There has been an incredible transformation in our house since my last blog entry.
The TV has hardly been on after school - although our son is still wedded to his computer games- and my daughter and I have found other things to keep us busy. We've been to the park after tea, we've been swimming, cycling, entertaining friends for play dates, playing "Sorry", and one evening last week the kids went to the driving range with their Dad whilst I was working away.
The net result is that the kids are far more engaged, with us and with each other, and, especially in the case of my daughter, far more articulate and mature.
She's only five, but actually my daughter's at the age where as a mother I have to encourage her not to behave babyishly any more.
Prior to our conscious efforts to spend more time with her rather than relying on electronic media to entertain her, she was routinely behaving as if she was still 2, frequently reminding me that "I'm your baby, Mummy".
Kids frequently get a bum rap for "attention-seeking behaviour", as if they do this on purpose, with no other reason but just to make life hell for the adults around them. We can always choose how to respond to this. Either we can react impatiently, and perpetuate the mistaken thinking that kids are indeed out to get us, or we can get curious about why they are behaving in this way. Kids seek attention because they are missing something from us - either a feeling of comfort, or because they are ready to learn something new.
My daughter's babyishness I now recognise was both of these things. It's the only way she knows to demonstrate that she needs me. She wants me to respond to her in a particular way, to give her reassurance, and also to show her the way to grow up.
Little did she know that this behaviour was actually "turning me off", and causing me to back off from her and react impatiently, giving me cause to retreat ever deeper into my own world of distractions. I guess this is the viscious cycle that it is easy to fall into, such that parents develop a misconception about their children's behaviour and what it means. What I needed to do was wake up and get curious.
By paying attention to what our children's behaviour is really about we are instead able to respond in a way that is far more appropriate for both of us. In my daughter's case we both needed to learn something new about each other - I needed to learn that her babyish tendencies were actually a cry for attention, while she needed to learn that it's time to grow up, and I can show her the way.
Showing her the way has involved taking on new habits, and breaking a few rules.
For example, the rule that floats generally around young children, that they need to be in bed early, eight o'clock at the absolute latest, really needed to be broken in our house. This is because my daughter was neither tired enough nor secure enough to say goodnight to us so early, particularly in the light nights of June, and especially if all she'd done since she came home from school is watch TV, pick at her tea, get shouted at, watch more TV, then get impatiently packed off to bed.
It is truly shameful having to admit to all this, but really in my daughter's world this is what was happening. No wonder she didn't want to eat her meal at tea-time, nor go to sleep at bed-time.
Breaking the early bedtime rule has meant that we're more open to doing more activities after school and into the evening. School finishes at 3pm, there's still a good six hours left of the day, which are desperately difficult to fill if we've got an unbreakable set of rules in our mind about getting our kids to bed early.
Likewise, the rule that I'd made up about feeding my kids fresh home-cooked food every day has also had to be relaxed in the face of spending time having fun after school. Don't get me wrong, feeding our children properly is still high on my agenda, but not at the cost of leaving them in front of the telly while I concoct in the kitchen.
My daughter has been much happier on a diet of fish fingers, hot dogs, omelettes and "time with Mum" than she ever is sitting at the table in front of lentil bolognese or roast dinner. Sometimes we need to recognise that our kids need a different type of nourishment than just food.
Of course the other spin off benefit of all this is that when the kids do eventually go to bed they sleep much better, with fewer requests for yet more drinks of water, night lights, trips to the loo, or making sure that the dream -catcher is hanging straight, or that the house spider (which has become a pet) is safely in its corner.
Kids are past masters at making up all kinds of excuses to bring us closer to them, to help them feel secure and comfortable. The trick is to recognise what lies behind these tactics, and respond to what our children are really needing, in a way that works for everyone.
The postscript to this has got to be "be flexible". Because my husband and I both work from home this can be both easy and hard. Easy because we're our own boss and needn't work to strict "office" hours; hard because it's much more fun to be with the kids, so sometimes work doesn't get done when it should. As with everything there has to be balance, and an open mind about breaking rules, especially ones that we may have created for ourselves.
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