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Category Archives: Parenting

Flexibility goes to the movies

Isn’t this a great idea? This company has adapted the movie theater experience to be more accessible to people with special sensory needs. I came across this while looking up show times, and immediately thought of several families I know through books, blogs, or real life who would welcome it. Social expectations and sensory contrasts are lowered to help everyone relax. It won’t cure or treat anyone, and it doesn’t provide a necessity, but it’s still a nice way to care and welcome.

I can’t make a toned-down theater experience, but I can make sure that my Sunday school class is inclusive.  I can invite that clingy mom to sit with her child in my class and listen long enough for her to tell me that she’s grieving another child.  I can look acceptance at the parent of the violent child.  Maybe later I’ll find out (as I did in one case) that she’s only recently came to a healthy family, or maybe I’ll find out that there was brain damage done at birth.  Maybe I’ll never know.  I shouldn’t have to hear the back story or the list of diagnoses to extend the tolerance and love I would if I knew.

Some of us are in a position to structure inclusion into an organization, but all of us can extend a welcome.  While I’m glad companies are adapting to fit special needs, and I hope we see more inclusive events, anyone can make any movie, church service, outing, party more inclusive.  We can’t always lower the sensory contrasts (although sometime we can and should), but we can broaden our expectations.  If you expect that some children will have sensory issues, or behavior problems, or trauma triggers, you will often have your expectations met.  I want to be the smile, not the stare, at that mom who is wearing her five-year-old, or the person who’s not fazed when a dad hands his seven-year-old a pacifier, or lets his son wear earphones in the grocery store.  I want to pretend I don’t notice the antics of the too-old child behind me in church instead of glaring.  It’s possible what I’m seeing is a parent doing the absolute best thing for his child.  It’s even more probable that I’m seeing a parent do the best he can.

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In defense of not saying, “No”

Sometimes I hear parents disparage advice to avoid using negative directives.  The mockery usually goes like this: “So, we’re not supposed to say ‘no!’  That’s ridiculous.  We are just supposed to affirm them all the time. Kids don’t know what is good for them.”  I agree that kids don’t always know what’s good for them (Peeps for dinner?  Bad idea.), and issuing a lot of nos and don’ts sounds like good, strict parenting.  Unfortunately, I think many times, “No,” is the favorite weapon of ineffective projectile parents.  “No” might be more a symptom of my laziness than healthy strictness.

Here’s what I think people may miss: giving “positive instruction” doesn’t mean letting your child do whatever he wants; it means telling him what he should do, rather than what he shouldn’t do.  For instance, rather than telling a child who is running wild, “Don’t!” I could tell him, “Hold my hand or my pocket until we get to the car.”  Instead of issuing repeated warnings of “No!” I could instruct a child, “Sit down when you’re in the tub,” or “Keep all the legs of the chair on the floor,” or, “Spit is for sinks.”

While there’s definitely a time and a place for a firm no, I think there’s much to be said for the positive instructions ideal.  First, it does keep the mood from turning as negative as words like don’t and no. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know that you’re happier (and more successful) with a set of fun recipes to explore, rather than just a list of foods to avoid.   The same concept holds true for children.

More importantly, positive instructions clarify my expectations.  This has two benefits: I am forced to think through what it is that I want the child to do and see if it’s developmentally appropriate, and the child clearly knows what to do.

Also, it makes me do the thinking instead of a child.  So I don’t want a child ripping magazine pages?  What do I want him to do?  Do I want to show him how to read a magazine carefully, or hand him a board book instead, or show him some papers he can use to make confetti?  Just saying, “Don’t rip those,” (or worse, just “Don’t!) forces the little one to find an alternative.  Since a three-year-old probably isn’t terribly motivated to give up his personal paper-shredding business, or very aware of his alternatives, he’s not likely to be successful.  It’s like throwing a road-block up in front of a child and expecting him to forge a new path- far better to choose one or two safe paths and point the way.

Finally, choosing positive instructions gives a child hope because it zeros in on what it is that’s inappropriate with his behavior, instead of just casting a blanket no over the whole thing.  It’s not that he can’t pet the dog, it’s that he should touch the dog’s back like this (as opposed to poking his eyes or yanking his tail).  It’s not that she has to like my plan for the afternoon, it’s that she has to use a soft voice when she tells me she would rather play outside longer.  Too many nos, and we’ll make the world seem like a series of red lights, leading to a lot of unnecessary frustration and resentment.

While I find I have to use less consequences when I use positive instructions, I still follow through.  Positive instructions aren’t about being a push-over; they’re a tool for parents/teachers/babysitters who are engaged, proactive, reasonable, and yes, firm.

That’s my not-a-parent-but-I-have-worked-with-more-than-a-few-kids two cents.  Happy Monday!

Stockings only?

I’ve begun to realize that I only want to give my kids stocking gifts for Christmas.  Hear me out before you protest:

a) Stocking gifts require no wrapping, thus saving money and leaving me more time to do things I like, like baking more cookies than any household could possibly eat, belting out old Raffi Christmas standards (“Snow is falling on Douglas Mountain. . .”) with my kiddos, and knitting them matching Christmas-themed sweaters.  (Well, maybe not the sweater part.)

b) Even if their dad is an orphaned only child, my kids will have two grandparents and a minimum of three uncles and three aunts.  They will not lack presents to unwrap.

c) I tend to favor parenting styles that promote fewer, simpler toys.  There are at least a few blog posts right there, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Thanks for listening.  Now you may protest:

On giving children identity

I live near the Huntington’s lovely art collection and have seen “The Blue Boy” there many times.  Last time, though, a docent mentioned that Gainsborough painted it shortly after his dearest friend died.  The subject is the late friend’s son, who had just become the man of the family.  Knowing that helped me to appreciate the firm stance and mature dress, the confidence in the boy’s face.  Gainsborough painted this boy as a man, and a successful one at that.

Another of my favorite paintings hangs in a stairwell on the other side of the country.  Abbott Handerson Thayer (how could he not be an artist with a name like that?) painted it shortly after his wife died.  His three children appear in the painting, but clearly the primary subject is the oldest daughter, who had been caring for her younger siblings.  She’s modeled after “Winged Victory” and her face has a solemn assurance.  He painted her tall, capable, caring.

I often ponder how to give children identity.  I suppose that if you’re the next Gainsborough, one way would be to paint your daughter or son taller, stronger, braver than she or he currently is.  But how do the non-artists among paint for the children in our lives a picture they can grow into, one that anticipates their maturity?  How do we show them a picture of the people they may become?