I love Amanda from New Mom on the Blog. When I sent out the call on Twitter that I needed help in November with guest posts, she was one of the first to volunteer. I love her recent post on buying a minivan – I can relate!
And I LOVE that everything she learned about parenting she learned in college. Not everyone can boast that! Like me, for example, having studied English Literature and partying.
No matter how much I tried to prepare for the challenge of parenthood, I still found myself on that first day home from the hospital in a deep panic of utter cluelessness. Eventually, I found my rhythm. Eat, sleep, poop, change. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But then that little person I spent the last year feeding and changing starts to show a sense of individuality. Increased ability to move independently and a virtually unquenchable curiosity have begun to motivate him to get himself into trouble and fast. For me, this change seemed to happen overnight. Congratulations. Your sweet eating, sleeping, pooping baby is now a toddler.
There is no manual for discipline or redirection. Sure, there is an industry that builds itself on telling you how to be a “good” parent, but I sincerely didn’t have time to read up on all of the material available. So what did I do?
I trusted my instincts. And by “instincts,” I mean I went back to the semesters worth of training in behavior modification I endured as part of a degree in a health care profession. And there began the start of my “parenting style.” Basically, everything I knew about being a parent – I learned in college.
On active ignoring. Toddlers are known attention seekers. Strike that. People are known attention seekers. However, toddlers tend to go at greater lengths to gain that attention. Well, unless we’re talking about the cast of Jersey Shore. At any rate, it was during one of my first clinical experiences when my client threw himself onto the ground and began belly crawling across the classroom that I learned the art of active ignoring. Ignore the behavior that is warranting attention, but keep yourself and the “perpetrator” safe. Eventually, they will realize the negative behavior is not being reinforced and grow bored.
On positive reinforcement. You don’t have to prove to me that punishment doesn’t work. Research and my own clinical experiences have proven that to me a million times over. However, only focusing on positive reinforcement also doesn’t elicit any change or growth. Research and my own clinical experiences have proven that to me as well. I heard it said best in a seminar I attended in which the facilitator used learning how to knit to explain his stance on positive reinforcement. If you handed someone a set of knitting needles and positively reinforced them any time they moved the knitting needles in the correct direction, they would likely never learn to knit. Positive reinforcement is awesome for your children and their self esteem, but something has to elicit change and growth as well.
On asking questions and giving choices. Providing choices to children can help them to build a sense of mastery and self-confidence. However, I learned in my Introduction to Music Therapy course the importance of phrasing questions. During a simple role play, I asked “Do you want to play the drum?” to my pretend client. My “client” responded, “NO.” Guess what? I had nothing else planned. But, since I provided my “client” with the choice, there was no turning back. I had to terminate my session only two minutes in. From then on, I was always careful to word my questions in a way that would not provide an opportunity for a negative response and made sure when providing choices to make sure both of the choices were acceptable. My favorite example of this that parents do ALL of the time is, “Don’t you want to share your toy?” Trust me, the answer is always a resounding “NO.”
On classical conditioning. I’m not sure there is a single college major that doesn’t have Psych 101 as one of its requirements, but I have to tell you, my best parenting technique came straight from that class. Psych 101 should be required training for new parents. Why? Children absolutely thrive on routine and one of the first things you learn about in 101 is how to condition behaviors through routine. From day one back from the hospital, my husband and I have had an almost ritualistic bedtime routine. We do things in the same order, read the same books, and listen to the same lullaby music. My son has an almost Pavlovian response to the last line of Guess How Much I Love You? Works every time.
On evidence based practice. I will be honest and tell you that I slept through most of Research Methods. Shame on me, because knowing the research that supports your profession is important to the practice of any health care professional. The three-fold approach to evidence based practice (EBP) that I learned lends itself quite naturally to parenting. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to know the evidence that supports your way of doing things. Next, you have to bring in your own professional (or in this case, personal) experience which every parent knows is worth its weight in gold. Finally, and most importantly, EBP takes into consideration the immediate needs and best interest of the client (or in this case, your child.) And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters? Assessing what your child needs immediately in that moment and making whatever decision best fits those needs in the moment.
And if you can do that?
You’ve earned your degree in parenting.