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October 28, 2000

Raising Kelly

I just spent the last half hour listening to music on my laptop with Kelly. It was a curious mix, including Suzanne Vega, Leon Russel, The Pillows (FLCL) and the OP from Excel Saga. So we get modern anime soundtracks mixed with fringe pop rock and seminal Blues Rock giants. That is one of the advantages of having a five-year old. She is non-critical and enjoys anything (in small doses).

The reason we were listening to music (courtesy of Napster, don't worry, I own or will soon buy all the albums named), is that Kelly is not allowed to watch cartoons this Saturday morning. She is not allowed to watch cartoons due to a rule we have now. The rule is this:

Needless to say, Kelly did not get a good-behavior grade yesterday morning at Bridgeport. In fact, she had the worst blow-up that she has had in living memory. We started the cartoon rules because she was having some behavior problems, and the rules seemed to help. But Friday she completely lost it. Here's what happened:

In the morning, the teacher, Mrs. Wentzell, asked all the children to put away their art projects and prepare for the next segment of the class. Four of the students were too involved in playing to listen to her, and failed to put away their art projects. Mrs. Wentzell quietly picked up the artwork of those four students (and yes, Kelly was one of them) and placed it all in the trash.

Three of the students were dumbfounded, with slack jaws, witnessing the consequences of their uncooperative attitudes. But one walked defiantly over to the trashcan and retrieved her work. That was my Kelly. She screamed at Mrs. Wentzell, and proceeded to cry and scream some more when Mrs. Wentzell tried to correct her. They made her sit in a corner of the room, but she didn't calm down. They made her move to the hallway, but she continued to scream. She was sent to the office, where she drove everyone crazy. A visiting policeman tried to talk to her to help her calm down, but she would not be consoled.

Jean arrived to pick Kelly up, and ended up having a conference for a half hour with the teacher. So now Jean is upset, and Kelly is sitting in the living room with no cartoons until noon.

I'll admit she has great resources when told she cannot watch cartoons. She has been listening to tunes on my laptop, eating her breakfast, playing tapes in her little tape player, playing with her dolls. In other words, doing just fine in the absence of television.

In the meantime, I mull over what has caused her behavior problems. It's a pain in the butt being a parent, especially when you don't particularly want to be one anyway. Jean was the one who wanted a kid, but I committed to it, so here we are.

I grew up in a house where spanking as a form of discipline was an accepted way of life. Well, not accepted by me. Since we have had Kelly, we have never spanked her, and I am not about to start now. I have subscribed to the notions put forth in the book Parenting With Love and Logic, the basic principle of which is to let kids make decisions as early as possible, when mistakes are usually not too damaging. And let the child 'own' the consequences of their actions.

What this means is that I've been letting her decide what she has for breakfast on school days. The hope here is that if she gets hungry at school before snack time, she'll realize that she needed to eat more at home before going to school. But the morning of her blowup she ate very little, and that probably contributed to her problems. So in the spirit of letting her 'own' the consequences, we told her that for the next few months she was losing the priviledge of choosing her breakfast in the morning and that she would have to eat what we chose for her.

Another factor that might have contributed to her blow-up was lack of sleep. My wife observed that our usual pattern with Kelly is to start moving her to bed at 8:30pm. First Jean visits her, reading her a story, then I do. But generally, Kelly and I relate by play and goofing around, so she ends up getting worked up just before bedtime. So there's another switch in our routine. Kelly now goes to bed at 8pm (one half hour earlier), and I visit her first. Hopefully, that will help her to get more sleep.

A final factor that may have contributed to her blow-up: this morning she is displaying all the outward signs of a cold. If she was coming down with the inward symptoms (tired, achy, stuffy) yesterday morning, then that would have a big influence on her behavior. So we nurse the cold this weekend as well.

None of these factors excuses her behavior, in my opinion. And my own responsibility is not to be waved away either. The two steps of controlled diet and extended sleep are my attempts to take responsibility for my side of Kelly's blow-up. What this all boils down to is that parenting is hard. It would be easy to spank her for misbehaving, it would be easy to make every decision for her and have a perfectly behaved little doll. But I want her to be able to make good decisions at a very early age. Sometimes, giving her control means I overstep and give her too much. Then we fine tune.

I hope that we don't have to restrict Kelly's rights even further, though we made the dire hint in her hearing that if she couldn't learn to control herself, we might have to visit the doctor. And who knows what a doctor might want to do? Maybe vitamin shots! Shiver. So Kelly is motivated to learn self-control, and I am motivated to help her. I just need to find that fine balance between freedom and control that will let her grow up to make good decisions for herself.

Thanks for listening.

Posted by dpwakefield at October 28, 2000 09:27 AM