Friday, June 27, 2008

This and that...

Reporting in to say that Trin passed her hearing test with flying colours so hearing loss is not the issue with her poor speech. We start speech therapy next week so hopefully she will make tracks soon!

Term has started again and Cait started that off with a no-show on the first day of school. As usual, she cried and refused to go to school. And I was stressing about it because I was in the office and she was carrying on like that at home. It was frustrating and maddening to say the least. Vivian was in town and happened to visit the poly that day and witnessed my pain. So she said (very sensibly I thought): "Look, she is doing all this because she wants some attention. So she calls and cries and you agonise over it. Don't give her that attention. If she does not want to go to school, fine. Stay home. Deal with it when you get home then."

I stopped to think about it and realised she was right. So I told Lolita not to push things - if she didn't want to go to school, let her stay home and I would deal with it.

So what did I do?

Well, yes I have to confess that my instinct was to reach for the cane and deal a few lashes of it. But that was in the heat of anger. When I had stopped seething, I decided to call her bluff instead.

So I went home and coolly told my recalcitrant daughter: "If you don't want to go to school, that's fine. I will take you out of school. Its as simple as that. You can stay home. But then that means you don't learn anything. And no matter how smart you are, as long as you don't learn anything or work your brains, it will get soft and lazy and forgetful. And that is not really all that smart isn't it? So all your friends in school, your cousins, will all learn more than you will. But its your choice. I leave it to you. Just let me know. Tomorrow if you don't want to go to school again, then I take it you have decided. I will just write Mrs Bheem your principal, a nice email to say you won't be coming to school anymore."

I stressed that what upset me was that her behavior upset all of us and makes it hard for us to do things we have to do - It was stressful and hard for Lolita to do her job - that is, get her off to school on time. Poor Lolita has to listen to the screams, cajole, persuade etc to get her going. And, I continued, "Your crying and calling me or daddy at work to say you don't want to go to school stresses us out in the office, especially when both daddy and I were pushing bad deadlines and we've got important things to finish in the office etc." So to make it easy for everyone, I ended, if she did not want to go to school, she should just let us know and we would respect that.

As it was also library night, she was grounded from the library to drive the point home that I was displeased with her behavior. But the next day, and in the days since then, there has been no trouble. No phone call from home at 11am to moan about school, no flustered call from poor Lolita, nada. She went to school calmly. And at the end of the day when she gets home, rosy-cheeked and messy-haired, she is cheerful and says, whenever I ask, that school is "Great!" or "Very fun!"

When she told me: "See mom, I didn't cry today! I went to school!" I kept my response neutral and bland - I did not want to praise her for doing something which she knows has to be done. I believe in praise when appropriate, but not over-praising either. And for something which I feel is really a non-negotiable issue, which she should know better about, I do not think praising is warranted. So I just kept my response to a non-committal "Hmm." or "Okay." Or I just smiled briefly.

This thing about praising children. Sometimes I think we parents go a bit overboard in our enthusiasm to build confidence, self-esteem etc through praise. We praise them for every little thing. Soon praise becomes common, over-rated and then the bar gets raised - how much more enthusiastically can we praise? And even when we praise, how specific are we? Like we say to babies who take a few steps or reach a milestone: "Good boy!"

Sometimes when I catch myself saying that I think: Gee it sounds like I'm talking to my pet dog!

I think we need to be a bit more circumspect, balanced and specific in our praise. So if a child puts the right coloured block in the right spot, I would smile and say: "That's right!" but I would not say stuff like: "Good boy!" or "So clever!"

And I certainly would not praise a child for being polite, or for choosing to do the right thing. Any approval would come in appropriate forms eg. If a child brought me a drink, I'd say "Thank you".
But I would not gush: "Oh that is so sweet of you! How wonderful of you to bring me a drink! That is so nice of you! Such a kind little girl!"

I take it that politeness, respect, honesty, courtesy etc are given behavior. And in Cait's case, I think we did it wrong earlier in the year. We catered to the noise. We gave in to the mollycoddle. We scratched our heads, indulged in all the angsting phone calls, pleaded, threatened, rewarded, praised, bent backwards to get her to go. What should clearly have been a non-negotiable issue from the start.

This experience has made me reflect on praise, on the value of praise, how its effectiveness, and on dealing with a child honestly, calmly and factually. I think when we leave the emo out of it, it becomes apparent that we're serious. So if I had yelled at Cait: "You don't want to go?? FINE! You're grounded for life! I'll take you out of school! Go on then, be a goondu why don't you!!" Honestly, how seriously would she have taken it?

So maybe its just better to be factual. But play the right cards of course - I knew which buttons to push. She was a high-achieving, perfectionist, approval-seeking, competitive sort. So she would not want to 'lose out' in any way. Might not work with every child, but I feel it works with Cait.

1 comment:

eelin said...

Good job! Food for thot for me abt my own ds's cries etc. Doesn't apply exactly cos he's a 4yo but i do think we've been mollycoddling a little too much. He was baby for 3+ yrs before no. 3 came n i wonder if we're still babying him. Like you said, maybe i'm thinking/angsting/reading too much. a little firm but kind direction might do it. i like the way you delivered it to cait.