Parenting on Track

My Little Praise Junkie

“Was I so nice to get Wyatt his lunch box?”
“Did I throw that ball just great?”
“Is this paper airplane so awesome?”

Rory wants approval. Specifically, she wants my approval, and I’m torn.

On the one hand, I buy my Parenting on Track guru’s take on praise: kids should learn to value what they think of their accomplishments, not just what we think. She suggests we turn questions like that back on the asker: “Do you think you were so nice? Did you like the way you threw it? Do you think the plane is awesome?”

But that doesn’t satisfy Rory. Sometimes she buys it–yes, she does in fact think the plane is awesome–but mostly, questions like that make her look sad and disappointed even now, months after I first noticed her quest for my rousing endorsement of every last drawing, letter or creation and began to temper my enthusiasm with encouraging her to consider how she herself felt about her accomplishment.

Praising Rory is dangerous. If i show myself to be impressed by the way she caught that firefly, we will need a Costco sized jar. Admire her printing on a sheet of paper, and by the time I’m done making dinner, I will have a full book of identically printed pages. She doesn’t just ask for my praise. She courts it. She craves it. I think she needs it.

But I’m struggling with those two downsides. I don’t want a giant jar of fireflies or a book of words that could have been Xeroxed from the first one, and I don’t want to have to cough out a repeat note of praise while she does either. Taking it even farther, I don’t want her to carry my farmer’s market basket. I don’t want her to stand in the kitchen to open the trash can for me when I need to throw something away, and I especially don’t want her to do those things, then ask me–isn’t she so good/so nice to do that? Don’t I “preciate” her?


Would she do this, I wonder, if I had been easier to live with during our first months together? If it hadn’t been so clear so often that I did not ‘preciate her? Is this still a side effect of my behavior, that she’s so glad she gets a big ole’ share of my love now but she feels like she has to do this stuff to be sure to keep it?

Or is it just adoption? Is this not about me (no!) but about Rory and only Rory and her need to be reassured? I’m really leaping here, but I’ve noticed that she’s really anxious lately–lots of hugging the dog and thumb-sucking, which I hadn’t seen in a while–and there’s nothing of note going on. School will end soon but hasn’t yet. We’ve had no guests, no trips, no big switches–oh, wait, we did move the beds around in her room, including her bed. But the biggest thing I can think of is that we are coming up on our two year anniversary. Is it possible that she feels it? I’d say the change in season and shift in school would cue it, but of course the seasons and schedules in China were not ours. I think it’s unlikely.

But still, I’ve got an anxious, needy praise junkie on my hands in a way that feels suddenly escalated from where we were before, and I’m not sure what to do. I want to give her the loving reassurance she needs, but I’m reluctant to do it on those terms. Instead, I’m fluctuating between pushing her requests back on her and falling right into them—because yes, it was so nice that she carried Wyatt’s lunch box. Even though I don’t want her to do that.

If only I knew what I want ME to do!

KJMy Little Praise Junkie
read more

Privileges and Responsibilities, Part 462 (or thereabouts)

In theory, our kids have responsibilities. And they do—they pack and unpack their own lunches, they each have a weekly chore, they’re responsible for cleaning up their toys and getting their laundry in the bin. And, of course, they have privileges. We feed them, right? And take them places. And periodically buy them stuff.

We’ve been having some trouble, Rob and I, figuring out how those things were supposed to be tied together. Surely if you didn’t do your responsibilities, something should happen—but what? We kept looking for consequences that were tied to the responsibility, rather than just a punishment. Fail to pack your lunch, and the consequence is obvious. But fail to put your breakfast dish in the dishwasher and—what? Mommy tells you do to it or does it for you, that’s what. I though maybe it could mean I carried your dish upstairs and put it in your bed, but I’d still be the one who washed the sheets. Plus, mice. Then I thought, well, what if you always eat at the same place, and it’s still there when you go to eat again? That seemed like a decent plan, but I’d have to live with a house full of messy dishes all day. And what if you don’t care? Just like it’s cool with you to leave Lego all over the living room, because, if you’re five, why not? If you had your own living room that’s exactly what it would look like.

