Today’s word of the day: Flexibility!

::warning:: discussion of parenting techniques to come. I know it’s a hot-button topic and may be controversial.

Before I was a parent, I could have clearly told you my views on parenting.  I could have told you my philosophical ideals of promo.ting attac.hment, pos.itive reinfor.cement, and redir.ection.  I spent my academnic years doing research on the benefits of contingent reinforcement and how it trumps the effectiveness of punishment.  I would have told you that according to my research and education, bribes paled in comparison to teaching real-world conse.quences. 

And then I became Sprout’s foster mom.  Lots of hugs, kisses, positive touch and words, my attachment parenting background served us well in helping him feel safe, loved, and at home.  I’m not taking all the credit, because I know much of the success we’ve had with bonding is due to his resilience, but as far as attachment goes, I think we are doing pretty well. 

However, as the attachment grew, so did the temper tantrums, talking back,  sleep issues and a variety of other non-desirable behaviors.  At first, I responded as I had been programmed to do: ignore the bad behavior and reward the good.  Keep inundating him with love and positivity and at some point he will naturally adjust his behavior to fit into our family.  But the behaviors were escalating and parenting Sprout was getting overwhelming for all involved.  I began to feel as though all my years of preparation were failing me.  I’ve used these techniques on so many children before, why wasn’t it working now? 

Giving it more time was not an option; two exhausted moms and a child out of control was leading us right down the same road that his previous caregivers had found themselves on which ultimately ended up in their inability to parent him.  Sprout has been in three different homes in the past three months and we are determined to keep him from getting to number 4 (unless number 4 is his bio mom’s, since thats the goal, afterall).  So, A and I sat down and she expressed concern with the lack of consequences in our current plan.  Being more of a traditionalist than I, she proposed we implement warnings, time-outs, and a bit of modified CIO (have I mentioned bed time was starting to take up to 2 hours??).  So we chatted for a bit and came up with ‘The New Plan’. 

The New Plan combines much of the old, with some new.  It feels a bit like a tough love approach.  Plenty of ‘I love you’s’ and cuddles and smiles and hugs.  Clear expectations for behavior that some might consider pretty strict.  We still try for redirection, but if it doesn’t work, we have a 3 minute “break” following a warning when behavior is not acceptable that always ends in a hug.  Stickers can be earned.  And this is a biggie: only one trip up to his room for cuddles and a hug after bed time. 

You know what? I think it might be working!  There has been a notable decrease in the tantrums, yelling, talking back, mean words to A, ect.  We managed to get out of the house yesterday and had our first public outing without a meltdown (before yesterday, every.single.time. we left the house w/ Sprout there was crying or a meltdown of some sort).  Also, bed time was amazingly smooth last night! 

Possibly more indicative than any of the above is that his nightmares/night terrors have all but disappeared.  Last Sunday we noted in Sprout’s behavior journal that he had 5 night terrors in which he would wake up screaming,  sweating, and terrified.   This Sunday he didn’t have a single one.  Slept through the night and happily reported to me this morning that he “slept very well!”

Maybe its a fluke.  Maybe “The New Plan” will be out the window next week and a “New New Plan” will be implemented, but I’ve learned the valuable lesson of flexibility.  The lesson of parenting to the child, not to the book.  The techniques and ideologies that are out there aren’t mutually exclusive nor do I need to subscribe to one over the other.  I still believe in attach.ment parenti.ng philos.ophy, and may use it in the future for him and other children, but that wasn’t exactly what Sprout needed right now.  What he needs is a caregiver that can adapt and modify regardless of previous expectations – I hope with all of my heart that we can be what he needs.

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6 Comments to “Today’s word of the day: Flexibility!”

  1. Wow, good job! I think the primary job skill required for parenting is the ability to learn on your feet. You’ve had to do that and then some, starting out with a three year old. I hope The New Plan continues work wonders for you all, and if it doesn’t… well, I’m sure your New New Plan will be just as lovingly crafted!

  2. Glad the new plan is working. My mom a montessori teacher for many years feels like children need firm boundaries and consiquences. Time out works and when they know what will happen I think kids will choose the right behavior. Sounds like sprout likes and needs these boundaries. I had to have my time outs on the steps because it was removed from everyone but still in sight of my Mom. Also there was nothing to do on the stairs. Having limits for sprout will give him the routine and security he needs. In his world things change all the time which is very scary. I am sure there will be rough days but I am sure spriut will continue to do better and better as the longer he stays with you. Good job mommies!

  3. Great job! I never knew how much my thoughts on parenting would chnage until LMC came along. It’s okay to revise as long as everyone feels good about what you choose to do and it helps. I’m so glad the night terrors have ended, they were horrible for us. LMC used to thrash in her crib so much she had bruises on her legs. I hope things keep improving. Holler if you need to talk, vent etc.

  4. I think your last sentence really sums it up: “What he needs is a caregiver that can adapt and modify regardless of previous expectations…” You are responding to your child as an individual and not as a “child” in general, and that makes you a great parent!

  5. I have learned the hard way that “the book” isn’t always right! My thoughts changed quickly when my son was aroud 2 years old! Now that he’s 15 and we are foster parents, the things I had to do with him have come in handy… learning the “tough love” way of parenting works way better than just positive reinforcement. Now that my kids are older, that “tough love” has turned into natural consequences. And boy, do those natural consequences bite! They don’t always work and sometimes we have to improvise, but I’ve completely changed my way of thinking!!

  6. I hope this works for you. We use the more traditional count downs and time outs. We often take a break, but sometimes the crazy just comes out and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. The one thing we try to never fail in is “I love yous” and hugs. There can never be enough hugs for a broken heart, can there?

    Please keep passing your secrets on. Sprout and Simeon are almost exactly the same age, so any advice you have to share would be much coveted. My friends who say that it’s just his age have no idea!

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