Mean or magnifique?

(such a concerned baby.)

Bonjour friends!

Since we last talked, my two year old has become so very... two. And even though this is my fourth time raising a toddler, the irrationality caught me off guard all the same. I noticed that I was spending a lot of time attempting to bargain with her. Situations like this, for example: daughter thrashing on floor of the room, while I waved two diapers (different colors) frantically around, pleading, "which one? pink or white?" hoping her anger over needing to have her diaper changed would subside by being given a choice. Or: "If you let me buckle you into your car seat" [instead of acting like I'm asking you to sit on a lit bonfire], "you can look at this book, or this one!"

One day in the midst of this exhausting process I remembered an article I read awhile ago that talked about how we give small children far too many choices, and that parents need to have more authority with less apology. I agree with this concept 100% although I can't even begin to tell you how engrained in me is this choice-giving habit. (Before I had kids, I took a couple of child development classes where that seemed like the main theme - empower your kids to cooperate by giving them choices. Do you remember learning that too?) So, I said, very firmly: "Wren. My angry baby. Sit down in your high chair. Now." And, do you know what she did? She meekly said, "otay," and obeyed. In truth she seemed a little relieved. Why did I forget that I was the one in charge?

So this whole thing has kind of been going on in my mind, and then this morning I came across this blog post about french mamans, which led me to this article, and now I am officially fascinated by this discussion. How do you incorporate appropriate levels of authority and discipline into your homes? To what degree are you firm? (and can you be specific in the how's because this (being firm) is hard for me and I want to be more convincing to my wee children.) How do you teach your children to be polite and respectful? Discuss, please.


cateoh said...

I've got nothing. I couldn't even walk down the street with my nearly 2 year old (also my 4th child) without having to call my husband to come and take her home in the car. I will however be checking back here to see what other people have to say.

Actually, I do have something to add. I think the bargaining and choices is very useful with a slightly older child and in situations where it doesn't really matter. For instance "which tshirt would you like to wear?", but not so good when trying to convince and angry 2 year old to do something that's necessary like holding hands to cross the road. Also, our urgency to get something done escalates their opposition. It would be nice to have some magic answer to avoid tantrums. Maybe the French are on to something...

Angie said...

along the same lines is this article:

lynne said...

Cateoh, I agree that the urgency thing totally makes kids angrier. It's a vicious cycle, because sometimes I have to hurry because I've been working through a tantrum for 5 minutes!

ANgie - I will go read the article! Thanks for posting the link~

Jen said...

Very interesting articles! I've struggled with this. I am a Christian, so I strongly believe in parenting with grace. I want to teach my children about the love that God has for us, even though none of us deserve it. A really great movie is The Tree of Life, have you seen it? (Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain) It sort of shows and compares the two methods of parenting, harsh/strict vs. free and unconditional love. So then there's discipline, because of course children need boundaries. I'm obviously not an expert at this part, but my philosophy is something like: Our rules are x,y,z. Broken rule = such and such specific consequence, administered with love/firmness, not anger and hatefulness. (Umm, obviously this is a huge parenting challenge) I believe our children are born sinners, so it isn't a matter of IF they'll sin, it's more a matter of teaching them when they DO.

Reading over my post it sounds like I'm one of the easy-breezy parents from the articles, and I'm completely not. I definitely don't think I have spoiled American children. Are French mothers really that mean? One can certainly have rules, even very strict ones, and still enforce those rules without nastiness towards their children, no? I'm going to Paris in April (without the kids), I guess I'll find out! I'm going to be quietly observing all the French mothers!

Becca said...

I was just thinking about this today! When I was pregnant with my first son, I asked my oldest brother (who has 5 kids) what advice he had. He said, "You HAVE to win" meaning that when I say something has to happen, it has to happen. I try to really be choosey about my battles but I really am a brick wall. As much as I really wish I could just be a fun friend-mom, I am pretty strict and feel like I have high expectations, especially when it comes to behavior.

I hear you on the choices thing, though. I do the same thing when it isn't such a big issue, and it can either totally work out or just be exhausting for all concerned.

Monica said...