Apparently we skipped a key moment in the manual. In most families, that’s a joke, but yeah, we actually have a manual. When it comes to this stuff, we struggled for so long to get some rules and consistency going that we now rely completely on Parenting on Track to tell us what to do to teach the kids the things we already know we want to teach them. We know how to teach them a lot of things about become the adults we’ve become, but some things elude us. “Why you should clean up after yourself if failure to do so doesn’t lead to a punishment” was one of them—until I read this blog post, from a fellow Parent on Track, and realized: all the privileges are tied to the most basic of responsibilities. The link doesn’t have to be clear. It’s more of a “you live in this house, you have responsibilities, and if you can’t manage them, we’re going to treat you like you’re too young to do anything” sort of thing. You just have to tie in something the kid thinks he or she is old enough to do. I can’t believe I missed this. I feel dumb.

(I also feel like I should be able to figure this out myself, but no. Left to my own devices, I either come up with dippy star charts and end up buying everyone cheap toys, or I just spend all my time yelling at them or punishing them. I can be a good parent on the upper level stuff, but this nitty gritty just eludes me.)

Here’s the result:

Behold, the Privileges and Responsibilities Board.

Here are Wyatt and Rory’s basic responsibilities:

Wyatt's are the same, minus the piano practice.

If they can’t do it, they can’t play video games on the weekend. They love video games, and they’ve been allowed to play on Saturday and Sunday. I hate video games (well, not for me, but for 5-year-olds, although I owe this one a debt for being the first thing that every bonded the faux twins in cooperation rather than enmity). I take them away at every opportunity. They’ve lost them in the past for video game related transgressions (say “no” when it’s time to turn it off or get caught playing it without asking, and the whole house loses it for a week) but I never thought to link it to the other stuff, and I can’t imagine why not. It clearly makes sense to them. They didn’t question this for a minute. I’ve been so blind.

Both Wy and Rory also have a special job this week. They need to stop making me crazy. But that’s a little unclear (and hard to measure), so we put it a little differently. In essence, Wyatt needs to stop picking on Rory, and she has to stop reacting to him as though she’s been shot. This is a huge and old problem. You could argue that as the initiator, he’s to blame, but you’d be wrong. This is a game only two can play. If Wyatt brushes by Lily too close or pokes her in passing, she either tells on him or blows him off. Rory throws herself into a wailing, drama-filled explosion of emotion. You’ll scarcely be surprised that he then does whatever he just did (call her poopyhead, blow a raspberry in her general direction, hit her stuffie) again, with even greater enthusiasm.

They initiated this show in the grocery store Sunday, and now they’ve lost the privilege of going to public places until they can go five days without engaging in this dynamic. For the board, I told them no fighting, screaming or crying in the car (which they’d stopped after losing the privilege of riding in other people’s cars, but are on the border of starting again) AND they need to treat each other at home they way they do at school—but they know exactly what it is I really mean. And there is no way they are going to have the Wii back next weekend.

As for the older kids, Lily’s dying to be allowed to sleep over at a friend’s house, so if she can meet her responsibilities for seven days (because she’s almost seven), she’s good.

Lily's Responsibilities.

I think she’ll probably lose the privilege of going to other people’s houses at all by throwing a raging tantrum soon, but for now, this is her goal, and watching Rory and Wyatt wrestle with their demons will spur her to temporary good behavior.

That leaves Sam, and he’s a problem, largely because Sam makes a point of never being the problem. The whole point of this is that the “privilege” isn’t a “reward,” it’s something you’ve shown yourself to be old enough to do, and so you can do it. Lily isn’t working for one sleepover, but for me to say “yes” to all sleepovers. Once the Wii is back, it’s back, unless responsibilities go down the tube. These are your most basic jobs. Do them, and the real reward is more and harder jobs. The board is a reminder, no more—which it already is for Sam.

