The Benefits of Art, Choices, and Discipline: Part II


Featured Picture Book

MORRIS THE ARTIST by Lore Segal

(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

MORRIS THE ARTIST is the story of Morris, a young boy who has been invited to his friend Benjamin’s birthday party. Morris, being a typical young child, was uncooperative. “’I want to paint,’ said Morris.” All he wanted to do is be an artist. But, his mother insisted that he go with her to buy a present and attend the birthday party. Morris selected a present at the store – the one he wanted, not one his mother suggested. When it came time for Morris to present his present, he gave a resounding, “’No!’” and tightly “… put the present behind his back.” He wouldn’t let go for anything, not even for eating cake or playing with toys. When he finally was willing to give the present, no one was interested, not Benjamin and not the other guests. Morris opened the present himself and began to show everybody what could be done with his present. “’This is so great!’” said Benjamin. After hours of fun, Morris’ creativity blossomed even more as he, Benjamin, and all the guests had the most colorful birthday celebration ever.

Parenting Thoughts 
Repetition

Dr. Mom:  Readers, this is your warning. MORRIS THE ARTIST inspires me to repeat several ideas that I have written about before. I am warning my regular readers, so they will expect those repeats when they come across them, and have them seem like old friends instead of boring TV ads. I also want to take the opportunity to say how important repetition is to really understanding and using any idea. Each time you hear an idea or use it, you do so a bit smarter than you were the last time you heard or used it. When you hear or use it again, you will be able to find some new twist that will make it make more sense and be easier to use. That’s what I invite you to do as you read this blog if you see things I have said before about children saying “no” and about ways to discipline. After all, this is a parenting blog, how could I avoid those topics for very long?

Repetition is just as good for parents (and all adults) as it is good for children. It’s an opportunity to think in deeper, smarter ways. It’s a reminder of what we know, but are forgetting. It encourages us to practice – the only way we can get better at anything.

Darling Daughter:  Unless you are in the car … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” <g> 

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Saying “No”

It’s a fact of life. Children say no just like Morris did about giving Benjamin his birthday present. What does it mean? What’s a parent to do?

You can insist they do what you need them to do, but you do not need to punish or criticize them for saying no or insist that they not use that word. A message that calmly tells them its OK to think for themselves, but they will still need to do what you tell them to will encourage them to develop a mind of their own and have the perseverance to get what they need.  Morris was doing a lot of thinking for himself. He wanted to create his own ideas all day through his art, and he made it clear he wasn’t going to do what someone else told him to do. Of course, in some instances, Mom insisted, as she should.

Here is something positive about saying no. It’s a sign that children (and adults) know what they need. They are beginning to think for themselves. It is true that they can be annoyingly persistent during this “no” stage, but we want them to be persistent and able to persevere, don’t we? For more about persistence, see “Grit.”

So, all of you parents that are in that “no” stage with your children, remember that the plus side is that they are practicing persistence. Unfortunately it is persistence at having their own way, and when they are so young it is important that we insist on our way for many things.

Reacting to “No”

What’s it like for you when a 2- or 3-year-old child shows you he has a mind of his own and his favorite word is “no”? Does it make you angry? Do you think, “He should have more respect for me? Saying no to an adult is not acceptable.” Or, afraid of what’s coming next, do you think, “I better give in, so there won’t be a tantrum.”

I always cringed.  I was partly afraid of triggering a tantrum while also partly feeling like, “Here we go again.” I would start imagining the uphill battle that was coming.  Knowing how much mental work it was going to take to “deal” with the no’s and get things to where I needed them to be exhausted me before I even got started.  I was not at the place I am now mentally as a parent.  It certainly is much easier now. I know what needs to happen. I am more confident in my decisions, and I know that setting limits and rules is actually good for Ezzy – or any child.  They may complain, but in the end they do prefer the structure. I also am confident and comfortable setting logical consequences and following through with them.  You only have to give the consequence once or twice and the child knows you mean business. They tend not to push the limits after that.

Dr. Mom: Yes, there’s a whole lot of “growing up” going on in our lives once we have children – both us and our kids. More experience as a parent helps  – just like in any job. Your comments should give all parents hope that things do get better over time. I remember when you were young. I would get to the point that I thought I was going to jump out the window (or hang you out a window J) because I couldn’t stand some “phase” you were in for one more minute. Then, I would wake up the next day and the “phase” would have passed. I think you somehow knew your time was up – no more could be tolerated.

Neither angry or “giving in” reactions are best for kiddos. When children say no, they are thinking for themselves. We all need to develop our own mind and know what we need. How good at that are you? I know plenty of adults who are so used to not thinking for themselves that they often end up in all sorts of situations that are bad for them. Or, they can’t make any decisions with confidence because they have denied what they need for so long that they truly don’t even know what they need anymore.

