Friday, July 2, 2010

Tips to help parents assume the best intentions

This is another in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Dionna from Code Name: Mama. Today Dionna has written a guest post on tips to help parents assume the best intentions from their kids.

If you haven't read "Assuming the Best Intentions," the post Lauren (Hobo Mama) wrote for the Carnival of Gentle Discipline, it's a great read. She says
[P]arents sometimes wrongly ascribe negative motives to actions their children take, particularly as they grow older and seemingly more mature. There's a tendency to see misbehavior in any behavior that inconveniences us as adults.

orangutanI was reminded of Lauren's post when we were at the zoo recently. We had stopped to eat our dinner at a table by the orangutan exhibit. Our zoo has an orangutan family (baby, mama, papa, and surrogate grandma), and they were all out and active.1 The baby orangutan was being particularly silly — she had one arm on her mama and one arm on the enclosure. She swung back and forth, sometimes up close to her mama's side, where her mama would playfully swing her around, and sometimes she would swing the opposite way, turning around and upside down. It was incredibly cute.

A family stopped near our table and watched the same display, but I was surprised when the mom interpreted the orangutan's behavior completely differently than we had. Her preschool-aged son asked, "What are those monkeys doing, mom?" Her answer? "The baby orangutan is trying to bite the mom, and the mom is pushing her away."

That mother's assessment of the orangutans' play was an eye-opening example to me of how parents sometimes assume the worst out of their little ones. Now don't get me wrong, I'm just as guilty as the next parent at times of thinking Kieran is purposely acting like a hooligan just to see how far he can push me. But I do try to keep a few things in mind so that my temper doesn't get triggered as often or as easily as it could.

Tips for Keeping Your Cool and Assuming the Best Intentions

  1. Chalk it up to a learning experience: Try to keep that old saying about art in mind — "it's the process, not the product." When I find that something is annoying or frustrating, I am often only looking at the end result. For example, if Kieran is busy dumping all of his toys on the floor, I look at it and see a mess that will need to be cleaned. But he might have just spent 30 minutes delighting in the way different objects bounced on the floor (physics!). He might have dumped all of the blue bins, then all of the red bins, then all of the green bins (sorting/language + math development!). Every little thing a child does, he does for a reason. He is making connections in his brain, learning how the world works, discovering new lessons of life. Let him rejoice in those lessons; don't dampen his spirit.
  2. View it from your child's eyes: Children do not see things the same way adults do. Whereas I see a big mess on the floor that needs to be cleaned, Kieran sees a masterpiece of building potential. "Look at all of the things I can stack!" Or maybe he was looking for a particular toy, and he dumped with abandon — but he was practicing the skill of looking for something, and that is a success, too. Before you jump to any conclusions or make critical remarks of your child's play or behavior, take a moment to look at the many possible explanations — chances are your judgment will soften once you realize what your child is really doing.
  3. It's not a big deal: It's hard to keep in perspective that the box of rice your toddler just dumped on the kitchen floor will not ruin your whole night. But we can try. Remember, your child is watching the way you deal with problems and conflicts — she will model your reactions later. During a particularly challenging situation, try to repeat the mantra "don't sweat the small stuff!" Make sure your child knows she is more important to you than any inconvenience.

Like Lauren said, our children are worthy of our love and respect regardless of whether they are behaving exactly in the way we want them to. One way to help give them our love and respect is to take a breath and assume the best, even when it is inconvenient for us.

How do you assume the best intentions from your little ones? Help me add to these tips!

Dionna and family at Code Name: MamaDionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler.

Orangutan photo courtesy iwd on stock.xchng

1 Our zoo has "sunset safari" nights once a month, where they are open until 8:00p.m. Seeing the animals at night is always a different experience. If your zoo offers the program, I'd highly recommend it!


Anonymous said...

The other night my 2.5 year old decided her yogurt was really body paint. At first I was about to get upset, as she had just gotten out of the bath. Then I saw how much fun she was having. We had the chance to talk about the experience. Is it cold or hot? wet or dry? hard or soft? etc. Then a quick dip back in the tub and the "huge mess" was taken care of.
I had to ask myself, is this really a big deal?

TopHat said...