Sam does most of his stuff (it’s the same stuff as Lily, for now, with way more homework). He doesn’t necessarily do it without being reminded, but he does it. Cheerfully. Without complaint. And he’s responsible, so responsible that many privileges, like that of being able to walk from the other kids’ soccer practice to a friend’s house and be trusted to come back on time, are already his. Neither he nor I could think of an age-appropriate privilege that isn’t already given him, and so although I would like him to learn to meet his responsibilities without a reminder, I don’t necessarily want to take any of those privileges away in order for him to earn them back to get there.

And I don’t want to invent another privilege, like additional TV time, or any computer time, or (I considered this) the right to control the iPod in the car, that he hasn’t asked for. I might consider letting him earn the right to download some new songs to the family iPod for the master family playlist (I know, in other families, at almost ten, you have your own iPod and playlist, but not in ours). But again, he hasn’t asked. I did ask him: is there anything you want to work towards? Anything you want? I even offered to consider working for a reward for the more difficult task of completing responsibilities without a reminder. He said “No, I’m good. I think I’ll just do them.”

So I’m not quite sure how to push him to the next level, or whether, given that soon it will be summer and many responsibilities, although not all, will go by the wayside, I even should. Now Sam has no number chart, and no pushpin to move towards a goal. He’s in the happy position of having everything he wants. It doesn’t feel quite right to me, but I think that’s because Sam has naturally achieved a state of zen that I still only dream of. Long may it last.

KJPrivileges and Responsibilities, Part 462 (or thereabouts)
read more

Can I Give Today Back?

What a day.

Let’s just say that the amount of crying that went on this afternoon was stunning, and that was before I told the kids that the (old) dog had (easily, I hope painlessly) died this morning. I have had better days. So, I guess, had she…

But (so I won’t start crying) back to the crying.

I told the kids this am that I would bring them home for an hour before soccer. We take Lily’s friend B to soccer, so that would be B, too.

But then Caddie died. And I didn’t want to tell them, and then expect them to go to soccer. Plus there was the B factor. She didn’t need to be here for that. So–change of plans.

Lily does not like changes in plans.

Lily howled, kicked, screamed, threatened, cajoled and demanded all the way from her school to the bakery where I planned for us to get a before soccer snack, while B looked on in shock and awe. She issued ultimatums. She declared that she would die if we did not go home. In short, she LOST IT.

And I did nothing.

I wanted to do stuff. I wanted to scream back, stop the car, punish, punish, punish! This was disrespectful! She cannot act this way! She will think she can always act this way and never ever get anywhere in life or make friends–look how B was staring at her! She is SIX! Unacceptable! But there was B. And Rory and Wyatt had soccer, too. And Caddie, I might add, was still dead, and if we went home in any way, even as some sort of call Rob and get him to take everyone else to town and to soccer kind of way, there would be that to deal with. My options were pretty much: a) lose it myself, then get on with afternoon as planned and b) ignore her totally.

Fortunately I found a radio station playing Fascination (that 80s one, all techno and retro–“and so the conversation turned…until the sun went down…etc.). And I managed to completely pretend it wasn’t happening. For twenty minutes. When we got out I asked if she would like to put the money in the meter. She would. And that was that.

I probably wouldn’t have managed to do nothing and let her have it out with herself, except that I was forced to. But it was excellent practice…because Mimi gave Wyatt a ride home in her car with Wy’s buddy T, and all the way home–please note that B was still in the car–Rory screamed. “I want to go Mimi car! I want to go Mimi car! I …WANT…GO…IN…MIMI’S…CAR! (If I could make that last CAR! even bigger, I would.)

It was way harder to do nothing now. I did let her know I got her–you know, I hear you, it’s hard to let Wyatt ride in a friend’s car, it is disapointing that you didn’t get to go—because this is different, Lily’s was pure tantrum. At least Rory had a reason to feel bummed.

But it was another 20 minute ride. And this time I didn’t want to punish. I just wanted her to STOP. I wanted to pull over and say, fine–find Mimi’s car, then! Ok, you can’t, right? so just stop SCREAMING! I wanted to refuse to go until she stopped. I just wanted to bang it into her head somehow that no matter how may times she said it (I estimate 127) it WASN’T GOING TO HAPPEN! It wasn’t even up to me. There was nothing I could do. And Mimi and her car were long gone! Fury, Fury, fury. I have always hated their illogical tantrums the most. Lily’s made twisted sense, I could have done what she wanted, I just wasn’t going to. But this–THIS IS CRAZY!

