Saturday, 12 November 2011

Natural Consequences - The proof is in the Pudding

Zane will soon be two years old and he is fast becoming a typical toddler. He knows what he wants and he wants it now! We have been blessed with a very calm and placid boy, I think it is mostly his personality but partly because me and Gary are very relaxed, don't get stressed out with things and generally go with the flow and it has rubbed off on him too.

So far we haven't had "tantrums", I do hate that word, because tantrum suggests it is negative behaviour, when it is just frustration that the child doesn't have the emotional maturity or intelligence to be able to deal with rationally like we as adults have learnt over time, even some adults still have tantrums, they shouldn't be ignored or punished, support is needed to work through the emotions and provide emotional literacy for the future. We have had situations that look like they could potentially head towards a meltdown, but with distraction and validation of emotions we have managed to avoid frustration on Zane's part and ours.

I am keen to avoid power struggles with Zane. As I see it, yes I am his parent, but I'm not here to control him, I am here to guide and enable him to have a happy life, he is also a human being with his own thoughts and feelings which have equal rights over mine. Please don't take this to mean I am a permissive parent as some people seem to think when they see how we react to Zane. He has firm boundaries for things which we think are important and we are consistent, but we don't sweat the small stuff which he will learn through modelling ours and other peoples behaviour. 

One tool that I have had stored in my parenting ammo for a while is natural consequences. A natural consequence occurs when parents do not intervene in a situation but allow the situation to teach the child, adults should refrain from saying anything, particularly variations on the "I told you so" theme. If parents intervene by lecturing or by dispensing additional punishment, they risk destroying the natural learning situation by creating power. Of course there are situations where natural consequences would work but it is inappropriate to use, such as when a child runs into the road, you don't want them to learn not to do it by being run over so you intervene, as it is your job as a parent to ensure that your child is safe. Or there are times that you should adapt the consequence, the natural consequence for a child that doesn't brush their teeth is that they will get cavities, but the result will be delayed so not effective, so the consequence should be relevant, such as a child who doesn't brush their teeth shouldn't be allowed sweets until they learn to brush more effectively. Here there is a logical connection between the behaviour and the consequence.

I have been using natural consequences for a while to get into practice, even though Zane hasn't been old enough to understand fully so I have used my judgement for when to intervene as of course he is a toddler and thinks of here and now and doesn't have the capacity to think ahead to a different time and place, but I do. Today we have had a breakthrough and I have really seen how natural consequences work for us. Zane doesn't like to wear his coat sometimes and today was one of those occasions. We were going on a walk down the canal and it looked like rain was imminent but instead of forcing the issue and making him wear the coat which would result in a emotional meltdown because I wasn't taking his choice into consideration, I calmly and clearly said "I hear that you don't want to wear your coat right now, but I think that you may get cold later on so we will take it with us.  If you get cold tell me and you can wear it." Its a lot of words for a toddler to understand, but we have always spoken to him like an adult even though we don't expect him to fully understand, but it will all be stored and remembered for a later date.

So off we go on our walk, although it wasn't the nicest of days it wasn't windy and making it too cold. Zane was quite happy practicing his running and collecting leaves down the canal path to think about being cold, but I occasionally reminded him that I had his coat if he was cold, he was quite happy though, although I was cold and wearing my coat, I am not him and he might not be as sensitive to cold as me. After an hour or so he had slowed down and came to the pushchair and said unprompted "cold now, coat on mummy" whilst slinging his coat over his shoulder trying to get it on. Hearing this made me doubly pleased, firstly because he had made the connection between getting cold and putting his coat on, and secondly he had processed what I had said earlier and applied it to himself when he needed it. He was empowered to make his own choice and he felt free to change his mind at any point he wanted which I think is a good lesson in life.

So I have concluded from today's walk that instead of focusing on teaching kids a lesson and both becoming stressed and unhappy, you can focus on having fun and sharing joy, that's the desired outcome after all, the small stuff will sort themselves out.