Friday, March 23, 2012

Rewards and Consequences

"The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change" Carl Rogers

Let me start by making one thing clear: I know that I am not a perfect parent, and I never will be. There is no such thing. I try my best. 

I work hard at trying to understand my children, taking their feelings into consideration, and teaching them right from wrong. I try really hard to be patient with them, not shout, not get cross, and "model good behaviour". I really try my hardest, each day, to listen to them, share in their wonders, try to understand what is causing their frustrations/anger/dismay or fear. I bend over backwards each day to make sure they are warm, comfortable, well-fed, clean, and happy. I will forgo any of my own comforts, desires and needs in the name of love. 

But oh, my. 
They really know how to push my buttons. 
They know what makes me tick.
They know how to cause a massive distraction in order to influence a situation to their own advantage.
They can expertly make me look as though I am a rubbish mother in one moment, and a crazy, disorganised, ranting cow in the next.
My daughter is an expert negotiator. I am considering sending her on a mission with Kofi Annan. 
She knows how to argue her case, giving a reasoned and well-thought defence, leaving me occasionally baffled as to an appropriate, "I am the parent, you are the child" response. What do I do?

Sometimes, I can be a shouty parent. Each time I shout I feel guilty for shouting, which makes me feel like I am out of control, which ultimately makes me feel like a bad parent. 
These are the days when, as I tuck my children into bed in the evening, and I look at their little sleeping faces, and they are peaceful and beautiful, I feel a prick of self-resentment at having failed to be in control, calm and serene in the face of the challenges that children bring. I feel that failure all over, and it sometimes makes me feel so sad that I have lost my temper with them, all the while knowing that they are little people, with thoughts and feelings, who will one day grow up and be big people. I wouldn't shout at an adult, so why do I shout at my children? For me, the answer is feeling stressed, but that is no excuse. So in that case, I need to work out how to  manage stress. Simple, eh?!
What I find hard, is that I spend so much of my day trying to explain about "using kind hands" or "using kind voices", or "doing good listening", "doing good sharing", and "being kind to each other", and yet they argue, snatch from each other, ignore what is being said to them, show disrespect, and do the opposite to what is being asked.
 But often, they play nicely together, help each other out when stuck with something, chat to each other to make each other laugh, hug each other, help me by tidying up their toys, "cleaning" the bathroom (baby wipes come in very useful), reading books together, comforting each other if one of them is sad, and are simply gorgeous together.
 It really bugs me that for the past four years, at each meal, I ask my daughter to "sit nicely at the table, please do not sit cross-legged on the chair". She still does it, after all this time. There is a good reason: if she sits like that, she tends to spill her food down her clothes, which has been pointed out, but yet she still does it. Why? Is it habit? Is it to annoy me? Is it to show she wants control? Is it because I am too prescriptive and because I am not letting her get away with the little things? Or is it because she expects to hear me saying it? I really don't know - but it really annoys me that I have to say the same thing to her at every meal. The result: inward Arrrggghhhhhhhhhhh!
And the consequences of not following the "house rules"? Time out, and if they don't go, there will be a loss of treats, or a loss of bedtime story or evening TV.
The time out corner is not a place to go for punishment. It's a place to go to calm down, to retreat into themselves, to find a way to settle back into their usual state of being. I used to ask them to stay for one minute for every year of their age, but now I encourage them to come back to join in with whatever we are doing when they are calm and appropriate. I don't go over why they went to time-out, but they often apologise, and we have a hug. These are the days I feel in control, feel as though I am a good, authoratitive parent.

But just as important is the positive stuff: rewarding good behaviour with praise, star charts and spontaneous rewards (an unexpected treat, like staying up a bit later, a magazine, or an ice lolly). 
But the most important part of parenting, in my opinion, is love. Everything I do for them is borne out of love, including the discipline I endeavour to give them each day. It is because I love them and want to nurture them that I try so hard, because I want them to grow up as rounded, compassionate, empathic adults, who know right from wrong, are respectful and kind, and are secure and happy with themselves and their lot in life. 
I remind myself every day how lucky I am to have two gorgeous children who are happy, healthy, and full of life and dreams.
I can't describe how wonderful it is to find little notes from my daughter at least once a week, saying "dear mum, I love you", with lots of hearts and kisses. That is my spontaneous reward. My son tells me several times a day that he loves me, and gives me the most life-fulfilling hugs. Together they are my guiding light in the world, they are leading the way.
I am willing to continue to educate myself so that I may learn and change, and ultimately, pass this philosophy onto my children.


Buster said...

Great blog - having nannied for 20+ years, and now a Mum myself it all rang true!

Buster said...

Great blog - having nannied for 20+ years, and now a Mum myself it all rang true!

Buster said...

Sorry, not really repeating my comments!

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I am a mum to two children, a registered nurse, a trainee breastfeeding counsellor, reiki practitioner, photographer, and generally into keeping things natural. Going back to the basics in life, respecting nature, the planet, and each other. Teaching this to my children and others who are interested. This blog comes from a good place, and is intended to give the reader an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and make an informed choice. I welcome constructive comments and would like it if you could share (acknowledging me as the source) and follow the blog. Many thanks!