Thursday, September 17, 2009

a heartfelt plea for your considered opinions

Dear blogosphere,

What do you do when you feel like all the things you're trying to teach your children just aren't getting through? Really, I want to know--I'm all out of strategies and tricks and feeling wrung out and worn out. How do you effectively teach obedience and honesty when you also want to promote self-thinking and decision-making? How do you differentiate between "do this because Mommy says, right now!" and free agency? And how do you appropriately respond when the disobedience also comes with a side of dishonesty about the disobedience?

A little context: we no longer let the kids pick tomatoes from the garden unless they are wearing "garden clothes," since too many shirts have been ruined by tomato juice and seeds. (This is a somewhat tense topic in our house right now, since Abigail yesterday destroyed a brand-new shirt, then coolly informed me after I'd been scrubbing at the stain for 25 minutes that she "didn't care and you can just buy some new shirts" (note: the stain did not come out)). Hence, the order to not eat tomatoes, and the stipulation that playing outside was conditional upon no tomatoes, and if tomatoes were consumed, the perpetrators would have to come right back inside. All parties vocally agreed to this condition.

So of course, 30 seconds later I spotted Abigail running from the garden with full cheeks, and standing with her back to me while I yelled, "Abigail, COME HERE NOW!" While she chewed, I marched over, asked, "Did you eat any tomatoes," received a "No, I didn't eat any tomatoes," in response, and then when I asked her to open her mouth, it was of course crammed with tomatoes.

Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but honestly, I am really just at a loss with how to deal with this. I feel like we've tried so many strategies for encouraging obedience, and it just seems like nothing is getting through--if anything, it seems like she's getting more deceptive about the disobedience. Lately, I've really been trying to give the kids a lot more of my undivided attention in an effort to discourage disobedience as a ploy for negative attention, but that doesn't seem to be working either. And, of course, Juliet imitates anything she sees Abigail do, so the problem multiplies...

So please, please, please, please give me some advice. What do you do? What would you do? What did your parents do? I'm not concerned about punishing this type of behavior so much as I am about preventing it (although if you have any ideas for effective punishments, please share. So far we've discovered that spankings, time-outs, etc. have no effect on Miss Abigail; it's slightly distressing to her to have skirts taken away, but really...she just doesn't seem to care. Which makes punishing the behavior very difficult).

And don't even get me started on mealtimes.

**I should clarify that I'm not horribly depressed. Yes, it's been a rough morning, but there have been bright spots in the last couple of days--Juliet's potty-training is going well, I actually got to go to aerobics this morning (so nice to be able to do that for an hour rather than trying to wedge a run in during afternoon "naps," aka crazy time), and last night my best friend/sometime boyfriend from high school came over for a few hours to visit with us--he was here recruiting at the university for Boeing, so it was so great to catch up with him--kind of amused me to see that even after 8 years we were still able to talk for 3 hours nonstop. And it was cool to introduce him to Neil, and listen to those two engineers talk shop about lasers and design and programming. And plus Neil made his famous chocolate-chip cookies and peach and strawberry shakes, so that was pretty awesome.**

But really, I would really really really like some advice. And prayers.


Mary Beth said...

I don't think I have any advice, since as I recall we were pretty disobedient little kids, too. Your kids are awesome, but they're little kids, too; they're going to test boundaries and mess around and be little pests. (My keen third-party observation has revealed to me that anyone whose kids are angels all the time has got to be drugging them.) I think that's probably necessary for them to, as you said, develop independent thinking and decision-making. It's tough on you in the meantime, of course...but the next 20 years won't get any easier. So maybe now is the time to loosen up a bit and try not to let it bother you so much? Or maybe instead of "No tomatoes" it could be "No going outside without play clothes," because even without tomatoes there are plenty of ways to get grubby. I dunno, but I have a lot of sympathy for you right now. I am, indeed, praying for you. *hugs tight*

Crapos said...

I'm sorry, but you're not alone. We tried washing mouths with soap for lying. That worked once - we had screaming and tears - but now Sadie reminds us that her mouth needs washed out.
We don't have anything that works either but I will talk with Sadie at the start of the day about how the day SHOULD go and why it is in her best interest to be obedient the first time I ask. It gives me something to refer back to when she starts to be defiant. And we had a conversation regarding the fact that Mom/Dad always has a reason for what we tell her. We went over some of the problems that are most common (ex. why she should go to the bathroom when we tell her to). She still wets her pants, still asks for the same thing 20 times when the answer's no, still unlocks locked doors, still disregards all commands to clean up, etc. But sometimes we have good days. We have given up all reward systems for going to the bathroom (Sadie's biggest problem) and just quietly take away all privileges if she hasn't been doing well. And I make her clean up her mess. It hasn't stopped her from lying about wet pants or made her go to the bathroom more often but I have less stress knowing how we're going to handle it.
And if it were Sadie eating tomatos, we'd simply take away outside for a very LONG time. When she asks, say no. Then she'll ask why and that's when you say "b/c you can't not eat tomatos..."
But like I said, it doesn't actually work with Sadie. You could try the soap for lying though. Maybe you'll have more luck.

Sarah Harward said...

I agree. What are we supposed to do? I don't have a clue either. On the 'blind obedience vs agency' side of things, I once heard someone (I want to say Dr. James Dobson) say that too often we feel like we need to explain, answer and offer every question, option and choice to our small children but when they become teenagers we expect them to do things because we said so. But what we should do, is teach obedience at a young age (you do it because you're told, and once you've obeyed, we'll discuss why it was important for you to obey what I said. You don't question before though, because you were told to do it, and you need to obey) and then when they're a teenager, that's when you start explaining things and helping them weigh the options, and since they're in the habit of 'obedience' they'll tend to trust and rely on your opinion. Obviously there are small things that we do now to help our kids develop their decision making skills, but really, at this point it's more important that they learn to obey. I'm not 100% sure that this is a big problem solver of a theory, but it's made me think (or at least justified my intense desire to be OBEYED NOW!!) many times.

