Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Flexibility and Empathy: Chapter 5 of No-Drama Discipline

So here we are for the penultimate post about the round table read of No-Drama Discipline being hosted by Natural Parents Network.

In case you've missed the first posts (both here, at NPN, and over on Code Name: Mama) I found the book trailer! It's worth a watch, for sure.

So I'm going to talk about two of the topics they cover in this chapter: empathy and flexibility. I have long felt there's an empathy deficit in the world. Too many people are so focused on what they want that they fail to see what is needed for the person in question.

(Sidenote: One of my favorite posts ever about hospitality and empathy comes from Jana Riess writing for the Religious News Service - don't let that deter you - entitled: Everything I Need to Know About Hospitality I Learned From Molly Weasley. It's full of spoilers so don't read it if you haven't read the Harry Potter series yet, but this is the gist: her son brought home an orphan and she treated him as *he* needed to be treated, which was different from her own children. And within her own children, each was treated according to their needs and unique personality. She modeled empathy and flexibility for her children.)

From the book:

"The more we give kids the opportunity to consider not only their own desires, but also the desires of others, and practice making good choices that positively impact the people around them, the better they'll be at doing so...A collaborative and respectful redirection [is] worth the effort and extra time." p.139

Checking out the instructions

Here's an example with my 2.5 yr old: we purchased a 4billion piece LEGO set last year. When completed, it would be a Winter Village and part of our Christmas decorations...and let's just say that the "expert" label wasn't lying. We pulled out the instructions, opened the 50 bags as needed, and sorted pieces into neat piles by color. We used various prep bowls and empty yogurt containers to contain the piles. Baz and I would look a few steps ahead, collect what was needed into a ramekin, and pass it to Steve, who would assemble. Walter, who didn't intuit a job for himself past sorting by color, starting undoing the sorting, pushing pieces off the table, and generally being a pain.

Option 1: throw on a movie for him to zone out to while the "big kids" assembled the LEGO.
Option 2: scold, scold, scold.
Option 3: give him a job.

Not Sorting.

We settled on Option 3. His new job was to take the particular needed piece from the waiting ramekin and hand it to Steve - where he would either help press it onto the other pieces or he would reach for the next piece.

It seems like a small thing, but we all know parents who wouldn't have seen a place for the youngest child and would have tried to distract and then scold when the distraction didn't work. The bonus is that the next weekend, when we picked up to finish the assemblage, he also picked up where he left off - this time without the preamble of mess-making. It doesn't take a Master Empathizer to see that he just wanted to be included, the trick was finding the age-appropriate way to include him. It was an instance where we succeeded.

So...flexible consistency...or as the French call it: The "cadre" (frame)

"Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of then and what they should expect from us. Rigidity, on the other hand, means maintaining an unswerving devotion to rules we've set up, sometimes without having even thought them through, or without changing them as kids develop." p 147
"Rigidity is about...fear-based parenting...parenting with a goal of reducing our own anxiety and fears, rather than what will best teach our child's emerging mind and mold the developing brain." p. 149 

Flexibility within the consistency removes your fears from the equation. The fears they're talking about here are the ones that worry any single indulgence will lead to a slippery slope of bad habits (cue the people who tell you not to hold the baby too much, or co-sleep, or let them indulge in a snack...I could go on and on...) without realizing that if you allow a bit of crazy now that doesn't mean you allow it always.

Helping Daddy on the second day of assemblage

Flexibility acknowledges that accidents happen. It allows for the occasional loss of temper. It allows for boundary pushing. It allows you to see that the reason your 2 year old is throwing LEGOs on the floor is simply because he want to be included. Flexibility gives space for the parent and child to talk about why it's not ok to throw pieces, and what would be a better activity.  Rigidity sees only the LEGOs on the floor and reacts to that infraction. Rigidity allows for no discussion, only consequences.

So your Goal is to be consistent but flexible. Empathize with your child to all your to better understand where he's coming from, and work together to find a solution that works for everyone and sets up the framework for the next time that situation occurs.

And seriously, folks, every parents and/or caregiver should read this book.

Finished Product. Not pictured: Santa's Sleigh (not part of the set.) 

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