Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Parenting Maxims

"Spare the rod, spoil the child."

One of the most well-known proverbs in society. My interpretation of that, though, is not that we should beat our children, or spank them for infractions. I believe that statement means that consequences should be obvious for behavior that is unacceptable or dangerous. I believe that we, as parents, need to instruct our children as to what they do or think that is counter-productive to being a healthy, happy, contributing member of society. All too often I see parents who would rather be their children's friends rather than the leading adults in their lives. Our job is not to be our children's best friends. Our job is to instruct, comfort, advise, lead, and teach them. That means that, even when he is only 9 months old, I have to instruct and punish my son when he misbehaves.

And yes, he deliberately misbehaves. If he were simply acting on instinct, he would not get a sly little smile before doing what he knows he shouldn't be doing, such as biting Mommy when nursing. Now, there is obviously a reason why he is biting, and I understand that that stupid tooth that we've been waiting to cut through for 2 weeks really hurts and itches, but that does not excuse biting Mommy. Ergo, my preferred maxim for raising my son:

"Punish the behavior, not the child."

I've always tried to hold true to this as a high school teacher. I've chanted it to myself before, a mantra to try to keep from letting my emotions get in the way of instruction, comfort, or classroom management. And prior to actual recognized forethought in my son, I, instead, reminded myself that he had no other way to let me know what was wrong. But now, he is cognizant of what he is doing. Before I go any further, I will acknowledge that, at the tender age of 9 months, it is important to remember that he is learning how to learn. Therefore, repetition is a must, and patience needs to be mixed with repetition. This means that we, as parents, cannot get irate when Sydney misbehaves but instruct, scold, and follow through every time with consequences for his actions. This is what we've been facing lately:

  1. Biting Mommy while nursing. This constitutes an action that falls into the category of hurting himself or someone else. I firmly tell him "No, hurts Mommy" (at this age, the shorter the explanation the better) while looking him in the eye. I give him one chance and if he bites again (the little imp usually smiles as he is about to bite down...) we put him in his crib for a one minute time-out, stating that it is time-out. (One minute of time-out per age. When he turns 2, it will be 2 minutes, etc.). We danced this little game last night until he was either finally worn out completely or understood that Mommy wasn't playing games. Once he attached, he was zonked out for the night.
  2. Playing with the vent in the kitchen floor. This, too, could be considered something that would hurt him. We've replaced the vents in the rooms where we put down laminate hardwood flooring. Our new vents are no longer the sharp, rusted metal ones that we had in there, but if he lifts these up out of the floor, or gets his fingers caught in the grate, he can still hurt himself. I have his play-pen in the kitchen and when he continually plays with the vents, I tell him, again, that he is going in to time-out and we put him in the pack-n-play for one minute. I use this while cooking dinner, sometimes, etc., but when he's already roaming the floor playing and I take him away and put him in the 'cage,' he will scream for about 20 seconds before he realizes I am serious. The most this has taken us to reiterate the point is 2 times.
  3. Spitting while eating. The boy is teething. I understand that. My brother-in-law told me that if we had to cut teeth as adults, we'd probably pass out from the pain. I don't fuss when he spits outside of dinner time, but when his mouth is full of food...ugh. If giving him another spoon to chew on while we feed him doesn't stop it, we, again, firmly tell him 'No spitting,' deliberately put his food down, and turn away, ignoring him, for one minute. This usually gives me a chance to take a few bites of my own food. Outside of teething, the most this has taken us to reiterate the point is 3 times at dinner.

"Punish the behavior, not the child." There is always a reason for his behavior, at least at 9 months. Therefore, we cannot allow our emotions, our exhaustion to take over. Find the reason for the behavior, and address that. Sydney is such a wonderful gift and it hurts to know that he is in pain and there is so little that we can really do until that mean tooth comes in. Instruction works but it must be consistent, firm, and never done in anger.

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