This past weekend I met my grandniece. She is three months old, and I think she is adorable. The visit prompted some reflection on the nature of families and generations. This little babe has bumped me into a new generation — that of the “grands”, along with my sister who is now a grandmother. My nephew and wife are now parents. It was a pleasure to see them joyously and comfortably taking on that role. This is a pretty mundane experience — it’s what happens in families. But I did notice that I’m in a new generation now.
I reflected on how families can support each other over the miles. Recently the new babe’s parents had professional obligations on a weekend, and my sister travelled to stay with them and care for her granddaughter. Distance precludes doing that very often, but evidently it worked out very well. We joked about having them move in together. I know more than a few families who have done that to support new parents where both parents work.
While we walked around Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, my nephew’s wife and I talked about returning to work and finding care for our babies. My baby is almost twenty-five, but we found similar feelings about balancing work and motherhood. We agreed that there are times that it is a relief to go to work where life is a bit more predictable. We are both in helping professions, so we could share the need to balance the energy we give to clients and the energy we need for family.
Even across the miles and episodically I expect that our family will support this new family. My extended family has not lived in the same neighborhood for nearly fifty years now. This new family has already found supports among their solid group of friends. It takes a village, as the saying goes. It was good to be a small part of the village for this young family.
Lately I have noticed that parents I work with need information about normal child development. It’s quite reassuring to hear that a behavior is just what’s expected at that time. I explain that parents are expecting too much self control from a three year old. Or that they are expecting too much responsibility from a seven year old. At times my message is that an eight year old would do better sleeping in his own bed and that he is capable of it.
This led me to look up some books from the 1970’s that you may have seen on your mother’s bookshelf. This is a series of books put out by the Gesell Institute of Human Development at Yale. The series starts with Your One Year Old and goes year by year up through Your Nine Year Old. There is also Your Five to Ten Year Old. Most of the books are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. and Frances Ilg, M.D.
The books in this series are brief with clear chapter titles so you can find what you want.
The series gives you a good idea of normal child development, including the ways that your child might be difficult—just because of the way he or she is developing at that time. For instance, the authors talk about the six year old wanting to be more independent but having mixed feelings about it. This leads to some confusing behavior.
Ames and Ilg also include good ideas for managing difficult behaviors. The ideas are practical and caring — of parent and child. Think of a kind hearted grandmother helping you out.
There are good ideas for age appropriate ways to interact with your child, to encourage creativity, and good toys to provide for your child. I especially like that the books were written before video games, computers and smart phones were such a part of our lives. The ideas are low tech.
Some of the suggestions and examples will be quite dated. You have to give them a break on that. But overall, child development has not changed in thirty years. These books have some real gems to offer. You can find them on Amazon or in your library.
I have been thinking lately about having the last word. Often when things get tense between parents and children, both sides want to get the last word. It’s a pretty normal impulse. But when parents insist on the last word, it doesn’t contribute either to problem solving or family harmony.
Say you have told your child for the third time to start his homework. You are pretty aggravated by now, and your voice shows it. He finally turns off the TV and stamps off to his room, saying, “Whatever you say, your majesty,” or worse. You see red (rightly so), and you have a choice. You could say, “Come back here, young man. You talk to me with respect.” Or you could take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and notice that he is complying (at last) with your request.
But, you say, “Didn’t he win? I don’t want him to think he can be fresh and get away with it.” I don’t think he won if he did what you asked. I agree that he shouldn’t be rude, and that’s an issue you still need to deal with. If you can work on compliance, so that you don’t have to ask three times, I’ll bet that you won’t have the problem with your child having the last word. In a conflict, no one wants to knuckle under and “say uncle.” For many children “the last word” is a way to comply and save face.
So, if your child does comply, but with the “last word,” it’s a step on the way. A good one. Enjoy.
I often meet with parents who are caught “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” They ask for help with their children who are begging for something (a toy in a store, a little more television time). I usually suggest that parents tell children that the conversation is over and then ignore further requests on the topic. The parent then says plaintively, “But then he’ll cry,” or tantrum or some such difficult behavior.
Lately I’ve met a number of parents in this situation. They wish (rightly) that their child would just listen and accept no, but they have a hard time ending the conversation. Often these good parents are struck with guilt. They don’t want to be mean. They don’t want their child to be unhappy. And they really don’t want to deal with a tantrum.
I am not talking here about the child who would become physically out of control and tantrum for an hour over a simple “No.” The garden variety, “You never give me what I want,” accompanied by stamping away and kicking a toy is plenty challenging.
What to do?
- Tell your child that starting now, no means no. (Then you need to be careful to say no only when you want to follow through.)
- When the situation arises, say no and explain why if necessary. Do this once.
- Then turn a deaf ear to the complaining. Walk away if needed.
It takes two to have an argument. If you are not doing your part, it is quite likely that the argument will end more quickly. Probably the first time or two will be a little hairy, but then it should get better. Try not to be involved in an argument you don’t want.
This sounds simple, but I know that it isn’t. In a newsletter to come, I’ll talk more about the difference between being mean to your child and being firm and consistent.