Landon is the same way with discipline. He doesn't have a favorite toy, game, article of clothing, food, ANYTHING that is a big enough punishment if taken away. Spanking doesn't work, and time out is only minimally effective (even though that's our main source of punishment). However, when we had a bit of a problem with dishonesty, I would tell him (and this is kind of bad, because it was a lie) 'Landon, I'm your mom. So I know everything. I'm asking you, to see if you'll be honest and make good choices, or tell a lie and make a bad choice. If you tell a lie, you will be in a lot more trouble than if you tell the truth'. If he would lie, give him that schpeel then ask him again, and if he'd lie, be punished (usually sent to his bed because there are not toys in there, and he HATES being upstairs while everyone else is downstairs having fun. And the hardest part for me, was when he would tell the truth, I wouldn't punish him for the bad behavior he did. I would praise him for telling the truth and then just talk to him about how it made me feel that he hit/colored on the wall/tore a library book/turned on the show when I told him he couldn't/or whatever. Once I could see that he didn't have to 'consider' whether to tell the truth or not as much, and telling the truth came more natural, I would start to discipline for the bad behavior again. But I felt like I had to pick my battles, and at that time I was ONLY disciplining him for dishonesty. It really helped break the habit pretty quickly (about a week or so) and even now when he's in trouble he'll say 'But I told the truth...' in hopes of avoiding getting in trouble. Once the lies stopped though, we really focused on obedience and I always stressed that he is an example to Addie (I'm not sure if that really matters to him yet or not though). Anyway, good luck and take heart in knowing that I really do think that it is partly a phase because Landon was there about 6 months ago (to be completely honest and frank, I didn't like him very much for a good 5-6 months!) I was so worried that he was going to develop habits that would make him the most horrible miscreant in society but he finally stopped, party due to the fact that it was a phase, and partly because I NEVER ignored the behavior in hopes it would go away. I never figured out an effective way to handle the problem, but I always acknowledged that he made a bad choice. And it never ends. Whew, good luck. If nothing else, be encouraged that it's not just Abigail. It's all kids, so you're not alone in this struggle!! Now, I should pay you to edit this novel and publish this book I just wrote and see if someone would pay for my lengthy non-effective non-advice.

Sarah Harward said...

I know you're thinking 'How can she possibly have any more to add?!' but I wanted to stress that we REALLY praised anytime he was honest. When dad came home at night I'd be sure to tell Steven (in front of Landon) about the times he told the truth. Then Steven would turn on the praise. And at bed time I'd remind him how he told the truth and how happy it made him feel and me feel. (but still kindly remind him that his bad behavior is still bad). I'm sure you get the point.

Kristyn said...

We're in the trenches with you and I hear your frustration

Just an idea- my sister-in-law recommend the book "Love and Logic" (by Foster Cline and Jim Fay I think...)to me and I love it. The focus is on giving children choices and encouraging them to think and then make the right choices. After all, we really do want our children to grow into independent adults, not robots. I refer back to this book as new problems arise and I love the little tidbits it has.

Katrina said...

My only little piece of advice is focus on the positive. Its really hard, but we've noticed a difference when we do it. If you always praise the good behavior and sometimes even ignore the bad (all attention is good to kids) than they'll start misbehaving less. You could even come up a with a tangible reward system. With Olivia one summer we did "Penny Points"... she got pennies for good behavior and lost pennies for bad behavior. This really worked for her.

Wish I had more advice.

Right now we are struggling with getting the kids to listen and do what we ask (like chores and getting read for bed, etc.) without us having to ask 5 times and yelling. It's frustrating.

Emily Anne said...

could you put a special "Tomato Picking" shirt by the back door (even a great big smock (one of Neil's old shirts)) that she can grab right before she goes out? make a big deal out of it, tell her how cool it is, how fun it will be to wear a big flopsy shirt -- at least this way she can still eat the tomatoes (which she obviously loves :)

and on the bright side -- at least she's a good vegetable eater -- that's pretty great!

hang in there. we're all struggling with these things, just trying to do what's right for our children. you're doing great things, Rachael. I always love your parenting philosophies and I can tell that you and Neil are very mindful parents.

Meghan said...

I'm a much better mother now than I was when you were home. Probably the most important thing I've learned is that the relationship is more important than a temporary obedience issue. Try not to take her lies personally, and you'll be able to lower your emotional response to them. Easier said than done, but true.

Anonymous said...

You do not have to punish children, but give them consequences. If Abigail gets tomato juice on her shirt when you told her not too, then make her clean the shirt. When it doesn’t come clean then point out to her the consequence, “because you got tomato juice on your shirt, it is now stained”. What is the consequence when a child lies? You lose trust. Point this out to her, “I told you not to eat the tomatoes and then you did it anyway. I can not trust you to go and play outside any more today.” ‘I’ statements are always good to throw into a conversation, “I feel very sad when you lie because…
You should also have her think for herself by asking her question, you might be surprised by the responses. “What do you want to do with your shirt now that it is stained?”
Whatever you do make sure the action matches the consequence. If Abigail eats tomatoes when she shouldn’t then (for example) sending her to bed early has nothing to do with eating tomatoes.

Rachael said...

thank you everyone for all your comments--we've implemented some of these suggestions and I really feel like we have some great ideas. thank you thank you!

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