Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NO! NO! NO!: Logical Consequences and the Crisis of Opposition

I had forgotten how much I love writing this blog. Thanks for all the 'welcome back' messages!

I got a comment about oppositional behavior, and I just couldn't wait to post about it. Remember when I last left off talking about Montanaro's three crises? Remember how I said I was hoping against hope that "this" was the terrible twos?

It wasn't.

There are lots of useful analogies about challenging toddlers. People often say it's like having a preverbal teenager, which is my favorite, and a sentiment I can totally get behind. Before I go on, I just have to say that, for us, entering the crisis of opposition has been a little like early labor for a first time mother. There comes a point at which the hurt is so intense, so unlike anything you've ever felt before, that you're sure it can't get any worse than this, and then it does.

In any case, I think we're really here, now. Nuvy is a delight as long as I don't ask anything of her. She is adorably verbal, heartbreakingly affectionate, and generally sweet and well meaning. But...

THE MINUTE I invade her interior monologue to ask her to (insert benign request here--come to dinner, put on shoes, take off shoes, get sweater, etc.), it all falls apart. I am given to understand that this is not only normal, but healthy, and that it is a phase she'll grow out of. Here's hoping.

So in the absence of having raised up a perfectly cooperative two-year-old, I consulted the literature. I found a few articles here, and here, that are good opening discussions of the "natural and logical consequences" discipline strategy. I think (have been trained to think) that this is a superior method to corporal punishment or "time out". In my educational experience, it is miraculous. In my limited parenting experience, it does work, but somewhat less dramatically for parents than for teachers. By now, this should surprise nobody.

I will state for the record that I am absolutely opposed to corporal punishment and all sorts of intimidation tactics in child-rearing. In the next breath, I have to admit that I am bossy as hell and tend to insist on my own way (I'm glaring in your direction, peanut gallery dwellers), and sometimes pretty forcefully. I have, in fact, yelled at my toddler on more occasions than I like to think about, and have, in extremely tense situations, impulsively smacked her on the hand or bottom three times that I can remember right now. I'm not proud of any of this, but it can and does happen, even to people who KNOW it isn't right.

Now that that's off my chest, I do not believe that yelling or corporal punishment has ever, EVER improved a bad situation with Nuvy. The best that ever happened was that she was temporarily intimidated into obedience, but it was at the cost, of some modicum of her respect for me. I'm sure all you old friends of mine out there are smiling wryly. I would say to you just what you think I would say. ;-)

So, if your family and friends tell you you must discipline your child by corporal means to be effective, I would suggest that there is ample evidence to the contrary. Here is a very nice article from Tomorrow's Child regarding the Montessori approach to discipline. It is an empowering, child-driven philosophy that aims to nurture a self-disciplined child, in contrast with methods that aim to produce an "obedient" child.

The difference between self discipline and obedience is an important one, and it represents a fundamental difference between two ideas of "good" behavior. As you might have guessed, I hope that I am nurturing a self-disciplined child. I think that intimidation methods like corporal punishment, yelling, and even time-out in certain applications, tend to pretty effectively produce obedience, at least for a while. Unfortunately, the effect is only maintained as long as the child's main objective is to please the parent, and parents will find--sooner or later-- that the child's desire to please the parent is, well, intermittent at best. Once parent approval is no longer the child's primary concern, discipline strategies that rely on the child's desire to remain in good standing with the parent fall apart. I know I keep coming back to this (as in my post about praise), but I believe it. Montessori-style discipline, or "normalization" is about a child's learning to make good decisions whether or not adults are there to impose them. Sounds like a tall order? I suppose it is, but I'll try briefly to provide a few central pillars for discussion. Of course, please read all these articles I've linked to. These are just a few quickies:

1. Choose Rules Carefully: There are lots of "rules about rules" that you could read up on, but my rule litmus test is to ask myself, "Do I REALLY mean 'No.'?" I mean, am I willing to pick up my marbles and go home over this? Could I reasonably be persuaded otherwise? Is it just because I'm tired? If not, it's not a rule. I try to make as few rules as possible and make them real. Other things are open to negotiation, and I do think it's ok to negotiate with toddlers, and even to be persuaded by them, because it empowers them, and helps them to understand that talking can sometimes work (whereas whining and hitting do not) to get you what you want. There's lots more about that, but I said I'd be brief...