But I didn’t. Not one word, not one shout.

Lily said “Mommy, Rory’s not behaving nicely in the car!”

And B just kind of sat there, stunned.

Tomorrow pretty much has to be better, right? But I’d feel so much worse about today if it had gone like this day. So there’s that.

KJCan I Give Today Back?
read more

What Lily Does on a Rainy Day

Crafty Lily

Originally uploaded by kjda

Lily has crafty instincts in more ways than one. By all rights, today should have been soccer. Normally, we play soccer in the rain around here. We do not let a little 50 degree weather or drizzle stop us! In fact, we have, and have had since Sam was this age and playing in this particular soccer (a spring fundraiser for the Dartmouth men’s and women’s soccer teams), special soccer gloves.

Well, they’re not really special soccer gloves. They’re stretchy gloves, the kind you get at the dollar store, that say “soccer” on them. But around here, that makes ’em special soccer gloves.  And they were ready to go today.

But the field was not. The field was wet and muddy after a long day of not-exactly-drizzle style rain (although not really ark-worthy, either) and I was pretty happy to see the email cancelling (all of two hours before we were supposed to go, and whether that’s because everyone in the world is supposed to have a mobile phone, or because the given assumption here is that a parent will be the one taking you to soccer (not actually a mom, it’s probably about 80-20 with soccer) as opposed to a babysitter or a carpool, I don’t know. Last week, it was indeed a babysitter taking Lily, Wyatt, Rory and Lily’s buddy B to soccer. But this week, it was me. Or would have been. And I was all revved to sit in the damp and cold and watch! I totally was! I was not even thinking of bagging and spending the afternoon at home, because what kind of an example would that set, to let a little wet stop you when we have special gloves and everything!

But they cancelled. And Lily, Wyatt, Rory and B entertained themselves, with no help from me, all afternoon in the basement. I was working on something, and I could hear Lily’s dulcet tones drifting up periodically through the heater vent.



“But when I ask you to do something I expect you to DO IT!”

I do not know where she got that last one, not at all.

But eventually, after B went home, Lily emerged with three “backpacks” made by her, her pile of felt and her fantastic little low-heat glue gun (which it occurs to me I should go make sure is unplugged). This one’s hers, and she’s pretty miffed that her homework folder won’t fit in it.

Crafty is Lily’s thing. She’ll scrapbook any time I’ll get the stuff out:And who can forget her Valentines? Certainly not her classmates. Or, probably, their parents. We don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying that she’s not sufficiently creative.

But what I do worry about is that they’re not really getting the hang of this whole “contributions” thing–which around here we call jobs. Indeed, everyone has jobs–the personal jobs of packing and unpacking one’s lunch daily, and putting one’s own things away, and one’s laundry, etc., and the larger job–dinner helper, say, or trash-taker-outer. And they do do these jobs, without a WHOLE lot of complaint–but only if reminded. And kind of slapdash and half-assed. We are often so busy that on some nights there really isn’t time for jobs, or even to do your own lunch, and it seems to me that on the one hand, they need their sleep. (Because it’s healthier for them, and they’ll do better in school. Really. It isn’t because if they’re still awake after 8:30 I begin to slowly start plucking out my own eyelashes.) But on the other hand, they should know that some things, you have to do know matter what. And they should know how to do the things, and not be completely stymied by the idea of figuring out how to wipe a counter with crumbs on it without resorting, minutes later, to the vacuum.

So tonight presented a good opportunity for that form of training. Plus we have ants, which, history suggests, will soon be followed by the fruit flies (must be Spring!) both of which always inspire in me great heights of clean countertops and even greater use of bleach wipes and whatnot. And tomorrow, which features only one brief activity for one child and should have us all home shiny and happy by 4:45, could be another! We could go on, actually managing to have the kids actually do what are meant to be daily chores!

Until next week….

KJWhat Lily Does on a Rainy Day
read more