Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Long Stream of Consciousness Piece on Why I'm Happy With My Non-Compliant Toddler

The following is an un-edited stream of consciousness type piece, so bear with it! Sometimes it's just nice to write that way. 

Ever since Aias has been able to cognitively process the concept of having his own opinion, he's been exercising the ability to apply it.  I thought for sure I'd never forget the first time he said no to us and meant it, except for since then it has happened so often it's all a blur. At 19 months old one thing is for sure; we are in for quite a ride with this headstrong little guy.  You see, sometimes Aias doesn't want to do things a certain way, or even to do them at all, whether it's riding in the stroller, putting on shoes, going to a certain place, or playing with a certain object, toy or otherwise.  We try things like "redirecting" him or singing little songs, or sometimes just plain insisting he do something, but these things don't exactly work fantastically with him.  At this point in the game it's a bit too soon to be issuing effective time-outs or real discipline, so we simply choose our battles very carefully to avoid what we consider to be incredibly aggravating (and sometimes embarrassing) meltdowns that can result when Aias doesn't get what he wants.  Of course, there are some things you simply can't have as a toddler.  No matter how fun it may be to put metal prongs into an electrical socket or run into the street, we simply can't allow him to do these things... and so the battle will begin.  Furthermore, kids shouldn't always get what they want just because they want it, because you don't want to end up with a kid who's just spoiled and feels entitled to everything, right?

Now to move onto the topic of kids who are spoiled and feel entitled to everything, this past week the riots in Vancouver after the loss of the 2011 Stanley Cup have been a hot topic, and after seeing the pictures and videos myself, where the vast majority of rioters were young men, I asked myself (and my Facebook friends!) how I could best ensure Aias doesn't grow up to be one of those testosterone happy, out of control, and entitled, shameless young men.  I mean, running around shouting, breaking things, flipping things over-- these are some of Aias's favorite hobbies!  The answer I got on Facebook when I approached the topic was that I should instill fear into Aias to prevent him from acting out in that way.  I suppose what was meant by fear was fear of getting caught, fear of being punished, fear of those around him not loving him if he doesn't behave in a certain way, fear of his reputation being tarnished and/or his life ruined. Seems pretty simple, right?  All you need to do is make people fear something and you can control their behavior.  Maybe it would work, but of course, something about that suggestion didn't really seem right to me.  In fact, the more I thought about that strategy, the more it bothered me.  Do I want to be seen as someone who rules with fear?  Even more so, do I want a child that will behave in a certain way simply out of fear, rather than out of an inner drive of his own?

This past weekend we went to one of our local Attachment Parenting playgroups and the topic of discussion was "positive discipline."  I went to the meeting quite desperate to get some answers on how we could deal with Aias's behaviors and reactions to not getting his way.  When we arrived (late, due to a meltdown because Aias didn't want to sit in the stroller on the SkyTrain), there was a small crowd and the topic at hand was the past week's riot.  I brought up my question: how do I best ensure that Aias doesn't grow up to be like the rioters?  The first answer I got was this; I can't ensure it.  The fact is, people can praise or blame parents for a child's personality or actions all they want, but as parents we aren't magical shape-shifters and we certainly aren't molding humans out of clay.  It's nice to think all the great things your child does are because of your fantastic parenting, or that the not-so-nice things your child does are a result of some poor decision you made down the line that you could have changed if you had "done it right," but this is unlikely the case.  We are not able to make our children certain people any more than you can be given a seed for a tree and decide you want to grow an SUV out of it.  Instead we are given a seed to a tree, and we can either decide to plant that seed and then be neglectful of it by not giving it the sunshine and water it needs, or we can plant that seed, nurture it, give it the sunshine and water it needs and watch it grow up to be the best tree it can possibly be.  Beyond that, our hands are tied. 

The facilitator went on to explain that she understands how frustrating it is to have a toddler that is so headstrong and non-compliant; it's a lot of work and it can sometimes make you feel like you are going crazy!  She then went on to say that many people who have headstrong and non-compliant toddlers often find that their kids grow up to be less trouble as teenagers due to their ability to not bend to peer pressure or to simply go along with the flow because other kids are.  The more compliant kids that may be easier to manage as toddlers can sometimes grow up to be less trouble as teenagers, but they also sometimes bend easier to peer pressure and go along with the flow due to their desire to please.  This made me think of the rioters again, especially because as the days have passed many of the rioters have been revealed to not be what we would traditionally consider to be "troubled" youth.  In fact, many of the rioters have proven to be high achievers with many privileges and seemingly cushy upper middle class lives.  I can't help but wonder if these people stayed on the straight and narrow in an effort to please their parents and peers, but then the second the people around them were acting out, they followed suit in typical compliant manner.  Now of course, they are paying for their actions, but wouldn't it have made a huge difference if they'd have had the ability to say "hey, just because other people are doing something, doesn't mean I should. Just because this is what the majority of people here are doing, doesn't mean I have to do it too."  You see, if you only choose your behaviors because you are living in an environment of fear, what happens when the fear is lifted? During the riot so many people were participating that it stands to reason there was little fear of being isolated and caught.  People driven to behave and act with respect only because they are afraid to act otherwise out of fear of consequence, will often act differently if the fear is washed away.  The acts that took place at the riot were not the acts of people with an inherent respect or value for people or their community.  While many of them may have made it up to this point by leading an entirely compliant and socially acceptable lifestyle, it all crumbled to the ground immediately when the fear was lifted. 

I know this post is long and there are a lot of thoughts coming out here and there, but this exercise has made me a feel a lot better.  There are absolutely times I wish Aias would just be happy to do whatever we ask of him because it would make toddlerdom a lot easier. At the same time, I wouldn't want him to grow up to be that sort of adult, so why should I teach him that sort of thing at all?  Instead I want Aias to respect the people around him not because he's been scared into it, but because he sees the inherent value of it.  If he asks me why he can't or shouldn't do something, I won't offer answers such as "because it will disappoint us" or "because you'll get in trouble" or "because you'll be seen as a failure." Instead, I'll take the time to explain the real reasons.  Sure, it may be a lot more work, but I didn't sign up for this parenting role because I thought it would be easy.  At the end of the day, I don't want a compliant child that's scared of me. I want a child that is confident in his own ability to make decisions and the value of his own choices... even if at this age it only translates into him wanting to write on the walls with chalk or wear two different shoes.  Choosing your battles, indeed. 

In essence, I'll raise him not to fear me, but to know he should come to me and take my advice not because I'm a totalitarian dictator of his actions, but because as his parent who loves him, I'm his best bet. 

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