Posts tagged character

Parenting 201

Ladies and Gentlemen, I freely admit that today’s post is a rant – pure and simple. If you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t read on. I need to decompress, and since I pay the rent here (figuratively speaking) I will vent as I see fit. If you have ever seen misbehaving children in public and your inner Super-nanny has reared her bold head, you will know what I’m talking about.

Today was Teddy & Sammy’s first soccer practice in a league that we are new to this year. I was feeling relaxed about this new season of soccer, since we now have two children playing and only one to entertain on the sidelines, and we had found a nice shady spot in which to sit and watch. I almost said to Oliver, “I think I could get used to this,” as I sank into our camping chairs, but now I’m glad I didn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ll make it through the season without suffering a stroke due to high blood pressure.

It all started out innocently enough, as most first encounters among children do. Teddy and Sammy practice simultaneously on adjacent fields, so we were able to watch both at the same time. In Sammy’s SK/grade 1 group there were 9 children; seven boys and two girls. Eight of those children were under the guidance of a coach. The ninth (a girl) had a handy-dandy personal assistant (PA) who looked to be either a much older brother/cousin, or family friend. It soon became evident that she required this personal assistant because she could not receive instruction from the coach. True, she couldn’t receive instruction from the PA either, but perhaps he needed community service hours in order to graduate, and this was his project. One never knows.

Before someone chimes in here and says, “now don’t be so hasty… this child may be suffering from ADHD or something similar,” I will a.) attempt not to roll my eyes and b.) suggest that even parents of children with ADHD would be well advised to follow through on the consequences they promise their children for bad behaviour. In such a case, intentional parenting would be all the more critical. While I don’t doubt that there’s something in our label-happy modern-day Psychology manuals to diagnose this girl, she was obviously very smart and a great puppeteer, seeing as all the adults in her life danced like marionettes as she pulled the strings.

After I had watched this young lady prance around the field in blatant disregard for her PA’s pleas to please join the rest of the group “or else she’ll miss out on the fun!” for 15 minutes, I leaned over to my mild-mannered husband and warned him that I may not be able to sit out the hour without intervening in this situation with some measured words for the princess in pink shin pads. I felt real pity for the young man who was assigned to her, because he obviously had no idea how to claim his rightful place as the authority figure in the situation. He would probably thank some stranger for doing him the favour of giving his young charge a realistic idea of her place in the hierarchy of society.

As I sat there planning out the best approach to stop the insanity of the situation (for she was now running off the field during dribbling practice, and sitting in the net into which her teammates were kicking soccer balls – still pretending that her ears were stuffed with cotton) a female assistant coach walked onto the field, ostensibly to help the first coach run his practice. She obviously knew the girl, and I was curious to see how she would handle the situation. It quickly became clear that she had just as little sway over the girl’s choices, and would merely call for her to “come on and join us!” without ever actually doing anything about the fact that she was now walking the perimeter of the field while the other children were quietly sitting in a team huddle. I looked over to my mild-mannered husband, who now sat deeply in his chair with his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t watch, he said. I was coping by squeezing his hand to release some of my inner tension. I found myself wishing for my stress ball. When Oliver’s hand could take no more, I began firmly massaging Caleb’s shoulders, who happened to be standing in front of me.

At about the same time that I heard this young lady call the coach “Mom,” I also observed that there was a similar situation brewing on our other son’s field right next door, except that this boy was sitting in the grass about 10 feet from the sidelines, waiting for someone to come and cajole him to “join in the fun!” When Sammy’s coach called to the young man in the grass to go and join his teammates, and the young lady’s PA ran over to try his luck with the boy, it was clear that these two children shared the same parentage. It should have tipped me off right away that they were born to the same set of parents because the boy was named after a State on the West Coast, and his sister was named after the Native American tribe that lived there. Cute.

Throughout the practice, Mom would either ignore her children’s misbehaviour (having obviously bought into the psycho-babble that if you ignore your children’s bad behaviour it’ll go away on its own) or she would threaten to leave early. At the respective ages of 6 and 8, this sister and brother team knew full well that the chance of Mom actually following through on her ultimatum was about as great as the chance of a meteor hurtling from space and leaving a giant crater at centre field. They live this way. These behaviours do not suddenly creep up once kids hit school. A 15-month-old baby is already checking to see whether “No” actually means “No,” and whether the promised consequences will come immediately or once Mom has finished counting to 3.

Please understand that I am no perfect parent. The pages of this blog are filled to overflowing with tales of my children’s misbehaviours and my failures as a parent. Since becoming a parent I have become much more gracious of other parents who struggle with tough-to-manage children. I have been there, am living there, and will most likely continue to live there. I understand that there are tough nuts out there, and many of them are under the age of 10. But folks, could we at least all agree to follow through on the promises we make to our children? And to do it in short order? For the sake of their future school teachers, piano teachers, soccer coaches, and parole officers, could we please place a higher priority on letting our children know that when we say “No” that really means “No?” And could we please all agree to just go ahead and let the promised consequence rain down as soon as the children step out of line again after we’ve told them not to (once)? A child doesn’t need three warnings any more than the guy caught drinking and driving does. Although I am not a police officer, I know enough about that line of work to know that no self-respecting police officer will threaten 5 times and then count to 3 before actually slapping the cuffs on a guy. It’s ludicrous in policing, and it’s just as ridiculous and ineffective in the world of parenting.

