Thursday, December 6, 2012

Listening Ears

When I was a teacher, I always carried "extra listening ears" in my pocket. Of course these were pretend listening ears but if a student was having a hard time doing what he/she was told I'd say, "Uh-oh! You must have left your listening ears at home! Well you are in luck because I have extras." Then I would pretend to pull something out of my pocket and toss it to them. Luckily I taught pre-K and K so the kids were happy to play along and the best part was that it usually worked.

It is no secret that we fully intend to follow a respectful and gentle model of parenting but that does not mean that we plan to be permissive. When we make a rule or decision, Ayden will be fully expected to do as he is told, or as my teacher self would have said, "use his listening ears." He will challenge his limits, as all children do, and our job as his parents will be to stick to our guns. If we choose the battle we can't waver or that will send the message that we might always waver. As a 10 month old, Ayden doesn't yet have very many rules, and we typically use redirection to keep him out of trouble; but he does already have a few consistent expectations: 

1) Sit when in the bath
2) Sit when in the grocery cart
3) Eat your food (or keep it on the tray) - he tends to throw a lot of it on the floor.

"You want me to do what? Why? Oh because it's safe? Okay..."
The first two are obviously for safety reasons and we feel they will be good habits to form from the start. We enforce them by saying, "Sit down, please" in a calm but firm voice paired with us physically sitting him back down. Once he is sitting we say, "Thank you! You are sitting!" in an excited voice which usually gets a smile from him (a little bit of proof that positivity is more attractive to baby ears). Our consistency with this has paid off because starting yesterday, we were able to remove the physical guidance. In other words, Ayden has sprouted listening ears! He has consistently sat down every time we have asked him to over the past two days. This is huge! He totally stands back up whenever he wants but that is to be expected from a 10 month old. We are just excited that he seems to be understanding simple requests.

Now rule 3 needs a lot of work. We have to put both pets up during every meal because they hover around him, waiting for the drop, which he loves so it only encourages him. We have noticed that he tends to drop food more when he is thirsty or finished eating so we are also working on the signs for drink and, of course, all done.  He shows us all done after we ask him if he is but he does not yet do either sign on his own. Time, consistency, and patience are what will set us up for success.

As parents, or any caregiver/teacher for that matter, before establishing a rule, expectation or consequence, it is a good idea to give it some thought first. Ask yourself these questions:

- "Is this something I will be able to enforce EVERY time?"
(Giving in even sometimes, aka intermittent reinforcement, will make testing limits that much more tempting. Think slot machines.)

- "Will I REALLY follow through?
(In order for children to respect that what you say as "the final word," avoid empty threats.)

- "Why is this important?" Simply because they might ask.
(and "because I said so" doesn't count. If there's no real reason then don't waste your energy choosing that battle.)

This first year as a parent has had a lot of blind territory but I can feel that we are venturing into some very familiar and comfortable territory for me when it comes to shaping and modifying behaviors. I have been waiting a long time to use all of my knowledge and experience on my own children and the time is near. Call me crazy but I am looking forward to the challenge!

What is your secret to shaping well behaved, well mannered children?


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