Lessons In Positive Parenting

W at the aquarium touch pools.

W, my husband, and I are currently on an Extended Summer Trip.* We’re using our time to visit family on the left coast, hang out with friends, take W on her first camping trip, and so forth.

*We’re both university faculty, and once the first summer session is over, we’re free as school children until August. I realize that this sounds amazing…and it is. But before you get too jealous, let me point out the downside of having two months off each year that can be used for an Extended Summer Trip: two months off = two months of no paycheck.

This week, we spent some time hanging out with a family member to whom I’ll refer simply as AwesomeMom. AwesomeMom has a 5-year-old boy, who is just a really cool little guy. He’s intense and a bit clingy, which gives me a glimpse of what life with W will likely be about 4 years from now, given that she shares those qualities. Further, observing AwesomeMom interact with her child — let’s call him SharkBoy, not because he bites or anything, but because he loves sharks — is a constant, low-key lesson in How To Interact Positively With A Child.

I suspect I’ve learned more than I realize this week — and I realize I’ve learned a TON — but I wanted to share a few of my aha! moments from our time with AwesomeMom and SharkBoy.

  • Toddlers crave independence. I know this, and I do everything I can to ensure that W has choices. When I need to change her diaper, she chooses whether to walk to the changing area or be carried. She gets to pick which color diaper (we use cloth hybrids) she wears. She picks her clothing (I pre-select two options) each morning, and her pajamas each night. However, there are things in life, like taking medicine when it’s necessary, that aren’t optional. While we were staying with AwesomeMom, W needed a dose of medication, and I was muttering to myself about how difficult the whole process is — it takes two adults to hold her, goes about as smoothly as pilling a cat, and half the time results in W upsetting herself so much that she vomits the meds back up and we have to start all over again. AwesomeMom suggested I put the dose in a little cup and let W take it herself. I looked at her like she was crazy, thinking that there was no way W would choose to swallow the medication. AwesomeMom explained that I wasn’t offering W a choice between taking the medicine and not taking it, but rather a choice between taking it herself from a cup or being held down and dosed against her will. I shrugged and gave it a go, explaining to W that she had to take medicine, but that she could choose to hold the dose cup with her own hand and swallow it herself OR I could give it to her from a dropper. She shook her head NO (just as I anticipated), but I kept talking to her calmly and quietly about it (and explained again that not taking the medicine wasn’t one of the choices available to her), and she finally reached out for the cup and took a small sip. She made a face and said NO again, and once again, I explained the choices. It took a few minutes, and she rested between sips, but eventually she took all her medicine by herself. You could have knocked me over with a feather!
  • We went to an aquarium at one point during our visit. The kids had a great time checking out the fish (W has now added “ish” to her vocabulary — she’s not big on first consonant sounds). Toward the end of the day, SharkBoy wanted to go to the gift shop, and while AwesomeMom was fine with that, she had zero interest in dealing with the “gimmes” that kids inevitably get when surrounded by shameless commerce. She gave SharkBoy a ten-dollar bill and told him it was his to spend as he liked. She later admitted to me (out of SharkBoy’s hearing) that she didn’t realize how few options he’d have for $10; even little stuffed animals were closer to $15. Still, she stuck to the original allocation, and helped him find several items within his budget from which he could select. She also pointed out a sale table in the middle of the shop, and explained that choosing from it would help stretch his money. He ended up making a purchase with which he was very happy, and got a great lesson in economics as well. What I liked about her strategy was that he was too busy figuring out how he’d spend his money to beg her for item after item, and was so pleased with being able to make his own decisions regarding what to get within his budget that he valued his eventual purchase much more than he might have done had she simply bought him whatever he asked for.
  • A few times, we were really late getting dinner put together for the kids. AwesomeMom taught me her trick for getting SharkBoy to eat veggies while simultaneously helping to prevent the meltdown that generally occurs when a hungry child and a meal fail to converge on demand in space-time: she simply puts out a smorgasbord of kid-friendly veggies, and he digs in. W, famished from a long day of playing, happily chowed down on grated carrot, thinly-sliced cucumber, cold steamed cauliflower left over from a previous night’s dinner, and frozen corn kernels (AwesomeMom taught me about these, too. Apparently toddlers and little kids love them, and peas too, right out of the freezer. Who knew?). The corn kernels, in particular, kept her busy as she worked hard to pincer each one between her chubby fingers and pop it in her mouth, and we were able to finish making dinner without having kids clinging to our legs and whining.

As much as I learned about parenting this week, I might have started to feel a little bit insecure in the presence of AwesomeMom’s sheer awesomeness had it not been for a conversation we had one night after the kids had gone off to bed. For some reason the topic of baths came up, and she mentioned that when SharkBoy was about W’s age, he’d pooped in the tub. She reacted by totally freaking out (not in a mad way, but in an ohmygod there’s poop in the tub way). Her freak-out apparently freaked him out, to the point that he refused to take a bath for more than a week, and when he finally agreed to get back in the tub, he insisted upon doing so diapered so he wouldn’t poop. In this story was the most important lesson about parenting I learned all week: no mom, no matter how awesome, became so instantly upon the birth of her first child. AwesomeMom has amazing mom-skills, but she has learned them and honed them over the years, and has made a conscious effort to transform herself from mom-who-freaks-out-at-tub-poop to AwesomeMom. This, she’s done by talking to her own cadre of mom-mentors, by reading, by trying and failing, reevaluating, and trying again, and mostly, by watching her child and getting to know him. There lurks within each of us — even moms like myself, who go to bed so many nights thinking tomorrow, I must do better — the seeds of parenting greatness; the seeds of AwesomeMom-ness.

 

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve learned from another parent?

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KarenJ
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 04:21:27

    I still love frozen peas. We use the same trick here for little miss, 3, and boo, 1. I grab a handful myself too.

    My daughter seems to have a similar temperament. Intense and clingy..

    Reply

  2. Ari
    Jul 09, 2012 @ 08:46:49

    Good one! It’s so important to give ourselves lots of grace. I figured out who AwesomeMom is (sooo proud of myself!) and she IS awesome! My fave idea from her is posting a stuffed animal sentry to keep monsters away at night. I just like learning from watching other kids what they’re capable of doing so I don’t baby my kid too much.

    Reply

  3. Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 14:20:08

    Thought I would share that my easy-syringe-medicine-taker recently decided he no longer wanted medicine in a syringe. I gave him the option of the cup and with some persistence HE TOOK IT! When given the same options for a second medication that was needed, he refused the cup, so he got the syringe, but he took it without any struggle. The whole process for both medications took less than a minute, and there were no tears! (Thanks, AwesomeMom for the excellent idea.)

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jul 12, 2012 @ 15:09:07

      It’s like magic, right? And yeah, it doesn’t work every time, but even 50% means only half as many hold-em-down-and-force-it-down-their-throats battles!

      Reply

  4. AwesomeMom
    Feb 28, 2013 @ 20:36:55

    SquintMom, your post still brings me to tears…just did again, because I haven’t felt Awesome lately. Here’s to doing our best and having amazing kids despite our worries and struggles. Thank you, and when are you coming to visit again???

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Mar 01, 2013 @ 07:45:51

      AwesomeMom, even if you haven’t been feeling Awesome in your own home lately, please know that others benefit EVERY DAY from your amazing lessons in positive parenting. I, for one, am a better mom on a daily basis for what I’ve learned from you! Hang in there!

      Regarding visit…I’ll email you 🙂

      Reply

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