Seeing adults who don’t know their own minds and can’t look out for themselves is proof enough that we need to find ways to encourage children to learn to think for themselves and know what they want and don’t want – in acceptable ways, of course. This awareness on their part will be especially helpful to them once peer pressure comes into their lives. It will make them a better decision-maker. It will help them develop confidence in their ideas and determination for achieving their goals. Aren’t all these things you want for your children? One young boy called this being a “good chooser.”

How do we encourage them to know what they want and become a good chooser? Give them choices. Just remember that fewer options when giving a choice are better than many options and better than a non-specific choice. “Do you want carrots or celery for a snack?” is better than “Do you want carrots, celery, crackers or peanuts?” and better than the non-specific “What do you want for a snack?”

Cookies!

A very good reason why a non-specific question doesn’t work. You need to be OK with all options offered.

How to Say “No”

Learning how to say no is an important thing to learn. Remember the “just say no” campaign directed at teenagers? It was about saying no to drugs. That campaign was useless for kids who had already lived through their “terrible two’s” being punished over and over again for saying no.

Does this mean we should just let kids do anything they want to at these no-saying ages (usually 2-3)? Absolutely not. But, it does mean that we can insist on their doing what they are told while still understanding that they are beginning to think for themselves and showing respect for the fact that they have their own ideas.

We can allow the no “saying,” but not the no “doing.” We can tell them we will let them complain, but they still have to do what they are told. And, if tantrums are part of the reaction on their part, we can tell them we won’t let them hurt people or things while they are mad and frustrated. We can use our friendly muscles to hold them or move them in order to protect them and insist they do things like get out of a car or go in or out of a store.

Another thing I want to mention is the importance of our language. How we say things may seem like a minor thing, but it is surprisingly important. When giving directions to kids, don’t ask them – tell them. Don’t say, “Do you want to go shopping?” if the message you are trying to send is, “It’s time to go buy the birthday present.”

And, when we are giving a direction, don’t use “OK” at the end. “We’re going to the party now, OK?” This turns a statement into a question. Only ask a question like that if you are prepared to accept whatever answer you get. If you ask, “Do you want to go to the party?” you are saying its OK if you do and OK if you don’t. Next time you are in a group of adults and children together, listen for how many OK’s are at the end of sentences. Most of those times were intended to be directions but were turned into what I call marshmallow questions – soft, sticky and messy.

Guilty!  I still catch myself rattling off a list of stuff on the agenda (errands, plan for the day, etc.) and finishing with, “OK?”  It comes out spontaneously just like “um.”

So true. That is why if I could give parents only one piece of advice, it would be, “Work at being intentional.” Be aware of what you are doing and why. We parent from deep within ourselves, and that can lead to not always being the parent we really want to be. After all, we know more with each passing year, so it is OK for us to change our behaviors and get closer to the parent we want to be. I’m so glad you are investing in Ezzy and yourself by learning more and more. 

And then there is the “crooked no.” Think about yourself.  When was the last time you said yes when you should have said no? Did you agree to a job at church that you really didn’t have time for? Did you agree to help someone move, when you hadn’t had a day off work for two weeks? It’s actually a good thing to know how and when to say no. These “yeses” are what Jean Illsley Clarke calls “crooked no’s.”

A crooked no is saying “yes” when you really mean no. When you use one of these crooked no’s, it usually means you will end up never really doing what you said yes to or at least not doing it willingly or doing it well. Children do this too, and when we hear them doing it, we can challenge them and insist on a yes or no, straight answer. For example, when a child answers, “Will you take the trash out?” with “Later,” you can insist that he say yes or no instead of the duck-the-question answer of “Later.” It is much harder to deny your responsibility when you have given a straightforward yes.

The moral of the story is that there are respectful ways to say no. Say it straight. If you need to give kids directions, use a clear, straightforward statement and don’t end it with “OK?” And, don’t say yes when you mean no.

More Coming

We still haven’t talked about all the parenting ideas in MORRIS THE ARTIST. Be sure to check our posting on April 1 for Part III on discipline with consequences. Morris experienced some very clear consequences as a result of his no-saying. There is a lot there for us to learn.

See today’s Daily Parenting Tip based on our featured book.  Come back each day for another good parenting decision and how to practice it.

 Read All About It

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson

SELF ESTEEM A FAMILY AFFAIR, Jean Illsley Clarke

CONNECTIONS: THE THREADS THAT STRENGTHEN FAMILIES, Jean Illsley Clarke

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH, Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehofts

 Surf the Internet:
  • self-esteem
  • discipline
  • saying no
  • crooked no’s
  • overindulgence
  • grit
  • terrible two’s
  • perseverance
  • fear of child’s anger

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