually had fun!! This way, the mom's role is not that of a judge who sentences her children and then carries out the sentence, but, rather, her role would be that of a kind teacher who offers her children the chance to correct and learn from mistakes.

Yesterday, little man wanted his daddy to play with him before work. Daddy informed him that he would play, after little man cleaned up the play dough he had been playing with. Little man did not want to clean up his play dough. Daddy warned him that the longer it took for him to clean up, the less time he would be able to play with little man, as he had to go to work. Little man started running around the room, playing with other toys. We informed him that he could either sit on the couch and rest (since he said he was too tired to clean up his play dough), or he could go ahead and clean up his mess. Little man opted to sit on the couch for a loooong time. Finally, he got up and cleaned up his play dough. Then he looked expectantly at daddy: "Play with me, daddy!" Daddy looked at his watch, and said, "All right, but I can only play for five minutes, and then I have to get ready for work." Little man accepted this, though he was a bit sad when his daddy had to leave to get ready for work. This is an example of a natural consequence in action. I believe that this is one of the most effective ways of teaching our children. Little man learned a bit about using his time wisely; he learned the reason why listening to what we say and doing it right away can have rewards (more time to play). He learned that he is responsible for his own behavior, and the consequences thereof. Never once did we have to shame, lecture, or punish. We did not have to stress out over our son's behavior--the choice and the consequences thereof, good or bad, were up to him.

This is really how God disciplines His children: His aim is to teach us, not to punish us. If in doubt, read Hebrews 11 and 12. Read the book of James. What do these books show is the purpose of discipline and trials in the Christian life? The purpose is to train His children, sometimes to correct them, but never to punish. 

As parents, let us meditate on these excellent verses from 1 John 4: 

15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.