Corollary: mean "no" when you say it

2. Model the behavior you want: This one was a no-brainer for me, but the very devil to live up to. The argument goes like this: How do you expect to teach your child to be respectful and kind by hitting him or speaking to him in an angry/threatening tone? Do you anticipate the day when he yells or hits back? Again, you can achieve temporary obedience by intimidation, but there is a time coming when you will no longer be as intimidating as you are now. Just something to think about.

Modeling is also a way of keeping the rules clear. If standards of behavior are different for you and for your child, you can imagine the confusion, and the precipitant devaluing of the standard itself.

The fact that we are not perfect parents (are you?), and we slip up now and again in this regard gives us another modeling opportunity. We find we have the opportunity to model appropriate conciliatory behaviors. I have had several opportunities to model for my daughter a sincere apology when I have made a mistake. It's not that I like screwing up, but I think it's valuable to her to learn that errant behaviors can be adequately dealt with by apology, discussion and reconciliation. A child who is asked to forgive, and has an opportunity to offer forgiveness, also learns that she will be forgiven her mistakes, and so may learn to acknowledge them. I think most of us could use a little of that.

Caveat: Kids have a keen nose for insincerity. Remember when you were a kid and an adult tried to bait and switch you? Believe it.

Of course, self-discipline is a process and obedience is a behavior. I want my child to obey me, in the short term, but to obey her own better nature in the long term. The thing is, if she's to develop her own better nature into a strong will, I may have to sacrifice some part of the immediate obedience that would be convenient (not to mention aesthetically pleasing) to me. To people who have raised children, or have been raised themselves in a more authoritarian style, this will surely look like "spoiling" and you will be cautioned to apply more direct heat. I would encourage you to stand your ground.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe children are "spoilable", but I don't think it's respect that spoils them. I think it's lack of discipline on the part of the parent--learned by the child through modeling inconsistent behavioral cause and effect, a frequent by-product of authoritarian rule. Political analogy: ever notice how it's always a totalitarian government that gets overthrown. It's not overthrown because it's oppressive, but because it's subjects discover that it is weak.

But that deserves its own post.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Van-the-man in stage 4, Nuvy in underpants!

I'll bet you thought you were rid of us, eh?


Just thought I'd drop by my neglected blog to check on Van's progress in Stage 4 (I blogged about that when Nuvy was his age, and thought it would be fun to compare), and also to talk about something I've been asked about several times, and am finally able to speak about from real parenting experience: toilet training.

First, my Stage 4 man. Isn't he sweet?

He's now 10 months old, right in the middle of stage 4, and seems to be more or less where I'd expect him to be, but doing it all very differently from the way Nuvy did.

Motor development: As far as walking development, he's crawling efficiently on all fours and pulling up, but not yet cruising the furniture. I discovered with Nuvy that the "walking curriculum" is completely superfluous in my home environment, as my own lazy-susan coffee table, doorknobs, and staircase seem to fulfill all the functions perfectly. However, you can check out Montessori's walking curriculum here, and buy elements for your environment if you like them. A word in defense of orthodoxy, though, the walking curriculum is introduced in a very specific order, based on motor readiness, so if you're going to do it, please read up and do it right.

Of course, for me, babyproofing (um, baby-resistant-ing?) has been all the walking curriculum we have so far used. Walking is hard-wired and develops naturally for most children, so my walking curriculum is mostly defined by absence: an absence of apparatus to hold the child in a standing position. I don't have any exersaucers, jumpy doorway chairs, or other things that help babies who can't yet stand to do it before they're ready. I know. Them's fightin' words, but I say them only in the spirit of Montessori assistance to infancy. Please know you can let your child jump in the doorway with no lectures from me about his development. I'm so over that now.

