I just got schooled. I guess I had to be here, in this place. This place of banging my head against the wall trying to parent a wacko/pyro 7- almost 8-year-old. I will start with this admission: I am a total hypocrite. I used to preach no TV until the Roosters Came Home and the Cows Went to Bed. Honestly, I'll still preach that to you if your kid is 2 or 3. So if you want to hash it out, just tell me your 2-year-old sits in front of a TV, ever.
I have gradually introduced TV into my son's life for the past two years. I cherry pick what he can watch; we don't have TV or Cable, only Netflix/etc so I can completely control what enters his malleable brain.
This week I introduced The Brady Bunch. I picked up the DVDs at the library -- nothing past season 3 -- I didn't want to get into the "boy/girl relationship stuff." My son is already girl crazy, and has decided he's going to be a Boobie Scientist so he can study Boobies all day. So there's that. That's enough.
We were on a 975 mile road trip, so I let him watch in the car. (Another thing I am "anti" on short trips.) It was fun for me too. I hadn't watched The Brady Bunch in about...oh...8 years? I am a child of 70's TV; I get the shakes if I don't watch some laugh-track containing sitcom every few weeks. I still watch Three's Company whenever I can. So, my son was watching, I was listening. Not being able to see, I was really listening to the dialogue, not all caught up in what Marsha was wearing or how floppy Greg's hair was.
I have to admit I was surprised. I had never watched/listened to The Brady Bunch as a parent. I was struck by the sheer peacefulness of parental interaction; there was a distinct lack of arguing or yelling. I ask you to SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF. I know it's a TV show. But let's face it; would you yell, roll your eyes or be disrespectful if your parents never yelled or argued with you?
So this is what I learned from Carol and Mike this week:
Credit: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com
The end. Alright, not quite the end -- but it could be. Here are some things I will admit about my personality: I am impatient, I am a perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the behavior of a 7- almost 8-year-old. Put these things together with a spirited, strong-willed, pyromaniac, and you may experience a modicum of volatility.
As I listened to (and later watched) the Brady's interact, I noticed a pattern: Empathy, Cool-headedness and Disappointment; all leading to Natural Consequences.
I am not a parenting expert, but I do play one on TV. These things are not foreign to me. For one; intuitively I know these traits are positive ways to deal with a child. Secondly, they work really well for Carol and Mike.
Empathy: Your child is distraught because everyone compares her to her beautiful, successful and popular older sister. So distraught, she decides to distinguish herself by wearing a black curly afro wig to showcase "the new her." Do you tell her "she's being ridiculous"? Do you demand she take that thing off right away? Are you angry at her for borrowing money from her brother to buy a hideous piece of brillo pad disguised as a wig? No. You empathize. You listen to her complaints, you tell her how much you love her and how you see her for who she really is. When that is not enough for her, you support her decision to change her looks and wait for her to learn this valuable life lesson on her own.
Cool-headedness: Your child wants to buy a car. He is 16 and you feel confident about his excellent driving abilities. You are happily surprised to learn he has saved money towards the purchase of a car and encourage him to keep saving. However, when you come home later, you discover that he has gone behind your back and purchased a car, even though he said he would wait for your opinion before spending his money. Do you yell at him for making such a stupid decision? Do you go on a tirade about what a hunk of junk he bought? Do you refuse to even speak to him until he gets his money back? No. You listen to him. He is confident that he can make it work, and you give him the opportunity to fulfill this desire. All the while, never making a snide comment or derisive remark about how hard it will be. You give him a chance to work it out on his own, while being supportive, and allow him to learn from his own mistakes.
Disappointment: Your son has "borrowed" your tape-recorder and eavesdropped on the conversations of all his siblings. Then he has shared their private information, and for his own entertainment, sits back to watch the fireworks fly. Using your already proven cool-headedness, you observe the situation and realize only one child is not in the throes of this argument. Instead of calling him out in an angry fashion in front of his siblings, you ask him to have a private conversation with you. From the moment he enters the room you have a look of disappointment on your face, thus already weakening his defenses. You then ask him why he seems to be the only one unaffected by the breach of privacy. The look of disappointment he sees on both of your faces is more than he can bear and he breaks down and tells the truth. You explain to him in a logical and empathetic manner why what he did was wrong and then tell him his punishment is having to face his 5 other siblings and tell them the truth. Thus having to face the natural consequences of his actions.
Here are the facts: It is impossible to live up to the standards of a fictional, perfect family and marriage. However, it is possible to learn from it.
For the past three days I have attempted to channel my inner Carol and Mike. I have been amazed and pleasantly surprised that after reading 512 books on the subject, following the examples of these television icons has been the most effective parenting tool yet. You may think I am over-simplifying, but I would disagree.
While my son is banging his car on the window creating an annoyingly loud noise as well as a situation where something is going to break, my first instinct is to yell from wherever I am. This accomplishes two things: he can hear me over the din and he stops -- briefly. My new method is -- in my regular voice -- I walk up to him and say, "Sweetie, could you please stop doing that?" He looks at me, and says, "OK." If he does do it again, I repeat myself and this time not only does he agree, but I also get an apology!
It would be impossible to regale you with all of the opportunities I have had to use these techniques this week. I will tell you this. I have noticed a marked improvement in his behavior and I believe that it is all in relationship to me. If I am his model, and I am yelling or getting angry, then who is teaching him to yell or get angry back? Seems like a ridiculous question when in writing. The miraculous thing is that while he was confused and annoyed by my change in behavior at first, even accusing me of mocking him, he eventually began to respond positively and then even anticipate what I would say by just a look.
I don't know where we will go from here. I notoriously fall back into bad habits when under stress, and sometimes I just plain forget the important lessons I have learned. However, I am hoping to keep this one in the front of my brain where the sticky stuff is; because whether you think I'm crazy or not, if I have to choose between Carol Brady and The Evil Dragon Lady, I choose my girl Carol every day of the week.
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