Friday, June 4, 2010

Dusting off the Tools of the Trade

We are raising a strong-willed toddler. Who, currently, is in full blown verbalization, tantrumization, whinization mode.  {Chanting under my breath: It's just a season, it's just a stage. It's just a season, it's just a stage.} It's wearying. It's overwhelming at times. It makes me especially grateful for naps. For pre-school shows on-demand. For 8:30 p.m. And enclosed cribs.

Quite a few times over the recent weeks, (Okay, months. Who am I kidding?) I've had to employ tricks that I forgot I knew. I've had to take out some old tools that have been sitting in my parenting toolbox for a long while now, gathering dust.  I mentioned a few posts ago that The Boss and I had gotten a little lax in the discipline area of our home life.  This is one of those areas.

I'm sharing this today, not because I got it licked. Ya'll? I think I've been sufficiently real and raw enough that you all know I don't know it all. But in the past couple days, I've found myself reverting to a pattern that I learned from my mom.  Way before parenting manuals were all the rage, my mom was searching Scripture and using her God-given common sense to re-direct and re-train her little brood. Back then, some folks I'm sure thought she was unusual in some of her methodology. But every single time I try one of her tricks, I love how things come into order and peace again. My mom is/was a pro at distraction and funny, sweet, yet devious methods of getting us to see our own sinful behaviors. And at making us want to change them. She could write her own parenting manual, full of practical, common sense, intentional behavior-molding advice.  I'd buy it in a heartbeat!

I've heard lots and lots of various tips for training and re-training through the whiny stage. I've tried lots of them, with varying degrees of success. But this stuff? This is golden.  You may or may not agree with it. That's fine. It works for us, now and with the other toddlers many moons ago. . . I submit to you what I believe to be my most effective tools in combating the whiny toddler season.

Re-phrase:  When Li'l Empress opens her mouth and the first thing out of it is "I neeeeee...." in that screechy, nails-on-the-chalkboard-whine, I try to stop her mid-sentence or mid-thought and ask her to say it again, differently. The conversation goes something like this:

She says, "Mommy, I neeeeee jooooose."
 I hold my hand up, or my index finger and say,
"I'm sorry, Li'l E. Can you say that again, nicely this time?"

When we successfully complete the request in a kinder, more respectful tone, I congratulate her for asking so nicely and I give her the juice.

Re-direct: Let's face it. Basic human nature is to rebel against authority.  Anyone who believes differently does not have children.  :)  But it's true. At the core of our Christian belief system, we hold that we are nothing without Christ. That we cannot overcome our fleshly inclinations on our own strength. We need the  Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit working in us and through us to submit appropriately to authority. So I've started doing some end-runs around Li'l Empress's desire to buck authority by changing the way I talk to her. I try to avoid trigger words, like "no," "don't," or "stop" as the first words out of my mouth. I re-direct her inclination to have her own way by re-directing the conversation from the get-go. I take control of the conversation, keep her mind and heart open to me, by NOT going to the "NO!" first. I manipulate the conversation in a way that helps her feel really good about choosing an obedient response or attitude. I follow it with much ado about it all. I applaud her choices, no matter that I've contrived the situation to lead her to that choice. I help her feel the joy and the power of a good choice.

Incidentally, as I was reading the Word last week, I observed something I'd not seen before in quite this way. Rarely in Scripture does godly spiritual counsel with "Don't" or "No." I observed that the words of guidance and direction of my favorite books like Ephesians, Colossians, and James that equip us for living are positive, practical directives on what TO do. When I read, "Don't" or "Stop" in Scripture, it's usually in the form of warnings or strong admonitions.  Granted, those are just MY observations and certainly not any attempt to create doctrine or theology. But if that's how I'm reading the Word, that's how I want my kids to be reading me. . . Make sense?

And a disclaimer?  Obviously, there are times when "No," and "Don't" and "Stop," are necessary. I'm not advocating that you never say "No" to your child. I am, however, encouraging you to consider using these words sparingly in the interactions with your kids. Especially in these years of really, intentionally going after their will and their spirit. I have a  wise friend who used to say all the time that she didn't want her home to be a war zone, so she was picking her battles carefully.  The toddler years are just a skirmish in the life-long war of putting our flesh under the submission of Christ. This is one of the ways I choose to keep the long-view that it IS just a skirmish and it is just a season.
It's just a stage.

Re-capture:  If Li'l E is caught in a cycle of whining or demanding or verbally exploding all over anyone in her path, it's usually our fault.  Ouch.  But it's true. If she has been speaking or otherwise verbalizing in an unhealthy, unacceptable manner, it's usually because we've let her. So we have to re-capture the atmosphere and the tone of the interactions and stop the cycle. She's not mature enough or conscious enough to do that on her own yet. It's like I told Shaggy the other day when he was totally frustrated with her attention-grabbing behavior: toddlers are all gut and instinct. They're all emotion and reaction. They have to be trained to respond appropriately. It's part of shaping and overcoming that basic sinful human nature.

One of the most effective ways we've found to re-capture the atmosphere for good is to employ a time in with Li'l E.  I've never been a big fan of time-out; when we were raising the older Gang members, we were old-school and spanked as part of a corrective process for defiance or dangerous behaviors (stop the behavior, spank appropriately, follow up with interaction and end with prayer and forgiveness). But Li'l Empress is not ready for regular spankings. We know that, we respect that, and we are far choosier about those things with her.

So a time-in is perfect for her for now. We remove her from the situation. We sit her on a chair that is NOT in an isolated spot of the home. We set a timer for 2 or 2 1/2 minutes. We stand with her while she sits. We require that she sit silently and calm herself down. We apologize and re-phrase the offensive conversation or behavior. Fresh start. But we do not leave her. I came upon this method quite by accident, as I discovered that a traditional time-out really freaked her out. Being left alone when she knows we are displeased with an aspect of her behavior seriously upsets her and the time-out was counter-productive.

Re-peat:  Yeah. Ummmmm. It's just what it says it is. I repeat this process, over and over, all day long. My requests for polite conversation. My re-direction of her rebellious nature. My re-capture of her sunny, happy spirit.  My re-phrasing of whiny demands. My re-routing of  her choices, empowering her to choose obedience. My taking back of the atmosphere in my home. My name, rank and serial number. Over and over and over. And again. One more time, a million more times, just for good measure :)

So, there it is. My pattern of dealing with the season of whines and demands that sometimes spew out of my darling Li'l Empress's mouth. What have you got in your toolbox? What have you found to be effective in training your toddler?  I want to hear from you . . . Let's chat!


Melissa said...

Wonderful post!! I was reminded that much of it applies to parenting a child of any could easily insert "teenager" for "toddler" in 75% of this post and it is still relevent! =)

Trish said...

I just wanted to say that even though I don't comment much, I always read your posts with great interest and appreciate your perspective.

I think you hit the nail on the head with the "re" part - it all comes down to being consistent and patient to say/do it over and over again.

Thanks for everything you share with us!