Sunday, November 02, 2008

Distract and Engage

When I was young, my Dad had a knack for making weekends miserable. Yes, we went and did some fun things. But any time fun was in the cards, my Dad would go nuts about every little thing we did wrong. Shoes in the hallway? Commence yelling. Rooms not cleaned? Commence yelling. Over-excited children getting a little excited? Commence yelling. Everyone was miserable before we could go have fun.

And I have fallen into the negativity trap.

We've been having some sketchy weeks, which means my nerves are frayed. I wonder now if these weeks are not the result of falling into the trap. When one makes it a constant struggle to get through the day, it wears on everyone's nerves.

So I would like to take out this moment of this post to thank my Mom. I still have so much to learn. Growing up, my mom made life positive, even when things seemed to be upside-down. She may think she needs to stay out, to not say anything when I'm doing things she wouldn't do in raising my boys. Fortunately, she's also a good friend and does say something. The boys may not be her children, but I am. I'd rather she told me if I am doing something stupid.

And making holidays a negative experience is definitely in the stupid range.

Now, we have a system for working on behavior issues. If the boys are good all month, they get to go to Chuck E. Cheese. They have three "checks" over the day, which is a little stretched by the addition of "yellow light" and "red light" (so we weren't giving two checks for the same incident- and it gives the guys a little but of warning that something is wrong). Hitting and biting have no lights, just checks. So they earn their privilege.

Hence, holidays shouldn't be in the list of things to earn. Trick-or-treat is just a given. Thanksgiving dinner is eaten. Christmas morning comes (despite the general cultural threat of "be good or Santa won't come!"). Easter baskets appear on Easter morning. Fireworks light up the night on Fourth of July. These things are non-negotiable.

Instead of my father's, "Be good or no trick-or-treat!" (Can we believe that came out my mouth? And not just once! No parent of the year for me!), the more effective and positive method I'm going adopt is my mom's "Distract and Engage."

Distract the kids from the unwanted behavior (like "Don't touch me!" and smacking on each other) by engaging them in positive conversation or activity. When we started getting bored with putting up porch decorations, Mom had me fetch coloring books. When the guys, excited and giddy, started pushing each other's buttons in the car, she had them talk about trick-or-treat: what treats did they want? What costumes would other kids wear? What was their favorite part of Halloween?

No, the pinching the poking did not completely cease. The whining did not completely cease. They remains excited and giddy. But it was positive. It made them think about what was ahead. It kept them engaged in the excitement and happiness, rather than devolving into anger, frayed nerves, and resentment. It gave them focus on the joy and celebration.

And after all, that's what holidays and fun trips and adventures are all about.


Stimey said...

This is a great post. And how wonderful that your mom is so fantastic. Parenting is so hard, particularly because it is ALL day, EVERY day. It never ends and the little dudes are always pushing boundaries. From here, it seems like you're doing a great job.

Maddy said...

I'm definitely a 'glass half empty' type. It takes supreme effort to concentrate on the positive as I was also brought up on the 'this is wrong' and 'if' / 'then' approach.

Your mum sounds like a little star. We all needs reminders and prods every so often.

One I like particularly is the 'spotlight' approach [especially useful if you have more than one child] I wait [sometimes a darned long time!] until I can see that someone is doing something 'good' / 'positive' and then make a big deal of it with positive feedback etc. This is spotlighting the child that's making good choices rather than focusing attention on the negative [which is the trap I often fall into] It takes lots of practice for me, so thanks for the reminder that I should be doing this more.
Best wishes

Niksmom said...

This really *is* such a great reminder for all of us; the pitfalls are the same, I think, but the triggers will vary by child and famnily.

It's true what they say about "cath someone doing something right;" if you highlight it they will repeat it and strive for more of the same.

Unfortunately, I think our society as a whole is too good at negative reinforcement.