::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.