Monday, May 21, 2012

On Self-Expression, Sandwiches and Hard Bargains

It's a three-fer for parenting wisdom (or is it folly?) today...

Last week Wednesday, Kiddo and I were having an afternoon snack. We'd had a  great morning at the park with friends. All seemed well until suddenly Kiddo looked at me and said "Mom, I don't like myself."

Stab.  Twist

This is probably one of worst things a parent can hear a child say about themselves. 

I did what most super-responsive moms do: I wanted to fix it. Let's make a list of things you think you do well. Things you like about yourself. Is there something you want to learn? Is that what's troubling you, a sense of incompetence? Fortunately, I decided not to press the topic too much (admittedly, after making the list). However, the worry stayed with me as these sorts of worries do, dancing around like a crazy person in the front of my brain instead of hanging out in the back of my mind. 

So at night, after some stories and a nice cuddle, Kiddo was smiling again. "Are you feeling better?" I asked him.

His face changed. "I still don't like myself."

Oh, dear. "Well, what is it you don't like?" 

He paused and then sounded so bummed out. "Mom, I really don't want sandwiches anymore. I don't like when the teacher tells me to eat my sandwiches."

That was it!? Really!?

"So, if I said you never had to have sandwiches again, would you like yourself?"

"YEAH!"

It just goes to show you that they might be verbal and actually pretty good at self-expression, but they're still learning, aren't they? And Kiddo's getting a ploughman's lunch (bread and butter, hard boiled egg, cheese, celery or carrot and apple/fruit) for the rest of the year.

*****
Days like today, sometimes a little proactive bargaining via small, sporadic incentive can help immensely.

This is Week No. 3 of our taking care of Cute BabyGirl on Mondays. Cute BabyGirl is almost 7 months old and is a kick. She is also the cause of a bit of jealousy and hard times with my little guy, who sometimes uses arguing as a means to engage when I'm busy. 

This little routine started up again this morning, and so I got a piece of paper and drew ten small circles on it. Then I showed it to him. 

"There are ten circles on this paper." I pointed and counted each of them. "Each of these circles is worth one penny. Every time you argue with me, I'm going to cross off a circle. However many circles you have at the end of the day means that you can have that many pennies for your bank."

At first, it seemed that he was testing me, perhaps. We crossed off two circles in a couple of minutes. Then another. Then, I asked him to do something and he asked why. "It sounds like you are arguing with me, " I pointed out. "No, I'm not, " he replied, but he began doing the opposite of what I asked.  

"It looks like your body is arguing with me, so we cross one off." Mama's not budging on this one.

Overall, Kiddo made it to keeping five out of the ten pennies. The afternoon has been pretty pleasant. A couple of times I've just asked him "Oh, are you arguing with me?" and he's moved on quickly. 

After BabyGirl went home, we took ourselves up to the pizza parlor for a snack as a special treat for making it through a very challenging day.  Kiddo asked me for a quarter for the crap toy in the gumball machine. I've started a new practice of saying yes to him, but also suggesting that if he wants to keep the quarter instead to put in his piggy bank when we get home, that's also okay. It might be a better choice to save that quarter for something you really want. The last time we went, he put it into a machine that didn't give him a toy because it was mostly empty. That was just "oh, that's too bad" and I didn't go up to the counter to refund the quarter. He didn't ask me to, and I didn't offer.  Today, he tried the machine and got a crap yo-yo which he grew bored with almost immediately. I'm hoping these small lessons, a quarter at a time, will slowly grow on him*. He earned forty cents on Saturday, scrubbing a small patch of  moss off our neighbor's sidewalk.  Joe and I agreed that if he does go above and beyond with little jobs the neighbors might have for him, we'll happily subsidize this at a kid-reasonable rate. 

With all of this written out, of course, it occurs to me he's growing up too fast. Money-aware and getting depressed about sandwiches... all this makes me grow as a parent, too.

*Especial thanks to my sister Amanda, who turned me on to the idea of allowing our kids to make small, contained choices with their own spending money and to let them suffer the small disappointments of the poor choice now, instead of controlling their purchases. We've had some good choices too which he's been happier with. The one-dollar a week allowance is working out pretty well for us!

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