I have three boys. strong minded boys. And the best strategy - when I remember to use it - was 'give myself TIME' a lot of time to do anything. Get them dressed, or fed or in the car etc. Everytime I was rushed off my feet things turned BAD!.

And choose your battle. No point arguing over silly things... but be firm and consistent on the big stuff.

And good luck!

lynne said...

Jen, I love what you said about parenting with grace. Boy, that's a whole discussion in itself. How can we teach children about a God who loves and gives second chances if we don't with them? And yet you have to follow through. It is hard to know exactly how to carry it all out. I loved your comment.

Becca - I love your brother's advice! I think he's totally right. Otherwise, anarchy!! How's it going, by the way? Do you guys know your plans for after New Haven yet?

Monica - oh my, so right. I feel like I am rushing so much and the kids totally pick up on it! I need to be better at this. Less hurry makes things that much less stressful for all involved.

Maren said...

Lynnie, I can't even begin to imagine you being a mean mommy, not even for a second. I don't think it's possible. But when it comes to kids and trying to teach them discipline (discipline and disciple come from the same root - interesting to think about, eh? I want my children to want to follow me like a disciple, not out of fear or because I'm mean), although I am just starting out with a 9-month-old and don't have anywhere near the experience that you or others do, I'm personally a fan of Parenting with Love and Logic. I went to a class once and was highly impressed, and I just started reading the book a few days ago (just in time for Sammy to throw his first temper tantrum!). It makes sense to me and also seems to mesh with gospel principles. It is about offering choices, but probably in a little different way than you've been doing it. It seems to me that part of the purpose of our lives is to learn how to use our agency to choose as God would choose. It follows then that God would want us to teach our children to choose as we, and eventually as He would choose. But it does have to be done in a "line upon line, precept upon precept" way, starting out with very minor choices for the littles. Again, I know I'm new at this, but those are my thoughts anyway. :)

Carissa said...

Here is the deal, when it comes to parenting, I am the boss. I remind my children of this fact on a regular basis. Our home is not a democracy. Everyone is allowed their input, but I get the final say. I think it is healthy for children to have a bit of fear of their parents. I don't think parents should be cruel, but kids need to know that they can't mess with you.

For example, when it comes to bedtime, once I've read you your story and helped you brush your teeth and say your prayers, under no circumstances are you to open your door and say another word to me (unless you are sick or had a terrible nightmare). I don't mess around with this one because I need a few hours every night that are kid-free for my sanity. If you forgot your toy, or think you need a drink of water, you better wait until tomorrow. Most of the time, I try to be a loving and patient parent to my three children. However, the mom you will encounter once I've put you to bed is a completely different person. That is angry, impatient, mommy. She is likely to yell at you and to take away privileges like juice for breakfast. I have only had to play the role of mean mommy a few times with each of my kids before they "got it."

Now bedtime is pleasant. Once the doors are shut, the house is quiet. The bonus in being firm about bedtime is that my kids usually go to bed really well for other people, like grandmas and babysitters.

I think my kids feel safer, knowing that a grown up is in charge.

Lucy said...

I haven’t read the other comments, so I may be out of the conversation, but I wish I were magnifique! I like the idea of laying down the law and with my oldest two, it works perfectly. They are innately obedient and do, like you said, seem to prefer knowing what the rules are so they know what to expect.

My third, however, does not fit this mold. At all. I have had to learn to give him choices to avoid the very thing you describe - the dreadful tantrum. Even if the choices I give him are “Do you want to go to bed without your special b because you are screaming at me or with it because you stopped?” help to direct him to humanlike behavior. It’s frustrating to me because I just want to say, “It’s bedtime!”

So, I don’t know. I am of the camp that each child has something to teach us about the nature of God and ourself. So, yeah, I don’t know. But, good stuff! Good stuff! And your little tantrum throwing two year old is adorable in her swimsuit.

melissa said...

Lynne: It's funny you should post this because I've been reading that book (though it has a different title in England.) I've also had this conversation a lot with my French friends and they always laugh at how the English and American women are so soft with their kids. French children really are better behaved. I think a lot of the methods the author suggests may explain it. I think it resembles more the way I was raised and a lot of us probably were. I think American parents used to be less kid-centric thirty plus years ago. What do you think?

lynne said...

