January 23, 2012

Just Don't Count

Whenever I consider sharing parenting advice, I immediately hesitate mentally and think that maybe I should file away whatever idea it is I want to share until Danny and the rest of our (not yet existent) children are twenty-something and well-adjusted in the world.  You know, when I'm a parenting expert.

And then I realize that now is when these ideas are fresh on my mind.  Now is when I am living and breathing parenthood of a two-and-a-half year old and figuring out what works and what doesn't and can speak first hand about it.  And you all are well aware that I'm the first-time parent of one and to take all my advice with a grain of salt.

Right?

Right.

Alrighty then.

One of the very best pieces of parenting advice I ever received was from a good friend and mother of five.  Her name is Gwen and her kids are currently between the ages of 12 and 22.  She said, "Just don't ever count."

"Huh?"

"Yeah.  Just don't count.  You know, when parents tell their kids to do something and then they say it again and then they start counting.  One...  Two... ...and wait for their kids to obey.  I hate that.  Don't ever count.  All that teaches your son is that, for three more seconds, he doesn't have to obey what you are telling him to do."

It made perfect sense to me.  So we never did and I can't tell you how much it's paid off.

Toddlers are smart.  Really smart.  We all know it, but it's easy to forget.  We act as though they haven't heard us or they are too distracted to listen or what not.  Then comes the moment when we mention their favorite movie barely above a whisper in the midst of a noisy room while the stereo is on and our child is engrossed in their favorite game with two of his best friends, and yet despite all of that, he hears the utterance of the movie title.  He immediately comes running and explains in the most articulate manner how he'd like to please watch that movie with a side of popcorn and hot cocoa.

It's then that you realize how grossly you've underestimated him.  And that when you say, "go get your shoes," in a quiet room with his full attention and get no response, it's sheer disobedience.

So armed with this knowledge (and three years experience as a preschool teachers' aide seeing this principle play out again and again), we determined not to count.

The principle behind not counting plays out in multiple scenarios, so we also determined not to repeat ourselves.  (Ok, we still do sometimes.  But we try really hard not to.)

We determined not to engage in the verbal banter that only a toddler can expertly suck you into.  You know how it goes.  "I want it."  "No, Danny."  "But I want it."  "No, Danny."  "But I waaaaant it."  "I said no, Danny!"  We decided to answer him once and then ignore the pleading and redirect to a new activity or set of choices.

We decided not to threaten a negative consequence if Danny doesn't "listen and obey right now" more than once or twice at the start of a day.  We decided that we would give a direction once and expect obedience, and that if we didn't get it, the negative consequence would be administered in love and without delay.

We determined to drag ourselves off the couch each and every time it's required, in order to follow through with carrying out the consequences and rewards of listening to and obeying our words.  (We don't spend much time on the couch.)

We also decided to teach Danny the words "yes, Papa" and "yes, Mama" as early as he could pronounce them and lavishly shower him with praise almost every single time he does listen and obey immediately.  After all, we all respond much better to praise and rewards than to negative consequences.

It's definitely paying off.

I hear from more parents than I can count how hard the age of two and three can be, and can I tell you something?  I'm just not experiencing it.  Of course, we are not at all without challenge in our home.  But by and large, parenting Danny has gotten easier and easier over the last twelve months (since he started walking and talking).  Does he express his will?  Oh, yes-sir-ee, he does.  But we spend more of our day celebrating good behavior and engaging in new and fun experiences, than we spend focused on the bad and it is making parenthood of this age the greatest joy.  I am loving two-and-a-half.

And I'm certain I'll love three-and-a-half even more.

So this is just me, the first-time mother of one, sharing one little tid-bit of parenting advice that's working really well for us right now.  So what great successes have YOU ALL had parenting your little ones?  Please share!!