Clearheaded parenting

By kate on July 30th, 2008

The week before last, I had a very hard week with Ruby. She was being a normal two-year-old and testing boundaries in new ways, and I handled it poorly at first. I simply reacted to her behavior, and found myself getting incredibly frustrated multiple times a day. By the end of each day, I needed a drink and was questioning my commitment to stay-at-home parenting.

Eventually I came to my senses and stepped back a bit. Steve and I thought over the behaviors that were bothering us and came up with a rational approach. After that, I had one difficult day of holding the line (I probably gave her 6 time-outs) before a weekend camping trip distracted us all. The next week, everything was magically back to normal, and Ruby largely respects the boundaries we set. We’re the adults here, and we just had to remember that and use our brains instead of our knee-jerk reactions.

Here are the issues we struggled with, and how we solved each one:

1. Not listening to directions. This usually happened when one of us told her to do something like pick up her toys, or come over to be changed. She’d either ignore it or sidle away. I addressed this by issuing time-outs more quickly (after a single warning). I’ve also started counting backwards (“3… 2… 1… zero”), which is so astonishingly effective that I don’t think I’ve ever reached zero.

2. Mealtime challenges. Toward the end of meals, Ruby would play with her food and stopped being careful about spills. She’d get distracted from eating (and therefore finishing) and just tinker with her food and utensils. I’d ask her if she was done, and she’d say yes. But when I went to clean her up, she’d say she was not done. I’d sit back down and she’d maybe eat a bit, then go back to playing. I didn’t want to deprive her of food she wanted, so I’d let her keep eating, and the back-and-forth drove me crazy.

The solution to this was deceptively simple: I now serve her much less food, maybe a third to a quarter of what I had been previously giving her. (Once she finishes everything, she’s welcome to ask for more.) This has almost eliminated the playing, because she’s hungry and wants to eat what she has. It turns out that the later “I’m not done” bites were not needed, since she doesn’t ask for seconds nearly as often as I expected. This also causes her to eat a better variety of foods because she finishes everything on her plate (whereas before, she ate her preferred foods, and played with the rest because she wasn’t hungry anymore).

3. Dithering. She started doing this rapid-fire dithering from time to time which was the most crazy-making thing of all.  When presented with a choice, she’d say she wanted option A, but when I went to give her that, she’d say she wanted B. Over and over. It often happened at times when I really just wanted to do what she preferred (for example, after she had been injured and was sad). We approached this by settling on a consistent phrase: “Is this your final choice?” Once she says something is her final choice, that’s what we do and there’s no more changing. It’s a little Regis, and she still protests the final choice sometimes, but it’s a much saner process.

Filed under: parenting
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