Melissa - I ordered the book on Friday and am really looking forward to reading it. I don't think any one culture necessarily has ALL of the answers for fantastic parenting (not that I think anyone is saying that) but I know my kids could use a firmer hand and I am hoping to get some ideas that will hopefully lead me to being a better mother. I also really liked the emphasis on teaching your kids delayed gratification (from the article that Angie liked to in a comment above - thanks Angie!). (And, Melissa, I think you do a great job at this with your kids, btw!)

Maren - you are such a sweetie pie. :) I think Love and Logic is a great concept. I like their ideas and think they make a lot of sense. I really liked your comments about choice and learning bit by bit.

Carissa - loved your whole comment. And I really do think that kids DO feel safer when the grown up is not a push-over.

Lucy - really good point that every kid is going to respond so differently to what you throw out there. I wrote down the last part of what you wrote in my journal because I thought it was so profound. And thanks for the compliment on my angry baby's swim look! :)

welliewalks said...

Interesting articles and discussion. It's funny how here, we all seem to agree that it is not all one way. I've just returned to the states after living in London. We had friends there who "put the children away" directly after dinner. They were not allowed to even communicate with their parents after that. It left them a lot of time to get into trouble with each other and made me feel sad. We spent a week away with them and it was so nice to have adult time in the evening, but I felt guilty about sending my girls away for hours.
We had other friends who were ruled by a 2 year old tyrant. She would shout that she wanted a biscuit, while we were talking and the mom would sigh and say that she had to go get a biscuit.
I'm just saying that we can't necessarily label an entire country- but it does seem that the french are pressured to produce a certain type of child- manners, etc. Can this pressure lead to insensitivity? It seems that we have to keep addressing each situation individually- some children require more soft sensitivity, while others need more defined authority. Each situation requires thought. I do think that boundaries are comforting. And our children will not benefit from being the center of our existences. But love and compassion and kindness above all!

lynne said...

Welliwalks, I think you are magnifique! I love your insightful comment. Love and compassion do trump everything else, don't they!

Anonymous said...

I really think that true manners come from civility. CS Lewis defines civility as thoughtful consideration of others before oneself. A vintage childrens book on manners defines manners as remembering to do what helps those around you feel comfortable and happy. Lewis goes into this a little bit more and says that those who exercise good manners with friends and strangers, but not with those closest to them at home are only aping the behavior, and really don't possess true civility at all. I'm afraid that some of the parenting described in this article is using fear to force children to ape good manners and civility. How can a child learn true civility from unkindness? I've found with my kids, ages 1 to 13 that really listening to their needs, and helping them express their needs in a civil, untantrumly way, and sometimes compromising, sometimes not (because I am the boss after all) helps them to feel heard and understood. It also teaches them to face conflict with dignity and respect for themselves and others.
That being said, firmness is invaluable. It is entirely possible to be gentle and firm. Firm rules give a lovely structure to a little ones life. But I do strive for understanding. I want to understand what they're going through and why certain things are difficult, if it's possible. Then I can really be a help to them. Then they are learning lessons and not just to fear me. It is such a fine line. Firmness isn't mean if we are acting out of love. Always be motivated by love.

julie! said...

ugh, this is the hardest thing for me (discipline I mean). I want to do the right thing and help my children to be free agents while still keeping order (and my sanity). I recently came across an awesome book (this one here-http://www.amazon.com/Accountable-Kids-Raising-Step-Time/dp/0975442503/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330392290&sr=8-1)
It's a great program that we are going to implement in our home. It focuses on teaching children accountability for their choices. It helps them feel empowered and understand that they have a specific role in the family. It also teaches about choices and consequences. I hope it's not too good to be true (haven't tried it yet, so I can't vouch for the effectiveness yet) but I really think it makes sense.
We will be simplifying the program for our younger children, but I think it's a great idea.

Pamela said...

