Thursday, June 9, 2011

Finally, A Parenting Book Worth Reading-- and putting it into practice is fun!

I have two very handsome, beautiful, funny, intelligent, creative, exciting little boys. My life with them is full, abundantly full and often times unwieldy full. It's hard to juggle the chaos that comes with raising two boys. Perhaps that's because I grew up around my sisters, and wasn't ever fully exposed to the loud, rambunctious, belly grunting, dare deviling, attention commanding ways of little boys.

Photo Taken by Lia Giannotti Photography

I think every parent has a learning curve. Very few men and women are born to be perfect parents. It takes work and knowledge, I've joked before that they really should require parents to be to take a few college level courses. My course load should have included an Intro to Early Childhood Development, Managing Finances, Anatomy 101, Doctoring for Amateurs: Handling mild ailments and injuries, with refresher courses in English Vocabulary and Elementary Math to be taken upon the child's 4th birthday.

All jesting aside, figuring out how to handle these blessings that the Lord has given to us is hard work. Each day a new challenge that we cannot handle in our own strength. Though we think we can, (we were built to be strong, to handle pain, to take care of the ridiculous, work out solutions, to improvise or "fake it till we make it") but when we try to do it all, do everything a mother and wife is called to do without leaning on Christ we fail. And we end up with blog posts like this one.

I've decided to make time each week to blog about the positive sides of parenting, to make note of things I feel like I did right during the week, and note things I love about my children. I do this randomly as it is, but I think it is so important to brag on your children (and your spouse) and I'd like to be more intentional about that. In doing this, I also plan to quote and present advice from Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, PH.D. This is to date the first book where I have found practical advice that I can use and rework and adapt and mold as my child grows and changes.

Owen has been labeled many things: strong willed, independent, a type A personality, all boy. I've read articles and listened to broadcasts on Focus on the Family, and I've all but stalked Dr. James Dobson, but I've never found what I call the "what next!" They tell me to be firm, consistent, to let the child feel like he's in control, to stay strong, say no, not to show them my emotional reaction, to punish in love not anger, not to give them the attention for bad behavior but for good behavior etc etc. But I do all of that, and THEN WHAT? Because with a strong willed child, at least my strong willed child, the battle does not end there. Usually, the battle just starts all over again when we get to this point. There are many times when he gets so wound up that he could and would scream for 40 minutes if I don't defuse him in some way, prior to discovering the techniques in Playful Parenting the defusing words were always "wait till your father gets home."

I tried suggestions offered in Creative Correction by Lisa Welch last summer and they worked, for a week or two. But I think I like this book, because it's similar to that one, it allows me to open my mind up to new possibilities, but this one goes a little bit deeper in that it helps me to understand my child's inate nature for play.

According to Cohen, children of all ages have an ongoing need for connectedness, security and attachment; playful interaction with parents is an important way to develop such bonds. Through play, parents can help their kids develop greater confidence, express bottled up or difficult feelings, recover from daily emotional upheavals, negotiate agreements, express love and not least have fun. In his therapy practice, Cohen has used play to help both severely troubled and securely attached kids negotiate the daily travails of life; he demonstrates how to prevent and address serious problems with silliness and laughter. Cohen acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult for busy and harried parents to relearn play, and that playtime is both physically challenging and tiring. However, using examples from his practice, research and personal experience, he intelligently guides parents through the possibilities awaiting them if they are willing and able to loosen up.  - From Publishers Weekly on
I'm only on page 14 of the book and already I've had success and fun in changing my mindset as a parent. I haven't dropped my desires to enforce my rules, I'm just approaching them differently. The first observations that I have, are that I've actually managed to successfully use the playful approach before. That is encouraging to me, it's always nice to know your doing a little something right, now and again.

A little over a year ago Owen started fighting bed time, so I created the Dinosaur Train (based on the PBS kids show). I would put Owen on my shoulders calling it the Dinosaur Train then sing the them song while walking him into his room. In the show, when the train goes into a tunel they shout "Time Tunnel" so the T-rex on top (I could be wrong, it could be some other kind of Dino) knows to duck her head. So when I got to the door way Owen would say "Time Tunnel" and I'd duck down and walk under it. Bedtime became much easier for us using this method, what 3 year old doesn't like a good shoulder ride now and again?

Another realization I came to was that Owen had been practicing a little bit of Playful Parenting on Micah. Usually when this happened I wasn't entirely aware of the positive effects of it, because all I could hear was the noise of Micah screaming now being increased by the noise of Owen scream-laughing. What Owen does is when Micah get's really antsy and starts crying because I'm making dinner so he's in his highchair (same story when I get ready for work in the morning) Owen stands in front of him and blows in his face then ducks under the chair and pops up to do it again, with a lot of noise mixed in for good measure. Usually Micah starts belly laughing at his brother and then Owen will stop after a minute or two and say something like, "be patient Micah, Mom is coming."

A few other things that have worked in the last few weeks:

Owen came home from daycare singing "Shake your groove thing" and then we shake our booty. Instead of being my old stuffy self and saying that was inappropriate I allow him to sing it to me when he does something  I need him to. "Owen, buckle up ok? Then I'll do something silly." To which 90% of the time he reply's "Shake your booty, shake your booty yeah yeah." After we do that, I offer a friendly reminder "we can't shake our booty in public or ask little girls to shake their booties because that's not polite."

This same "make mom do something silly or have her shake her booty" process has been working to help get Owen practicing how to ride his bike without training wheels (and without the "I don't want to," "I'm scared," "your mean" screaming tantrums). It's definitely still a work in progress, but when we practice I do something silly (at his specific request) for every time he falls off of his bike, if he stays on for a second or two when I let go I get to make him do something silly. What fun that is.

Sunday mornings have been a battle recently because he wants to wear his flip flops. Well, I just bought him nice boy sandals before he got these FREE  flip flops so I call the sandals his church shoes and want him to wear them on Sunday's. The last 2 weeks I was getting ready to wear my flip flops and he said "that's not fair" so I wore my dress shoes instead. In reading page 12 of Playful Parenting yesterday I discovered that role reversal play can help children feel more powerful. Well, for a strong willed independent child power is his number one asset. When I force him to wear the right shoes I make him feel powerless. I've decided next week, if he fights me about wearing his church shoes, I'll let him pick my shoes. That's something he likes to do anyway, and it doesn't really matter if I match, not in the grand scheme of things, but him feeling like his decisions and opinions are important definitely does. Definitely.

Last night I witnessed Brian throw in a little playfulness. Owen loves to argue right now. "I can see the church." "No, you can't" "Yes I can" and on and on it would have went, but Brian said "Oh really, who's there?" And Owen began making up a fun little story about who was there, who wasn't and why etc. And he completely forgot that he was arguing. After a few minutes Brian said, "there wasn't any reason to argue with me now was there?"--I think that was after Owen really was able to see the church. Lesson learned, and fun was had, and most importantly the rest of the trip was enjoyable because the argument had ended. :)

I'm enjoying the possibilities. I have so much more to read and learn but for the first time in a while corralling my children at the end of the day isn't a major stress and I'm not an emotional ball of springs wound up so tight I'm going to pop open the minute my husband gets home from work. It could be a phase, because Owen's behavior frequently goes through remissions and relapses, but he hasn't screamed foul hateful words or gone into a massive screaming and crying fit in at least a week! Score!

Photo Taken by Lia Giannotti Photography

How could you be more playful this weekend? Have you discovered a trick that helps difuse your night time or car riding routine? I'd love to hear your creative and playful approaches to maintaining sanity in your home!

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