Yes there are children who are more difficult to parent than others. But as I am learning with my own kids, those are the kids who need the solid boundaries most desperately. When we discussed the soccer practice afterwards, both boys told of their respective Disruptors without any prodding from us. Both commented on how annoying they had been to the rest of the team. And when I asked them whether they thought the Disruptive Duo had had fun, they had to admit that no, they probably hadn’t. It’s not a lot of fun sulking on the sidelines, or not being involved in the practice with your team, simply because you need to wage war with the parent that hasn’t enforced clear boundaries. It was a great moment for us to explain to the kids that we are teaching them obedience because we want them to be happy, not because we want to rob them of their joie de vivre.

No, our children are not perfect; nor is our parenting. But by God’s grace our boys are respectful and obedient to those in authority, and there’s something to be said for that.

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Spring already?

Since it’s the last day of January I feel it’s appropriate to begin a countdown to gardening season. There are only 108 days left until I can put in my vegetable garden! On second thought, this is quite depressing, given that winter has only been upon us for 41 days. On the bright side, gardening season really starts before May anyway. My tulips and crocuses will be in full bloom much sooner, not to mention the dandelions. I can hardly wait.

Any gardener can relate to my feelings of anticipation. Even non-gardeners can appreciate the glory of spring with its fragrant blossoms, brilliant colours and the promise that snowsuit season will soon be behind us for another year.

Parenting is a lot like that. Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck in one record-breaking stretch of winter where there is no fruit – nay, not even a bud – in our children. We spend countless summers preparing the soil of their little hearts, praying for rain, adding fertilizer, pruning, and loving on that little sapling in hopes that one day it will bear fruit. I am here to tell you, folks, that there are signs of spring in our family’s garden. Yesterday I discovered a shiny little fruit on one of our little saplings.

In Teddy’s class there is a troubled child whom we shall call Nick (not his real name). Nick joined the class in the middle of the year. It soon became clear that Nick had some problems making friends. His way of getting attention was to hit, spit at, pester, push, or in some other way irritate his classmates. His idea of “play” was limited to anything involving weapons. In no time at all he was well-known at the office and by the parents of Teddy’s classmates.

My gut instinct was to advise Teddy to stay away from the child and make sure he tells the teacher about Nick’s inappropriate behaviour. This is also the side of me that just wants to call the police about rowdy neighbours instead of talking directly to them. It solves nothing. Still, when another child spits at your child, you want justice.

Instead of seeking justice we decided to pray for change. We made the choice to think and speak of Nick as a troubled child, not a trouble-maker. Of course Nick knew that what he was doing was wrong and that it would win him no friends, but something was obviously compelling him to act that way. From the little we found out from Teddy (not the most trustworthy bearer of accurate information, mind you) Nick came from a broken home. Although this does not always result in children exhibiting bad behaviour, Nick’s behaviour could certainly be explained by trouble at home. Although we don’t know any details, I invited Teddy to project himself into Nick’s possible situation: most likely he wasn’t seeing one parent most of the time. It’s possible that he did not feel secure in their love for him, which caused him to come to school already bent out of shape. Maybe his need for love was not being met at home, and his “love tank” was perpetually empty.

His problems were only exacerbated by the fact that he had joined his class in the middle of the year and was trying to find his place where everyone already had theirs. His attempts to impress the others with his knowledge of guns did not impress his teacher. He perpetually placed second in two-man running races at recess, which is to say that he came in last place all the time. This is a big deal in a subculture where being the fastest boy means everything.

Time went on and the Anti-Nick movement grew. Based on their children’s bad experiences with the boy, parents began going to the vice-principal with the issue. He did what he could to reason with him and explain how to be a friend if he wants to have any. His behaviour seemed to settle down somewhat, but there were days when his “happiness balloon” lost air all day and was totally deflated by3:00pm (according to Teddy). We maintained that Nick needed a good friend if there was to be any hope of his behaviour changing.

One day I asked Teddy if he would consider a play-date with Nick. “Of course!” said our son, who would consider a play-date withIran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if it meant that he could host someone and possibly share a meal with them. When he mentioned it to Nick at school, he was immediately open to the idea. Although we haven’t managed to arrange the details yet, the thought alone seems to have changed something between the boys.

Yesterday Teddy came home and announced that Nick had told him that he was his only friend. At recess Teddy had been playing soccer with his buddies when he noticed that one of the girls in his class was irate with Nick. Apparently, a switch flipped and the mental movie of his Mommy talking to him at breakfast about Nick started playing. He walked over there and explained to the girl that Nick was not a bad kid, but that he wanted to make friends and just didn’t know how. He told her that he would feel a whole lot better and be a whole lot nicer if someone would just be his friend. At which point he turned to Nick and said, “Right Nick?”

I can imagine Nick’s surprise at this point, but he agreed with Teddy that yes, this was the correct analysis of the reason for his angst and aggression (though I don’t think he used those terms). After this, the two boys went and found a place where melting snow was dripping from the roof, and had a great time sticking their heads underneath. It didn’t seem to matter to Nick that their game had nothing to do with guns. “You know Mom,” said Teddy as he concluded his story, “I think Nick is actually a really good friend.”

I think I could say the same about you, Buddy.

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