I am Italian and I think we are quite permissive over here. My husband is British and he insists on manners. I think there's something to be said for both styles and I do hope to find a balance ...one day!
I think the key might be to adapt the style to the situation or even to the child. I do admit that with three children it might a bit tricky!
If I think back I don't recall my parents playing with me and my brother; I would play with my brother, with other children, on my own and that's what I do (or don't do) with my children: I leave them alone. They are more than happy this way. And thank goodness because I am really rubbish at playing!

Anonymous said...

Love this discussion, and the tips. I think a lot of the ideas make sense. I believe most kids like boundaries - especially when they get to the age of testing them out!

alexandra said...

lynne, this is my life's struggle. a great book on doing this is Beyond Time Out by Dr Beth Groshams(?? name may be slightly wrong). My problem is that I go from being too meek to being too authoritarian. I also like 123 Magic. Both books changed my life.

alexandra said...

one more thing. not to give too much away about my turmoils in parenting, but i just finished Dr Kazdin's Book (for defiance issues) and he says that research shows that kids respond far better to positive reinforcement as opposed to punishment. While his method requires the use of charts and rewards and can be annoying to implement, the philosophy behind it has really worked in our house. You try to "catch" the kids being good and praise them like crazy for it. Lots of positivity might be a good alternative to lots of options while you implement a more authoritative "Mom is in charge" (as opposed to authoritarian) role. Final book, have you read the Merrilee Boyack book The Parenting Breakthrough. I love it and that combined wtih the positive reinforcement approach has hit a reset button in our home that has been really nice.

Jennie said...

I often wonder what parenting was like a generation or two back. I suspect that they didn't have enough free time on their hands to hash out different parenting methods. It seems like something just worked and that was the way they did it. I'm not suggesting we go back to handing out whippings, but is there something essential that has been lost in the business of parenting? I simply love the Little House on the Prairie books. What was Ma and Pa Ingall's secret? Is it something unreproducible at this point in time since the continued existence of a family doesn't depend on the complete cooperation of our children? (Though my sanity certainly does.)

lynne said...

jennie, that is a great point. i think reproduction of that cooperation is the key. ...

jojo caramel said...

I remember when I gave choices to my daughter when she was little ; I gave her the choice, concerning meals for example, between what I wanted her to eat, and what she did not like. I knew then what would be her answer.

I'm not sure that there is one answer. One child is unique, as are his parents. I think we should act in the best in respect of all. There are things on which we can be uncompromising, and other much smaller... so, making choices of what we do not want to pass up... which is not always easy

jojo caramel said...

I remember having doing something else..
A calendar, which one was in the kitchen on the fridge.

When the day was good, she could put a sticker “Sun” when the day had gone well. My daughter loved to stick a Sun rather than a Cloud...

Severine said...

This is the 1st time I read your blog (through a french blog link), and oh! I like it. And then I fell on this post of yours. My third son is two in few days, I am french married to a british man, and after travelling around the world we live in rural England for almost a year now.

The woman who wote this book about french mothers will never know what impact she had on my social life. I hated her but then some things she says I do so naturally. There is a big gap between the way my british friends raise their children and my way. I admire them for their patience. But I don't envy the pressure they put on their life to be the perfect mothers. I appreciate the fact they don't shout at their kids, but I do not appreciate their kids not being polite (enough for my standards let's say). Overall, I am influenced by their kindness, and accomodate it with my french upbringing. I am raising my kids, I refuse to drop them at a creche 10 hours a day - a scandal. I had my third boy at home, fighting against the doctor establishment and I breastfed all of them. But politness is a must, I am very cross not being able to go to a restaurant and having bad behaving boys. I send them play in their room, because I don't want to have them 'dans mes pattes' all the time. But I interfere when they fight, to teach them how to resolve a conflict peacefully without the 'Lord of the Flies' reenactment. There is not just one way. There is your way. Mothers will always feel guilty and try to do better. Except french mothers maybe! Maybe I should write a book about how british mums are stars for being so kind to their children. It will make french women be ashamed of themselves when they shout too much!

Good luck with your brand new toddler girl! I don' t leave too much choice to my boy - except when he cries. Then I know it is something important to him, something he really wants and I let go or I discuss. In all other cases, I decide for him. For the moment.
Remember it is only a phase!

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