Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Power Struggle

There are many things that have helped me prepare for my career in Early Childhood Education and in education in general. I think an understanding of how child develop and where they are in a particular stage in development is of utmost importance. However the one book I've read that I think has helped me the most is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The agreement I remind myself of constantly when I'm teaching or simply interacting with another person is do not take things personally. This is by no means an easy task. So much of what we do is wrapped up in our egos. I'll be writing a lot more about egos and education in a few day, but for now I'm going to keep it close to home. How would an agreement like this help in your daily dealings with kids? I know the scenarios I present here are not typical of a home environment, but you may still be able to take away a few things that may help alleviate the daily power struggles that present themselves if you have a toddler, two year old, three, four, five, six year old, a teenage or if you happen to be married or even if you are a hermit who has to go out and buy food then and again.

First keep the agreement in mind. Remember that your child is not doing whatever it is that is getting on your nerves to get on your nerves. No, no I won't allow you to argue this point. I know you "just know that Johnny is doing a, b or c on purpose to push your buttons." I'm telling you otherwise. It's true, Johnny may be doing it to get your attention, or because he is getting a kick out of your reaction. Maybe poor Johnny is trying to figure you out or can't help himself. I'll bet that 99.9% of the time, Johnny (be he your son or husband) hasn't the slightest clue as to what is upsetting you. My question to you is why are you allowing those buttons to be pushed in the first place? Why do you take what Johnny does personally?

Here are some facts I want you to keep in mind while you hold on to that agreement.
  1. Johnny is his own person even if he is three years old.
  2. Johnny is selfish. This is especially true if it's a child, but even most adults are looking out for themselves. (After all, isn't it selfish of you to believe that Johnny's behaviour is a reflection of your parenting?)
  3. You cannot control Johnny. I know this is hard for parents to accept, but we must change the prevailing mindset that education equals control. The truth is you can control through coercion but never through education. You may control your children for a awhile through coercion, but what are you teaching your children? To be followers? To only do good if there is a prize involved? To only behave if you are looking?
  4. Your ego is way too big if you cannot let go if little annoyances. Time to rein it in.
Now that's we've set up some guidelines let's examine a scenario that I face with at least one, sometimes two of my precious little ones everyday. The scene is the transition from free play to circle time. In your house the scene may be the transition from free play to dinner time.

Miss Alida: "It's clean up time, it's clean up time. It's time to clean up."
Boy #1: "It's time to clean up."
Boy #2: "I don't want to clean up! I want to play!"
Miss Alida: (ignoring Boy #2's comments) "It's clean up time, it's clean up time. Jane is cleaning up. It's clean up time, it's clean up time. Boy #1 is cleaning up."

Now either Boy #2 says, "Me teacher, I'm cleaning up, say my name." as he joins in the clean up or he sits there and pouts. If he is indeed helping, he is mentioned in the song. If he pouts, I ignore him.

We move on to circle time. Boy #2 is still uncooperative. I make sure to thank the children individually who helped clean up. I proceed with circle time. Boy #2 sits with his back to me. I begin reading. Every now and then Boy #2 turns to listen to a particularly funny scene or to look at a picture the kids were laughing at. Once he says, "Teacher, can you go back I didn't see the picture?" I do. I go back and show him the picture. We continue with circle time and he slowly starts to join in. We are having a discussion and when I ask him a question, he remembers he is not supposed to be enjoying this and turns his back again. I say nothing and move on to the children eager to participate.

Now in the middle of the second story Boy #2 says out loud, "I'm hungry!" I look at him and put my finger up to my lips (shh) and continue the story. Boy #2 gets up and walks in front of me and says, "TEACHER! I'M HUNGRY!" I stop. Look him in the eye and say very, very quietly, "You are not allowed to interrupt me during my story, that is not kind. Being kind is one of our rules. Go sit down." Boy#2 sits down with his back to me until story time is over.

I tell the kids, lets go to the table. We are going to bake bread. All the children run to the table. Boy#2 sits pouting and says, "I'm not going to bake bread." I ignore him. I walk over to the table and join the children eager to bake. A few minutes later, Boy #2 runs in. "Hey, wait for me. I want to crack an egg." He joins us and there are no more issues for the rest of the day.

I could have taken his behaviour personally and reacted by demanding that he "behave". You will join us, you will listen, you will participate! That would have taken my attention away from the kids that were eager to participate. What this boy was doing was not hurting him, or hurting others. What he was doing was exercising control over his body, his choices and so long as he wasn't interrupting me, I was fine with it. I wasn't taking it personally. Maybe, he had a rough morning, or not enough sleep. Maybe he wanted to see how far he could go before I got mad. I didn't.

By not engaging in a power struggle with a three year old I was able to maintain my authority. By allowing a bit of leeway in letting him control things that really didn't affect the outcome of the day, I showed him that I respect his feelings and moods. That they have nothing to do with me. I also made it a point to emphasis one of our rules, be kind. I did not allow him to cross that boundary of disrespect.

Now what if you are home and you say, "Johnny clean up, it's time for dinner" and Johnny ignores you? What ever will you do? Here are some suggestions.

