Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book: Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline

Powell's Books
Barnes & Noble
Becky Bailey, Ph.D. - © 2000

I consider myself something of an authority on parenting books, having read at least 25 of them. They seem to fall into categories, Tips and Tricks, Woah You Didn’t Already Know This Hype, Specific Problem, XYZ is the Reason Why Kids Today are Weird, Parenting Through Religious Teachings and finally, Learn to Behave Positively, so you Can Teach Your Children to Behave Positively. Easy to Love is the only one I've read that falls into this last category. This is my third reading of this book in two years.

About two and a half years ago was the most difficult time during my relatively short time as a mother. I had been struggling with my then three-year-old since she hit the eighteen month mark. I was pregnant with my second, doubting my wisdom in birthing my first, and feeling an like an utter failure as a parent. I was so stressed I was actually having chest pains. I was yelling, swearing and otherwise being the exact opposite of what I wanted to be.  Despite my fervent attempts at control, or perhaps because of them, Danielle was misbehaving at every turn; defiant, (NO, YOU CLEAN IT UP!) hurtful, (I HATE YOU!) and quick to melt down at every setback. I’m getting anxious just writing this.

I tried everything: time-outs, punishing bad behavior by taking things away, rewarding good behavior, offering choices, and incentives. I also tried outright control tactics using all my power as MOM to control her. None of it worked, and none of us were happy.  I knew there had to be a better way. I searched and searched, and when I found this book,  the synopsis shone like a ray of hope into my desperate heart. I think I may have heard angels harmonizing.  Yes, yes this is us!

As I read I knew I found that elusive parenting philosophy for which I had been searching! Becky focuses on self-control, (for parents and children) and discipline as teaching rather than punishment. Kids develop in predictable ways, and no one is born knowing how to negotiate conflict. Some of us never learned. (Me!) As I grew I learned how to avoid most conflicts and internalize the rest. (Awesome strategy, no?) In my mind conflict was BAD. (No wonder I used to fantasize about running away to the mountains to be a hermit.) In actuality conflict is GOOD, because it is an excellent opportunity for learning and teaching. 

Instead of giving me advice on how to manipulate and control my children, it taught me how discipline and control myself, so I could then be an effective teacher for my children. Every time I teach my girls how to negotiate through a conflict I feel more confident negotiating my own conflicts. It taught me how to assertively say “no” and be heard without being hurtful. It taught me to be kind to myself when I make mistakes and give myself credit for my good intentions so that I could see my children's true (good) intent, and be kind with them when they make mistakes. Then I guide and practice with them what to do instead. I learned how to turn off the “punitive self talk” (Amy, that was really stupid. What's wrong with you?) that was programmed into me, so I can also resist hurling the plethora of terrible phrases I have stored away at my children. It taught me that the gift of controlled parenting that I give my children, I also give myself. I feel like I’m finally going through and throwing out my growing-up baggage rather than handing it down to them.

Easy to Love can get a bit confusing with Becky's Seven Powers for this and Seven Basic Skills for that and GAMES and PEACE plans that don’t fit perfectly with what you’re supposed to remember. However, if you take it slow and read word to word, stopping to absorb and mentally practice what she’s saying, you’ll get it.

This book is the exact opposite of a quick-fix, it takes years and multiple reading before everything really start to sink in. Becky stated that for her personally it took about five years before the processes and words felt natural, and came to her mind without thinking hard first. I was discouraged initially, and then thought, I could be the same frustrated, ineffective parent I am now in five years, or a more relaxed, happier version of myself in five years.

Here is an example of a personal situation to which I applied Becky’s teachings.

Marker Mayhem! 

Danielle is coloring with markers at her kid sized table in our front room. Gabi comes up and tries (in normal toddler fashion) to grab the marker right out of Danielle's hands. Danielle shouts, “NO GABI! THAT’S MIIINE!! MOOoooooOOMM, Gabi is trying to take my marker!!!”

Gabi starts stomping her feet and adds to the cacophony, “I neeeeed it! Give it to Gabi!”

Before reading this book (or on an off day today) I would have handled it one of two ways:

Tact 1. Go after Danielle because she's older and therefore less crazy.

