Saturday, February 25, 2006

Child rearing philosophy

I owe a lot to Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish . They wrote How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk, among others. I got my first copy when Andrew (my first born) was tiny. I read their books over and over.

I learned (among other things):

  1. To give out praise in believable, small packages.
  2. To express limits, rules, and even anger in constructive ways.
  3. To allow children opportunities to grow, to let them solve their own problems. (Also known as "just standing there" .)

So did not tell my sons that they were good boys, or smart, or any other "big" thing. I told them that I really appreciated it when they: helped keep the grocery cart organized; found my lost keys; helped their brother; whatever. I did not tell them that their picture was beautiful; I told them that it made me smile.

I learned that saying, "It makes me very angry when you leave your coat on the floor" got much better results than saying, "Why can't you ever hang up your coat?" I learned to say, "The rule is no hitting!" and not "If you hit your brother one more time I will..."

When they were little and spilled milk I would say, "Oh no! You did not mean for that to happen. What should we do?" "Wipe it up?" "Great idea! Here's a towel!" I learned that expressing to children that I had confidence that they could solve their own problems was helpful; solving them for them was not.

My birth children have been raised this way. I often forget to follow these principles, but I do a fairly good job.

The praise principle works just as well, if not better, with the foster kids. They really don't believe that they are strong, smart or good. If you tell them that you think they are, they will think you are stupid and then they set out to demonstrate that they are not strong, smart or good. But if you tell them that the change they made in this recipe worked out really well; that their response to the other child helped de-escalate the situation and you really appreciate it; or that the point they made in the essay really made you think, they respond. It is praise they can believe.

The expressing of limits in a constructive way, works less well. It can help, but only so much.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the third one. Some of the kids who come into my house have developed self-destructive behaviors. I find that I have trouble expressing confidence in their abilities and getting out of the way because sometimes I do not have that confidence to express. But I am wondering...maybe I should anyway?

When Evan told his social worker and me that he was addicted we flew into action. We decided what appointments he needed, we scheduled them, we drove him, we (and the other professionals) decided where he would go to rehab, when he would go, and who would go with him. I think we asked him a few times what he thought about the plans we made, but we never considered letting him actually make any of these decisions. We expressed no confidence in him at all.

I am wondering what would have happened if when he first told us we had said, "Oh no! You did not mean for that to happen! What do you think we should do?"

What would have happened if, even for just a few minutes, we expressed confidence in his ability to solve his own problem?

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