1. Give Johnny a 15 minute warning. "Johnny in fifteen minutes, you will need to put your toy away because you need to help me with dinner." Note that is Johnny is under six and he has every possible toy out you will have to help him clean up or you are going to yell and scream until you are blue and Johnny will not clean up anyway. Deal with it. Young children cannot clean up a room full of toys by themselves. So even before this becomes in issue, get rid of most toys. Allow Johnny one or two toys to play with before dinner. (I know, I'm really mean!)

2. Remind Johnny every five minutes. "Johnny in ten minutes, in five." 'Okay, time to clean up."

3. Be specific. "I need you to set out the napkins and spoons."

If Johnny ignores the 15, 10 and 5 minute warnings, you go in and say, It's time to clean up and without saying another word, YOU put the toys up and then say come help me. If he refuses, you set the table. If you sing or do something that looks like fun or out of the ordinary, you will peak his curiosity. This works especially well if there are other siblings involved. Make no mention that Johnny is not listening or is misbehaving. Make sure to praise anyone who helped you set the table in Johnny's presence.

4. Be Patient. Rome was not built in a day. Character takes a long time to develop. We teach best be example, by modeling, by being the kind of person we would be proud for our children to grow up to be.

5. Do it again tomorrow. When things become rhythmic and predictable, Johnny will know what to expect and will know that he can be difficult, but it's going to happen anyway. He'll eventually come around. See #4 patient.

Save your power struggles for big important things. There are not many in life. Life is made up of many little things that have the potential to bring us great joy or grief depending on how we handle it. Your little ones will learn. We must make sure that learning is never coerced, that it develops and blossoms like a flower or a butterfly. Children come to us with their own unique programming and views and we may guide gently and kindly so as to not break their fragile spirits.

Children never do things to spite us, unless that's what they have been taught. They do things because they are curious or because something inside says they must. We are not the center of their attention, only they are. Nothing should be taken personally. Guide them to the brighter future in which they will be our leaders.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yes, No, Maybe So

Are you a yes man or woman? Is no the first word out of your mouth whenever your kids ask a question, no matter what the question is? Around these parts, I tend to be the yes woman. You want to spread your own peanut butter and jelly? Sure! You want to play in the rain to see how long it will take to get soaked? I'll time it! You made a home for the roly poly's in your room? Awesome! Hubby is my opposite. He is the nemesis to my yes. He is the no man. You want to play in the tub? No. You want to slide on the hard wood floor in your socks? No. You want to have dessert? No, no, no, no, no.

It may seem like we strike a pretty good balance for our kids. Unfortunately though, it sometimes feels like the kids come to me for things more often than they go to their dad. Sometimes when we are both in the same room. This is not much fun for mommy (who needs a break) or for daddy (who I'm sure feels like a blue meany)*. The end result personally is that I tend to over schedule myself. The flip side (in my opinion only) is that my husband tends to close himself off from what maybe enjoyable activities.

I think that the best option for us and a good skill to teach the kids (because we are all about teaching here) is to pause and think. When my kids ask me for something, I pause and smile. "Let me think about it for a second" is my new response. This allows me a moment to think it through. Is having a mud fight (even as a science project) really the best thing to do a half-hour before going out to dinner? Probably not. If Sergio paused and thought about his response, he may come to the conclusion that if the children have eaten healthy and well throughout the day, dessert, even if they don't finish their dinner, would not be harmful.

How often are our responses, especially to our children, automatic? Let me think about it, gives you a small break. It let's your children know you are listening and that they have been heard. Let me think about it, gives credence to the request. Let me think about it, helps control the arguing as you have given pause and thought to the request.

Next time your child or your spouse asks you something...don't say yes or no. Smile and tell them you need to think about it. Did you like this post? Don't answer right now...give it some thought.


* A blue meany can be found on the Beatles' Yellow Submarine video

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Baking Up More Than Treats

This week we baked whole wheat bread and delicious banana nut muffins. Not just any banana nut muffins, these had chocolate chips and ginger in them. They were so good. Baking with children can seem a bit overwhelming at first. I remember the first time I baked with my little ones, it was a disaster of pretty epic proportions. Imagine flour on the counters and floor, sticky egg whites not only on the counters and floor but also in the kids hair. We baked and then they had a long bath. I think we had whatever we baked for dinner that evening because I was exhausted!

I decided to try again and slowly I developed a simple plan. The key to baking or cooking with children is to be prepared. I don't mean to have everything measured out ala Martha Stewart. What I mean is to have all the supplies on hand. Flour, eggs, vanilla, sugar and whatever other ingredient you need on the counter. Have more than one of the following (two or even three is good):

  • measuring cup
  • measuring spoons
  • bowls
  • sift
  • whisk
  • stirring spoon
  • kitchen towel

Now that everything is set out and ready, have the children wash up and don on their aprons. Make sure long sleeves are rolled up and hair is pulled back. Oh yes, and lastly rid yourself of any expectation that your kitchen is going to be clean during or after this project. It is not. I repeat it is not.

So why bother? I can bake up muffins in a flash and maintain the kitchen relatively clean and they'll be just as delicious. Why include the kids?