Me: “Danielle, can you share your marker with Gabi?”
Danielle: “No! Noooo! I need it to finish my horse picture!” Predicting that I’m going to coerce her she digs in. “I don’t want her to use my markers!”
Me:  I'm getting frustrated at this point, and my brains are becoming scrambled by all the ambient screaming: “Danielle, you need to learn to share! Gabi just wants to color with you! Why is that such a terrible thing?! Give her one of the other markers that you’re not using.”
Danielle: “NO, NOOOOO! I don’t want her to use my markers!!” “Gooo away GABI!” she practically spits out.  Gabi ratchets her displeasure up a notch.
Me: Feeling desperate I say, “Gabi, lets you and me go read some books!”
Gabi: “No, no! Color! Markers! Maaaaarrrrrkers!”
Me: “Danielle, share with Gabi or the markers are mine.”
Danielle: “No!!!!” 

I take all the markers and shove them in the box and put them up on top of the fridge.

Danielle: “Good, you take them, just so long as GABI doesn’t get to use them. FINE!”
Me: *Long angry rant about sharing and sisterly love, and you should be so lucky to have so much and this is selfish behavior, etc, etc.*

Tact 2:  Go after Gabi because she's the offender.

Me: “Gabi, you may not snatch things from other people!” “Let go! Let gooo!” Pry her fingers off Danielle's marker.
Danielle: “Yeah, Gabi don't snatch!”
Gabi: “Maaaaaaarrrrker! I neeeeed it!”
Me: “Gabi, lets do something else. Do you want to read a book?”
Gabi: “No, maaaarrrrker!”
Me: “How about blocks? We can build a super cool tower!”
Gabi: “No, marker!”

Gabi runs back and grabs the marker again. Then we start with tact 1.

Results of doing things “my” way:
I’m angry and disappointed, Danielle is angry with me and Gabi, and Gabi is melting down. I did all the work resolving the conflict and nobody is feeling good.

This is how it plays out when I use Becky’s methods:
I dash in and then squat down to be eye level with the girls. Danielle starts in reiterating the problem, “She’s trying to snatch my marker!!”

I look at both girls and say, “Hold on, lets calm down, we can figure this out. Gabi, let go of the marker, I'll help you.” I help release her fingers.

Gabi: “Maaarrrker, I need it!”
Me: “Gabi, you wanted to color with Danielle so you tried to take the marker.”
Gabi looks at me and calms down a little. Danielle tenses up, expecting me to try to coerce her, I reassure her, “Don’t worry I'm trying to teach you guys.” “Gabi, if you want to color with Sister, please ask, don't take, taking can hurt Danielle's feelings. Try asking now. Say, ‘Danielle, can I have your marker?’”
Gabi: “Danielle, have marker?”
Danielle: “No! I’m using it! I need it to finish my horse picture.”
Me: “Say that to Gabi.”
She does, somewhat gentler, and Gabi starts to get upset again.
Me: “Danielle, try offering Gabi one of the other markers.”
Danielle: “Gabi, here you can use a different color.” (She really did this!) “But don't color on my picture!”
Me: “Danielle, can you show Gabi where to get paper?”
Danielle: “Gabi, come with me, the paper is over here.” Feeling magnanimous, she gets Gabi about fifty sheets.

Gabi sits down and starts coloring, Danielle says, “Wow, Gabi, I like your coloring.”  (No really—this happened!)

Result: We all learned something, our relationship is stronger and we are happy.

Instead of jumping in and solving the problem using my position of power, I taught them how to work through the conflict. Will they do this perfectly next time? Nope. Will they do it perfectly the next fifty times? Nope. But I see Danielle, (5 years old) getting it more and more, and trying out parts of it. She's much more relaxed when I come in to help with a conflict because she trusts me to guide her instead of coercing her. She has yet to put it all together, but heck, she’s only five! I don’t do it perfectly every time either, actually I mess up all the time. But when I do make mistakes, I’m kind to myself, and remind myself that I'll have lots of opportunities to practice and I'll get it eventually. I particularly feel good that they'll have these skills their whole life! Who has better odds of becoming a better baseball player, one who starts playing at five or someone who put a glove on her hand for the first time at thirty-five?

My littler one, Gabi, benefits from having clear firm boundaries, and a Mom who knows how to enforce them without being angry or spontaneously permissive because she doesn't have the will to fight on that particular day. With these tools, I know how to set and enforce boundaries in a loving way that teaches responsibility, self control, and conflict resolution.

The principles of this book can be difficult to absorb as you're learning them, however Becky provides many common real world examples that applies the teachings. At the end of the book she even provides a week by week schedule for practicing each particular skill.

I'm not a perfect parent, nor will I ever be, nor do I aspire to be. But I'm doing everything I can to give my girls the best chance at a happy life. In turn, I'm giving myself a happy life with my husband, and the two coolest little kids I've ever met.

No comments:

Post a Comment