Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Present Progress: March (I know it's April)

Good readers, I have called Poison Control not once, but twice, in the last week. The first time they took my name and some other information and told me, actually, latex paint is not considered a poison (can't imagine it's real healthy, though, even if he probably didn't swallow any).

I was relieved that I wasn't asked for any personal information when I called this morning (I prefer to remain ashamed and anonymous, thankyouverymuch (she write on her public blog)). This morning I discovered that is very possible for a two-year-old to remove the safety cap from a bottle of children's Tylenol. And that if he guzzles nearly a third of the bottle before you get to him, that's OK by Poison Control's standards.

So do I win any prizes for being present?

It seems I am still adjusting to having a typically toddler on my hands. My daughter did not prepare me for this! And why, why does the children's consignment store have a bookshelf of parenting books right next to the check-out area? I can't imagine I have the only child who considers it his mission to unload that bookshelf while his mother's hands are busy paying for the "new" clothes.

Fortunately, that time I saw this book.
And I thought, "Hey, don't I want to read that book? Hasn't it been recommended by several people? It's only $3!" And I tossed it into our pile.

It's a good buy, friends. It's a bit out of date in style, but the content is still very relevant. And I say this two chapters in. Really, it's the first chapter that got me. If you only read the first chapter, I think it's still worth your time and money.

Adele and Elaine offer parenting techniques and workbook-like exercises all while remaining non-judgemental about all those times you really didn't do it very well. They practice the empathy they preach. What I love about the first chapter is it's all about helping your child deal with his feelings. Yes, please, I do have an overemotional preschooler. The ladies condense it down to four steps or options (pick and choose one or more, given the emotional event/tantrum):

1. Listen quietly and attentively.
2. Acknowledge the feelings with a word (oh, hmmm, I see)
3. Give the feeling a name (That sounds frustrating!)
4. Give the child his wishes in fantasy (I wish I could make the banana ripe right now!)

Don't solve the problem for your child, don't dismiss the feelings as unimportant. (Do put limits on behavior, as necessary.) What Adele and Elaine discovered is that when they were empathetic with their own children, they not only got more information about the situation, but the children often solved their own problems!

So, I thought, let me give it a shot.

Maggie: These jeans don't feel right! I don't want to wear these jeans!
Mama (feeling awkward): Hmmmm... 
Maggie: These jeans don't feel right! 
(Get over it!)
Mama: Those jeans feel uncomfortable, huh?
Maggie: Yeah, these jeans feel uncomferble.

An early byproduct of this technique was increased vocabulary. Uncomfortable, irritated, confused, frustrated. Good to know those words, but even better--sometimes all she really needed was someone to give her feeling a name, and then she was satisfied. It was sort of amazing.

But, other times, that was not enough.

Maggie: I want toast with butter!
Mama: I know you like toast with butter with your breakfast.
Maggie: I want toast with butter!
(I want you to be quiet, but neither of us is getting her wish.)
Mama: Well, you know it takes time. I will get it to you as soon as I can.
Maggie (whining): Mama, where is my toast with butter?
(I'm gonna eat your toast with butter for you if you don't quit complaining.)
Mama: I wish I could give you your toast right now, but it is in the toaster.
Maggie: Mama, I want toast with butter!
(I want to scream!)
Mama (out loud): You may not yell at me. If you're going to yell, go wait in your room.

So sometimes, in spite of my efforts, we got nowhere. You can argue I didn't follow the guidelines all that well in that conversation, but here's my conclusion anyhow: some kids need a little push towards the problem-solving department.

Maggie: I can't make this piece fit in my puzzle!
Mama: How frustrating for you!
Maggie: Mama, it's not working!
Mama: I wish I could come help you, but I'm cooking supper.
Maggie: Mama, I can't make it fit!
Mama: Hmmm, I wonder what you can do?

The children in the book always seemed to arrive at a solution unaided, but even after a few weeks of trying the techniques, I found my child did not. So I added in that last line when our conversation seemed to be going nowhere. And it works more often than not. Sometimes the problem sorts itself out, sometimes that line prompts her to start thinking solution instead of complaint. It almost always kickstarts us out of a conversational rut. We had this conversation yesterday, and I felt like a star:

Maggie (after getting a few drops from a puddle on her pants at the park): My pants are wet!
Mama: I'm so sorry; I know how uncomfortable you feel when your pants get wet.
Maggie: I don't like the way they feel!
Mama: I wish I had a dry pair of pants for you in my pocket!
Maggie: We can get a dry pair out of my pink dresser.
Mama: You're right, we could go home and get you a dry pair. Is that what you would like?
Maggie: I don't want to leave the park!
Mama: Well, I guess you have a choice to make.

She opted to stay and play. We were definitely not done talking about her mildly damp pants, but it was easy enough to run through that conversation again as needed.

I know this is a departure from the suggested technique, and I hope Adele and Elaine would not frown upon me. But I'm a special education teacher at heart, and I've taught long enough that scaffolding is an instinct. My daughter needs help learning the process and building her repertoire of solutions before she can start solving her own problems. And then we can start to break down those scaffolds and let her stand on her own.

Even with that adjustment, I still highly recommend Chapter One of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Hey, and once I finish the book, I may have even more to share!


  1. This was such an insightful and practical blog post! Thanks for sharing the tips. Makes me want to read the book myself, or perhaps I'd just prefer to continue getting your summaries :) You are such a good mama!

    1. I'd definitely recommend it as a read, Katie. But I'll also summarize for you!

  2. Does this book apply to teenagers too? You are smart to start this when your children are small; I'm thinking a conversation at my house would not be quite as successful. I'll stay tuned for more tips, though!

    1. Actually, the examples the authors use are for all ages. I'd say there are more teenager than preschooler examples, in fact. Give it a read!


Make my day and leave me a comment!