Cooking and baking is a process that teaches kids so many things. Even I was surprised recently when I asked Luke to measure out a teaspoon of vanilla and he promptly commented, "A teaspoon or 5 ml, it's the same thing." Indeed it is. This isn't something I pointed out, our measuring spoons don't have ml markings on them. I imagine, at some point in our cooking adventures he saw a chart or read something to indicate that 1 teaspoon and 5 ml are the same thing. Viola! Learning happens. Exactly what do children learn by helping in the kitchen?

  • Weights and measurements
  • Fractions (1/2 cup, 1/8 tsp)
  • Hand/eye coordination (cracking an egg, stirring, filling a teaspoon, chopping veggies)
  • Reading (even the youngest of children can recognize 3/4 or 1/2 and find it on the measuring cup)
  • Chemistry (heat changes forms from liquids to solids etc)
  • History (from recipes handed down through generations, culture specific recipes such as the Pan de Muertos we bake for Halloween or Day of the Dead)
  • Decision making
  • Follow directions
  • Follow Intuition
I love the last one. Why is following your intuition important? Well for me it's been a lesson I've had to learn over and over again. It seems that if I let myself by guided by my intuition (after following directions) I end up making the best decisions. Making good decisions boosts my self esteem and feelings of worthiness.

This week while making the muffins, we smelled and tasted most of the ingredients before using them in the recipe. The kids decided that the ginger had a pretty strong taste, so we decided to use less than the recipe called for. By allowing the children to make decisions we give them ownership of the results, we allow them to think ahead to the end result.

If you've never had your kids in the kitchen, I'd suggest you start out slowly. Designate one day a month. Pick and plan a recipe together. Let go of your clean kitchen expectations and really have some fun. As your kids grow older they will be familiar with the kitchen and maybe, sooner than you think, you'll be treated to breakfast in bed. (You will however need to clean up the kitchen)

Banana Nut Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Ginger

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup of butter
3/4 cups of sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 medium bananas ~ mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup of milk
chopped crystallized ginger to taste
as many chocolate chips as you can handle

  1. Preheat oven to 350* Grease a 6 jumbo muffin pan.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder in small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar. (you can use an electric mixer or melt the butter a bit and let the kids do it with a whisk) Add egg and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Mix in bananas.
  4. Add walnuts, ginger and chocolate chips. With mixer on low speed or while children whisk, flour mixture alternating with milk. Spoon mixture into muffin pans.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until skewer or knife inserted in the center of a muffin come out clean.
  6. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Unmold onto wire rack and cool at least another 10 minutes before serving.
Don't forget to have the kids help with the clean up too.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day

I remember being young and having mixed feeling about the first day of school. I was excited to see my friends, but would worry because we didn't keep in touch much throughout the summer. What if they no longer liked me? What if they didn't come back to school? Also there was the whole getting up early thing, which truth be told, I never cared much for.

Today I'll be welcoming little ones to school. For some it'll be their first time away from mom or dad and home. Some will be seasoned pros already. Either way I'm sure there are some misgivings, some butterflies, some "what ifs". It's okay, we are ready to soothe and quiet those doubts and have some fun.

This week the theme is friendship. It amazed me to see how easily my kids make friends. Sometimes though it's a little heart breaking. Luke went up to a 12 year old boys and asked, "Hey, would you like to be my friend?" The boy laughed out loud and then with a smirk replied, "Sure!" He proceeded to run away from Luke. It took Luke a few minutes to realized he had been duped and he ran over to me demanding an explanation. Talk about being put on the spot. We came up with different ways to approach older kids. Instead of asking to be friends, maybe he could ask to join in the game with a very non-chalant, "May I join in?" He wasn't convinced and decided to sit and watch awhile and then asked if we could go home.

Making friends can be easy and comfortable or it can be a tricky road that needs a bit of maneuvering. This week we'll be learning appropriate ways to approach new friends. We'll discuss kindness, one of our rules. We participate in group activities that require cooperation and some negotiation. We'll also learn when to back off a bit and discuss that it's completely appropriate to want some time alone and that it doesn't mean the end of the friendship.

All this plus baking, crafts, art and some gardening. It's going to be a fantastic week.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Happy Labor Day. Today marks the informal end of summer. Many of us marked the occasion by the ritual grilling and get togethers so often associated with Labor Day. I feel autumn's approach in the crisp cool morning air. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the school year for many children and for us it's the beginning of our new adventure.

Rituals and rhythms are such an important part of life. In marking the passage of time we often stop and reflect on the blessings, perhaps the hardships of our life so far. Each time we have the chance to begin anew. Each morning is a fresh start, as is each meal, each season, each milestone, each birthday.

For children rituals are especially important. They create cherished memories that they can hold on to as they make the slow transition into adulthood. Rituals need not be elaborate or time consuming. They may be as simple as a story read at bedtime or a special kiss to greet the morning.

Remember that as your children head off to school, rituals help mark the occasion as special and also give them a sense of security as they head off on their own. For ideas on creating rituals and daily rhythms for your family I recommend this wonderful book.

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday and am looking forward to tomorrow and to welcoming autumn with all it's exquisite colors.