Friday, January 22, 2010

Yesterday's Positive Discipline Workshop

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

I had such a nice time attending Jane Nelsen's lecture and workshop. I'm still processing the things I learned and the experience, but I have a few initial thoughts I want to write down before I get too busy with floors and children and my mother-in-law's upcoming visit and homeschooling and other projects (aka, "children") that will only serve to deplete my brain cells.

It made such a difference to see Jane in action. I only "know" her from her books and through a few interactions online. She is a very accomplished speaker, and she's FUNNY! Meeting her in person was awesome.

Attending the workshop helped me gain some clarification on what she means when she says that children primarily needs a "sense of belonging and feeling of significance." (Note: I can't find that exact quotation just at the moment, but I believe that is the way she generally phrases it.) Before now, I'd had one of those "kinda sorta" ideas about what she meant, but I couldn't quite identify the concepts behind those ideas. The phrasing sounded nice, a bit lovey-dovey, but I was unable to truly understand what she was talking about.

She said something in her talk that made me sit up and realize that these ideas correspond very well--and in fact, are pretty much the same as--the thoughts that Susan Crawford discussed in one of her lectures (I think), that children need to feel loved ("sense of belonging") and to know that they are important ("feeling of significance"). Again, I'm going from memory here--it's been many months since I most recently listened to Susan Crawford's parenting lectures, so please forgive me if I'm misquoting/misunderstanding here. (And Kelly was the one who reminded me about Susan Crawford's thoughts on this issue, so thanks!)

From their very first days, children need to feel that their parents value them. When Mom & Dad take care of a baby's needs (feeding, diapers, keeping him healthy), that's a way to show the baby how much they value him. And I think that when Mom & Dad begin to show the child how to take care of his own needs, with loving support, that's another way to show him how much he is loved and valued. From these earliest of interactions, a child will begin to feel that "sense of belonging" (to the family, to his parents) and that he is valued (that he will begin to feel "significant"). It is from these first feelings that a child's healthy self-esteem begins to grow. There is a lot of research that shows the opposite, too--that a child who does not feel loved or valued, who does NOT have his needs met--will often develop unhealthy self-esteem, a feeling that he isn't important. Anyway, that's just a few thoughts on this, that certainly could be expanded more significantly in the future, and with citations, too. :o)

What else did I learn or remember at this workshop? I was reminded about how critical it is to understand that children have developing brains. This is hard, because once my kids can talk, they can put on a really good imitation of rationality and understanding, that sometimes they truly just don't quite have, often through no fault of their own. Jane showed us Piaget's "Water Level Task," an experiment designed to demonstrate that children have differences in reasoning skills at different ages. (I learned through searching on the web that there are challenges to this specific experiment, but I've seen this idea demonstrated in other ways, too.)

The point is--the brains of children are constantly developing, and age is a factor in when they can grasp certain logical relationships. I can tell this with Morgan. She is pretty far ahead of her age-peers academically. Yet there are a few types of problems in her math workbooks that she simply doesn't understand--and they all seem to be related to basic logical deduction. In the last month, she has made some kind of cognitive breakthrough and is beginning to really understand these problems. Ryan, on the other hand, requires absolutely no explanation for these simple logic puzzles. Jane reminded us that children under the age of 4 years old simply do not process or understand reasoning in the same way that kids over 4 do (let alone at the adult level). As we head into Unknown Territory with Mr. Sean, and as Morgan is emerging from this stage, I'm going to keep this in mind.

I have a couple of personal action items that I took away from the workshop. The first one is to work on remembering to ASK instead of TELL. We did an exercise where one participant was pretending to be a child, and walked back and forth between two types of parents.

The Telling Parents said things to the "child" like : "Go brush your teeth." "Do your homework." "Don't forget to wear your jacket!" (I'm paraphrasing some of these, going from memory here.)

The Asking Parents said things like : "What do you need to do to keep the Sugar Bugs off of your teeth?" "What is your plan for doing your homework tonight?" "What do you need to wear to stay warm outside?"

Ask yourself--which type of parent would you be more likely to respond to positively? Yeah. Me, too. Not only are Asking Parents less bossy (a problem I have I've heard that others have, ahem), they are encouraging their children's independent thinking by not just handing them answers on a plate. So that's one Action Item.

The next Action Item is something called "Special Time." What this means is that you carve out regular chunks of time to spend one-on-one with your child. This is especially important when there's more than one child in the family, but of course it's probably a great idea for onlies, too. Brendan and I talked about how we are going to do this. A friend of mine and his spouse have semi-regular breakfast dates with their kids (I think they still do this). That's a nice way to get Special Time. We're thinking of doing something similar on the weekends.

Oh, and another aspect of Special Time is that younger children need it more frequently. So a child Morgan's age probably needs some every day. She's actually the reason I want to get going on this. I think Special Time would help both of us feel more connected, and would be a way handle some of my concerns of her being/feeling a little left out of things around here.

There's more, but those are a few of the main things I wanted to write down before they fell out of my head. I didn't get a chance to meet the woman who is teaching the workshop I've signed up for in March, which was a bummer, but I'll meet her soon enough! I did have lots of fun with Kelly and Ansley and met a few other nice people, too.

Brendan and the kids had a rip-roaring time yesterday, too! (Without such a supportive hubby, none of this would be possible. :o) ) It was a little harder on poor Seanie than everyone else, and they did have to stop by in the afternoon so I could nurse him a little (for the benefit of both of us!). But they had a good time, and they all were a bit disappointed that Brendan didn't stay home today, too.

Oh, and here's a funny! On the night of the lecture, Brendan was talking to the kids about where I was and what I was doing. Ryan said "Oh, yes, I know. She's taking a class on how to be a better parent." And then "She really needs it." :o)

And last night he asked me if I was now a Better Parent. And I told him jokingly, "Well, sure. But I thought I was a pretty good parent before this class, too." And he very kindly said "Oh yes, you were. But it's always good to improve!" That's my boy.

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