I once read that when a toddler smiles "mischeviously" and laughs after doing something "bad" it's not that they think they are "getting away" with something, but that they know that your reaction is different from theirs and they are trying to make sense of that. I try to remember that when my daughter "laughs at me" it's a nervous laugh, not a vindictive one.

shannon said...

When I was little, I was asked to clean the bathroom floor. I tied sponges to my feet and "ice skated" around while scrubbing the floor. My mom walked in prior to me being done skating/cleaning and I got punished in the traditional method of my parents. Now that I have a little one, he asks to help clean the floor. I spray the floor with an eco-friendly cleaner, and we ice skate around. When my mom comes over, she comments on how incredible our floor looks. I just smile.

Pocket.Buddha said...

Awesome post! This is exactly what I think about when people ask me whether or not my 9mo is a "good baby".

I know what they're really asking is whether or not he is a giant pain in my ass, and it makes me feel sad for them that they cannot appreciate my child for the human being that he is because they are so set in their definition of the human being he should be.

I am sure that as my son grows older the forms that this 'good baby/bad baby' distinction take will become more complex, and I will be saving this post for review as that happens.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

meaningfulmothering - I love stories like that. I think concrete examples really help inspire other parents to be more gentle when faced with their own challenges.
Today Kieran was in rare form - at one point he was bouncing around and started hitting my husband, once in the face. Tom started to get MAD, and I walked in and intervened before it could escalate. I asked Kieran what he was doing and he said, "I'm a raccoon, I'm hitting a tree!" And so I played along with him, but redirected him to hit the bed or the wall. He willingly went along with it, and there was no need to get angry. After we were done playing raccoon, we talked about the importance of using gentle touches with people.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Tophat - that is such a good point - our little ones' facial expressions might not match exactly what we are socially accustomed to!

Shannon- that rocks. Except you are a much bigger person than me, I'd totally tell my mom.

PocketBuddha - thank you! And I felt the same way when Kieran was a babe. The whole good baby thing is really irritating and will manifest in different forms as they age.

kelly said...

That makes so much sense! I wish I'd have heard that perspective when my kids were toddlers.

For our family, our journey into homeschooling then unschooling has helped me see my children as fully human, not merely sub-humans needing me to mold them like clay into convenient behavior. Sad to say most of our culture has not caught on to this. Our kids get praised often for their "good" behavior (i.e. convenient behavior for adults who don't want to make room/share for anyone they deem "less than", which also includes those slower than they, those infirm or disabled, etc etc). Many parents want the pat on the head, to take the compliment and feel good. Nevermind their children are getting so many harmful messages from this kind of thing (parental love is conditional, the needs of strangers in a restaurant are more important than a child's freedom, other people get to decide what you SHOULD do, you don't have rights until we BESTOW them based on merit, etc etc).

My husband and I are behind the learning curve on this as when they were babies we loved them dearly but did in fact parent them out of fear and the belief we needed to exert our will over them or they'd turn out "spoiled". I'm happy I've begun to learn a new way. We've given our kids more freedom, autonomy and respect and they are lovely people to be around (yes, even according to those strangers etc).

I'm glad for sites like these and parents like these who form the support for parents like us. Thank you!

Lauren Wayne said...

Thank you again to Dionna for sharing this enlightening and helpful post! I can tell it's meant a lot to people.

I love the stories everyone's sharing, too, and thank you to TopHat for that insight into nervous laughter. That's so important to remember, even when we're sure we know our little one has malicious intentions! I know I'm almost always wrong about that ;) so I really am trying Dionna's tips of taking a deep breath and looking for the truth behind the behavior.

Unknown said...

This is one of those posts that stays with you (in a good way) - I shared it with my husband too, and hope we are able to maintain this gentle perspective through the years to come. Thank you thank you thank you Dionna and Lauren!!!

Stephanie said...

I especially like point #3. Yesterday, my 3-year-old was swimming in our baby pool outside. I was sitting in a chair nearby. As she was playing, she managed to splash water all over my clothes! My first reaction was to be upset, but I quickly realized that it big deal. SO - I laughed, rolled up my jeans, and stuck my feet in the pool. :)

Amy Phoenix said...

Another collection of gems, Dionna. I always appreciate such reminders. Making assumptions about the behaviors of our children can lead us down a gloomy or joyful path or somewhere in between - we choose. That actually goes well for adults, too. :)

Thanks for stopping by the NPN Blog Hop. ;)

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