Language development: Van is much "babblier" than Nuvy ever was. It seemed that all her noises were intended for communication with us, whereas Van's often seem to be just for his own entertainment. He does babble with about the same variety that she showed at this stage, just more generally. Check out the Stage 4 post from 2006 for specific expectations.

Cognitive development: Van is much more into toys than Nuvy was at this stage, so I'm able to see a lot more of the purposeful play that is discussed in the literature than I saw before with Nuvy. He does now pick up toys with the intention of playing with them, and he does love dumping things and removing things from containers in general. All the world is his drum these days, and he's invented a version of Simon Says, where we all take turns being "Simon", which he can maintain for about 15 minutes at a stretch.

Social development: As for mealtime, he is a champ with the weaning table! So far, Van sits happily at the table and eats until he's full, then fingerpaints with his food to show that he's done. I think I recall that we had a moment of this with Nuvy, before she mastered getting in and out of the little chair, so the jury's still out. He does eat in the high chair with the rest of the family when we're all eating--a mealtime adaptation that works well for us. I did get a lot of questions about implementing this with two children, but I think it may actually be easier with an older sibling. Nuvy likes to sit at the weaning table with Van (I just stick her booster chair under it, and she is able to sit there pretty comfortably), which seems to keep them both happy.

So, to Nuvy. I'm finally feeling qualified to write a toilet training post. Nuvy is 2 years and 9 months old now, and has been out of diapers completely for about a month. She does have rare accidents, and will wet the bed if we don't remind her to go at bedtime, but otherwise it's pretty painless.

I used to tell parents at our school that the easiest way to toilet train was "cold turkey" that is, no pull-ups. I still stand by that--for school-- but I did modify it a little for our home. We actually went to pull-ups long before we started training--immediately when she became able to take off her own clothes (for several reasons, I don't consider pull-ups to be an effective toilet training tool--even the feel-wet kind--but they are great when used in their natural capacity as a diaper). I'll share our training experience with you, in case you're interested.

Phase one: Naked Nuvy, was introduced as soon as she started announcing that elimination events were in progress. ("I'm making peepee/caca"). We first bought four portable baby potties (they are about 4 bucks at Ikea). The Ikea training toilet is HANDS DOWN the best toilet training product on the market, in my opinion. It costs next to nothing and is just one piece of plastic with no cracks or lift-out pieces to wash. You just run the whole thing under water to wash it. We placed a potty in each bathroom, one in the living room, an done in the kitchen. Then we took a deep breath and took off her pants and diaper.

I tried not to make a "thing" of it, just showed her to the toilet each time anything happened. With nothing on her bottom, the consequences of making peepee/caca were immediately obvious to her, which I think was a big help. It was summer and, admittedly, this is easier done outdoors, but we did our share of mopping.

So we let this go on for a couple of weeks without trying underwear, until she had achieved reliable success. We did it only at home, didn't even try to take her out of the house without a diaper.

Phase 2: Under-Wonder. Underwear proved to be a bigger hurdle for us than I had anticipated. I think it reminded her of her diaper, and caused some initial sensory confusion. However, it only took a couple of days for her to get the hang of it. At this point, I considered her "housebroken". Still didn't even try leaving the house without diapers.

Phase 3: Under and Out. Once we had good conditioning to underwear at home, I put one of the Ikea toilets in the back of our car, and started taking her out. I asked her about every half our if she needed the toilet, and if she said yes, I pulled over immediately, set her down on the toilet in the back of the car, and took care of business. So far, we have never had a traveling accident with this method.

So now she is fully a Big Girl. She is able to manage even a standard size toilet these days without trouble, and is able to detect "need" in plenty of time to, say, come in from outside to use the toilet, or to ascend a couple of levels of stairs to get to the bathroom. The whole process took about two months for complete training, and while I know there are many faster methods, I like that she did it all by herself. I encountered no resistance or frustration from her, I had only to show her the toilet and remind her to use it. At every phase, Nuvy was almost immediately successful, I think because she was ready for success. It all felt very natural and child-driven, and very "Montessori".

I hear boys are harder.