I feel I should preface this entry by saying that the title "Organic Solutions" has nothing to do with food. I am using the word "organic" just to mean something that occurs naturally, rather than through manufactured, calculated processes. I realize that the food definition also means the same thing, but again, I'm not talking about food today.
I attended a "Manic Toddlerhood" group today at the Jewish Community Center. This is an hour-long discussion group that takes place in the "Family Place" area, which is basically a big playroom. Parents bring their infants/toddlers and let them play while a discussion is facilitated by experts. The experts today were both people with experience in development and, of course, with children of their own. They introduced themselves and said that no, they did not have neat little solutions to problems in boxes to hand out. Each parent said their name and the names and ages of their children, and whether they had any issues that they'd like to address with the experts and the group.
When I introduced myself and began with "I have a 3.5 year old cancer survivor who wears hearing aids..." things pretty much came to a stop. You don't often find a person who has been through the wringer as we have in attendance at a "normal" parenting discussion group. And yet, I was there with just my typical 18-month-old.
The themes for discussion as picked out by us parents were sleep routines, time-out/punishment, communication between parents and other caregivers such as nannies, finding relief when Mom is sick and baby/toddler doesn't know how to take it easy, and potty training, as well as other issues of independence.
The issue that really struck me and helped to prompt this entry was that of time-out. A father who stays home with his daughter said that they have a punishment chair, and that's what they call it. At first it seemed to "work," but now his daughter doesn't really care if she is put there. It also seems as though she gets put there quite a bit for actions that seem pretty normal for 2-year-olds. She gets put there for running away when he is trying to get her coat on to go to the store. She gets put there for running away instead of coming for diaper changes. He wanted to know what other people did for punishment/discipline. A few other parents (and nannies, as there were a few nannies in attendance as well) said that they also had time-out chairs or time-out corners, and it works for them. Some said that they have similar issues of trying to find the right "discipline" methods as their kids are younger and don't understand, but they feel that their kids need "something."
I said that I rarely, if ever, did time-out with my kids because I don't find that it works for them, and if I have to address an issue of behavior, the solution is tailored to the individual situation. If my children are fighting over something or not playing nicely, I separate them and talk to them. I try not to pin too much responsibility on The Boy, particularly since Meatball is a little instigator, but I do tell The Boy as often as possible that he needs to show Meatball, and other people, how he'd like to be treated and how he'd like to play. As such, we try to model behavior as adults that we want to see in the children. I gave the example of The Boy wanting to keep a toy he was playing with, even though Meatball wanted it, and saying "The Boy was playing with that...how about the pig?" and handing Meatball the really cool piggy bank toy to play with, so that they both have a toy and they're both happy.
I have two fundamental problems that I have with the whole time-out discussion as it went with this group, and as it frequently goes. The first is that parents think that every "undesirable" action on the part of their children requires retribution. Although the intention is to correct a behavior, it quickly becomes a matter of letting the children know that they can't get away with whatever they did without being punished. It's a difficult mindset of which to rid oneself (and plenty of parents don't feel that they need to get out of it, yet they wonder why they are constantly punishing their kids), because it just doesn't seem that productive.
That isn't to say that time-out never works for any child and is never appropriate for any situation. Some children do a better job of getting themselves together when they have time to themselves. Some parents need a minute to collect themselves if things get out of hand. The point is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, but retribution can't be the starting point.
The second problem is a logical extension of the first one, and that is the concept of consistency. Frequently when talking about consistency with small children, people are telling you that you have to use certain punishments for certain actions, and then the child comes to expect that and, ostensibly, will stop doing the offensive actions. But again, why the retribution? It just isn't necessary. And so what if your child does something you don't like, and you don't get around to punishing him because you're busy hugging him to make him feel better?
Here's the consistency that has worked for my children: I consistently model positive behavior for them. When I tell The Boy that I'm going to do something for him, I do it. I prompt him to do the same for me, that when he says he is going to do something, he should follow through. Sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn't. He's 3. The more I model this behavior for him, and for Meatball as he gets older, the more he'll do it. I consistently meet their emotional needs and acknowledge when they are making sacrifices for me. Because yes, interrupting playtime to go to the grocery store is a sacrifice for them, and I always thank them for coming with me and helping me pick out food for the family. And needing a hug is a valid reason for being a little cranky, and I try not to let any crankiness get out of hand before I recognize it and address it with food or snuggles or rest or attention.
I feel very positively about the way that my children do things. They're not perfect. They drive me crazy from time to time. Sometimes they reach up and pull the cereal box down onto the floor instead of just asking for some cereal. And sometimes the fight with each other. But they are good, as all children really are, and I hope to continue positive and respectful relationships with both of them, with consistent love and meeting of needs, and consistent guidance free of retribution for the sake of keeping the score in my favor. Because as soon as I start keeping score with my children, I'm going to lose. Better to let them "get away with" something, knowing that eventually they'll notice that whatever it is that they're doing has a more positive alternative.
Slight topic shift, but under the umbrella of the same title: I've been noticing the differences in my private music students and the way that they learn. I have a pretty standard set of beginning repertoire, along with standard posture and position ideas. How they get through the repertoire, what books they end up using, what tricks and devices work to solidify posture and position...it all varies from student to student. I realized that one of my students would really benefit from some rhythm practice. He is doing an excellent job, but he would really do that much better with additional ways to think about rhythm and additional ways to practice it. But it isn't as though I'm saying "at this point in your studies we must practice rhythm in this way because that's what comes next." It is an organic solution, in my mind, because it seems like the appropriate time to do this work, and is in response to issues that come up with his playing and the repertoire that he is studying.
It just feels better to be flexible and, while anticipating problems is certainly an important part of parenting and teaching, organic solutions and organic problem avoidance just feels better.