Strictness Can be Harmful

My husband’s always telling me that I’m not strict enough with the kids so I was pleased to quote this piece of Dr Spock advice to him:

Strictness is harmful when parents are overbearing, harsh or make no allowances for a child’s individuality

He says that he’s not suggesting permissiveness but rather the importance of being firm, consistent and FAIR.

I decide (much to T’s horror) that we’ll take the kids out to lunch to put the theory into practice.

These days we pretty much limit eating out to Pizza Express, where the kids can eat with their fingers and anything goes. But not this time- this time we venture out for roast beef….

Testing Times!

In the past, eating in nice restaurants has caused strife between me and T, as well as us and the kids.
He expects them to be able to sit still and quietly at the table whereas I know that to them the restaurant is a playground waiting to be explored. There’s no hope of them keeping their bottoms on their seats while they wait for their food to come.

Here’s what happened last time (You’ll see why T was reluctant to try it again!)

Mummy, I just need to see where those stairs go– says Ben

Sit down. You can’t go running around in a restaurant you’ll get things spilled on you.– I say

Oh no I won’t!– says Ben slipping out of my reach and knocking into a waiter carrying a drinks tray.

That’s it! T shouts jumping up

In the kerfuffle that follows we think we’ve lost Harry only to find he’s under the table in a ‘cave’.

I’m determined that this time will be different. We’ll be calm (but firm) and will get to eat our lunch.

I have a plan:

Dr S Advice: Set rules that take into account your children’s needs

My Rule: No running around the restaurant while we’re waiting for our food to come

Taking their needs into account:

After we’ve ordered, I’ll take the kids for a little walk around the restaurant to satisfy their curiosity and bring toys to occupy them while we wait for our food to arrive.

I’ll also tell them a story while they eat to make sure they don’t start jumping up from the table in the middle of the meal.

Reward: They can choose a pudding if they stick to the rules.

And the result:

I told the boys the rules before they were in the restaurant and again as soon as we sat down and although Harry did try to go into his ‘cave’ once or twice and managed to stick a piece of bread up his nose (whole other story) in the main we got through lunch and actually managed to quite enjoy ourselves.

Setting rules but making allowances for the kids needs worked well, though it did take a lot of careful planning.

Oh and the best result- we all got to eat our roast beef!

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Defining Discipline

I guess this is what it’s all about really isn’t it? Though based on all the experts I’ve read over the years I’d say discipline means different things to different people.

But what does it mean to Dr Spock?

Theory

Though punishment is a part of discipline…the true goal [is] to teach children the rules of behaviour-how and why to behave

Dr Spock takes a fairly flexible approach saying it’s important to understand why your child might be behaving the way he/she is and to make allowances for age, circumstance etc.

In Practice

Breakfast time is always a bit of a battlefield in our house- we’re normally running late, the kids are messing about rather than eating and the dog’s lurking waiting to grab what she can- if ever there was a situation needing strong discipline it’s this.

Here’s how it went this morning:

Harry take your hand out of the peanut butter jar, please.
Look, you’ve got lots of toast left on your plate. Could you come and sit back down at the
table? No, I didn’t say climb on the table; I said sit at the table.

I’m exasperated and ready to lose it. Stay calm I think, lay down the rules.

Harry, we need to eat quickly so we’re not late for school– I say

Harry looks at me and throws a square of toast on the floor for the dog. Ben laughs. Harry grins, delighted he has an audience to play for.

I need to be calm and reasonable but also FIRM.

Harry, it’s not OK for you to feed your breakfast to the dog, if you do there’ll be none left for you– I say.

I’m about to tell him again that we’ll be caught in all the traffic if we don’t get a move on when I’m struck by a flash of Spock inspiration. Harry doesn’t care about being late for school or traffic jams, that’s what I care about.

Think’, I say to myself, ‘what does Harry care about?’

Harry I say switching on the oven timer, if you finish your breakfast before the timer beeps you can have an extra five minutes play time before we have to go!

Harry stuffs three squares of toast into his mouth at once- SUCCESS!!!!! (though maybe I should work on table manners in my next post!)

So Let’s Start With Dr Spock!

I felt pretty excited as I sat down to read the first chapter of Baby and Childcare last night, are his old words of wisdom what I’ve been searching for? Will they provide the answer? We’ll see!

-He starts off by telling us:

‘you know more than you think you do…don’t take too seriously what the neighbours say’.

He could have been talking directly to me. I always second guess myself and am always in the group of mums at the school gates discussing our toddlers’ behaviour.

-He also says that our kids learn as much from what we do right as well as what we do wrong- that it’s ok to lose our temper sometimes, it shows them that we’re human.

-Tell them they’re making you angry he says; they’ll learn from how you handle it.

Great in theory but does it work?

As usual we were running late for school this morning and Harry refused to get dressed.

I was firm yet calm, as Dr Spock suggests, but the fact is you can’t reason with a three year old, especially one who’s decided he wants to go to school in his pyjamas (the fact that there’s snow on the ground right now did absolutely nothing to dissuade him).

I reasoned, cajoled and even tried to bribe him, but nothing would work.

You’re making me very cross‘, I said- as instructed by Dr S.
You’re making me very cross,’ he said hitting me on the head with a toy train.

We got there in the end, but it involved a lot of shouting on both sides and matters weren’t helped when we got downstairs, finally ready to leave, only to find that Ben was now wearing a Spiderman costume!

Dr Spock, Supernanny & Me!

Dr Spock:

Dr Spock revolutionised childcare when he published his book, Baby and Childcare in 1946.

It became so popular that apparently sales were second only to the Bible! So it’s pretty likely that our grandmothers followed his advice when it came to bringing up our mothers- sobering stuff!

Dr Spock was all about trusting your instincts- as parents we know best (if only!)

Supernanny:

Supernanny (A.K.A. Jo Frost) is a household name whose book shot to #1 on the NY Times bestseller list when it was first published.

She’s famous for her no-nonsense approach- who hasn’t heard of (and in my case struggled with) her ‘naughty step’?

Me:

I’m Victoria, a North London mum of two boys who know how to keep me on my toes- Ben who’s 5 and Harry who’s just turned 3.

And my mission? To find out who’s advice is best, who my children will listen to, because at the moment it certainly isn’t me!

The Challenge

Do you remember the Desperate Housewives episode where Lynette, frazzled and exhausted, bumps into an old work colleague as she meanders round the supermarket with her kids in tow?

How are you enjoying motherhood?-the colleague asks.
Best job I’ve ever had– says Lynette through gritted teeth as her toddler pokes a lollipop in her ear.

Truth is, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I totally get what she was feeling. Motherhood for me is one long monologue- or ‘mumalogue’ which neither of my children pays any attention to.

I flit from one piece of expert advice to another, trying to find the magic button that will turn my two monkeys into angels. The trouble is with so much advice out there from people claiming to know best, but actually often contradicting each other, it’s difficult to know which way to turn.

That’s why I’ve set myself a challenge:

To try out two approaches from two different time periods to discover the best way to get my kids to listen to me- and behave.

Over the next three months I’ll be following first the advice of 1940’s legend Dr Spock and then our modern day Mary Poppins, AKA Supernanny.

Wish me luck!