Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The 20 things I know about Kids

So here's my new workout plan: Chasing little girls around, and over, my couch for two hours.

A remarkable effective form of excercise. I don't know if I'm burning any fat, but it certainly tires you out.

So here I am, 15 years of living on my own or with other adults, and all of a sudden I've got a ready made family. Mel is still worried that I'll freak out or something, but that's not gonna happen. It certainly is a change though.

Of course it's not like I haven't dealt with kids a lot. I mostly raised my younger brother, and being the oldest of over 40 first cousins, and a couple hundred second cousins (some far younger than me, some far older), and their kids... lets just say I've changed a lot of diapers in my time.

But this is different. This is MY family.

So what have I learned over the years about parenting?

  1. Establish limits and boundaries: This is part of giving a kid a framework for their life. Set what is absolutely off limits, what are their soft and hard boundaries; both in space, and in behavior. Make them clear, and easy to see and understand. If possible, associate them with something physical in their lives.

    Have multiple categories of limits and boundries i.e. this is acceptable in this limit, this plus this in this other limit etc... and within the tightest of these allow them almsot anything... within reason... to let their minds work.

  2. Be tough but fair: Don't make arbitrary and capricious decisions. Give kids a set of rules, and guidelines, and follow them, so they know where they stand. If they go outside the rules, discipline them. At first just use a normal word, then a STRONG statement. If the kid is well behaved by nature that's usually enough. If not, then physically stop them from doing what they were doing and talk with them. Finally punishment. Very important, when you make a decision or a rule, stick by it.

  3. Consistency: It's alright to be flexible about the rules, limits, and boundaries, but kids need to have consistency. That includes consistent bed and meal times, consistent play rules, consistent punishments. If the parent isn't consistent it leaves the kid without that framework we talked about. Again, when you make a decision or a rule, stick by it.

  4. Be Flexible: Okay so now that I've told you to set limits, and stick by your decisions and be consistent, I'm going to tell you not to... actually no, I'm jsut going to say, BE FLEXIBLE. Sometimes rules dont work in all situations. Sometimes kids try to follow the rules and jsut can't. Sometimes you jsut HAVE to let them have icecream instead of soup, because they just kinda need it. You're a parent, not a robot. You can't be perfect, and neither can your kids, so why try; worse, why make them try?

  5. Be patient: Kids arent generally little adults. Sometimes they don't remember things. Sometimes their impulses get the best of them. Sometimes they dont really understand what you are trying to tell them. They may want to please you (in fact that's generally their main goal), but not really know how; especially if you haven't established boundaries and limits, and you haven't been consistent. You have to be patient, and don't get angry unless it's very much warranted.

  6. Kids want to please you: As I said about patientce above, as a primary caregiver, parent and authority figure; a kids main goal in life is generally going to be to please you. This sounds great, but because kids AREN'T little adults, and they frequently don't understand what it is we want, it can have some odd results. When they do somethign that they think is going to please you, and it makes you angry, (or worse sad or disappointed) instead, that kid is going to be crushed, or maybe even scared. They don't understand what's going on, and they don't know why you aren't happy with them. In this situation, you just need to go bac to the things above.

  7. Kids will test you: Kids are always pushing. Pushing on their limits and boundaries, pushing the rules, pushing against discipline, and pushing you. They want to see what they can get away with, when; They want to test their environment. Most of all, they want to test their parents. Kids really are little scientists, always experimenting with things, and what's a better experiment than a living breathing person that has authority over them?

    Of coure this is frustrating, and can make you angry pretty easily. You KNOW they understand the rules, you KNOW they remember them, and you KNOW they broke them on purpose, what the heck do you do?

    BE TOUGH, FAIR, CONSISTENT, FLEXIBLE AND PATIENT

    Easiser said than done I know.

  8. Don't over commit: Yourself OR your kids. Kids don't need to be scheduled every minute of every day. They need flexibility and space jsut as much as you do. Don't fill up their time, or yours, just because you dont know what else to do, or to keep them occupied, or because you're afraid they'll miss something. Kids will occupy themselves and I'm sure you can always find something to do. Hell, if you get them used to always being scheduled and always ahving an activity provided for them, they'll forget HOW to occupy themselves.

  9. Have fun: Kids are fun, yeah they are work, but they are also VERY VERY fun. Not to mention the continuation of our species. Let yourself have fun with them, and maybe you wont be so drained, or pissed off at the end of the day.

  10. Don't be so damn scared of everything: The world is a lot safer than television would lead you to believe. There aren't kidnappers around every corner. Everything gives you cancer including the air, and giving your kids organic apples isn't going to change that. Puppies arent going to bite your kids faces off. Flashing lights aren't going to give your kids seizures. THe wrogn toys arent going to make them get into a second tier state school.

    Lighten up, the human race has survived and thrived this long without specially designed, everything prooof, everything safe, all natural, organic, everything free wonderwidgets, and so will your kid.
Okay so that's the philosophy, lets get down to some specifics. If you want to stay sane, and kee your house in one piece, theres some basic rules to follow, and to make your kids follow (again with reference to the points above).

  1. One toy or activity at a time: If you don't do this, your kids will run your life ragged and leave you no time for anything. Also if you dont do this, you'll be conditioning them for a short attention span. They get to play with one toy at a time, or do one thing at a time, and they need to put that toy away in the proper place before they get the next one, or move to the next activity.

    Some people say this stifles creativity, but I say that's bull. What it does is puts a little limit in their life that will help establish patterns and habits to serve them well for the rest of their life.

  2. Clean up after every toy or activity before moving to the next one: Again, if you don't do this, you will never be able to have time for anything. Teach your kids that before they can go to the next thing, they need to clean up, put away, close up, whatever they were doing, and put it back in it's place; THEN they need to clean up themselves. Again, we're establishing patterns for later life.

  3. Establish a play space: There is one exception to rule one and two. If you establish a special play space for them; where the only thing they do is play, and the toys stay in that space; you can let them play without limits. There, they can play with as much as they want, whenever they want. Just don't let them live in that play space, it's another activity that they can only do one at a time just like the others; and all the normal rules apply once they are done playing.

  4. Meal time is for eating: You HAVE to teach kids that when it's time to eat, we stop playing, put away toys and activities, clean up after ourselves, and then we sit down to eat. We don't run around, we don't play, we eat. We can and should talk, but it's best that you teach kids from an early age to not talk when there is food in their mouths.

    Personally I recommend that you teach kids not to watch TV while eating, unless it's a special treat; but it's so much a part of American culture, and so many of us do it ourselves, that may not be possible.

  5. Meals are a rule just like any other: When you feed your kids, they have to eat. It's a rule jsut like the other rules. They don't get the option of not eating, or of eating only what they feel like, without punishment (even if it's only mild punishment).

    Of course in order for this to work, you have to serve them food they can eat, in the proper portions. My grandmother used to force me to eat far more than I should, and foods that I was allergic to, because damnit there was food and I was going to eat it. Obviously that does more harm than good, but that's not what we are talking about. Mealtime is when kids do most of their testing. They are trying to see how much you will cave in to them; or they are just using it as an easy way to be contrary and take control over their own lives.

    Sorry folks, it may seem mean, but don't let them. You're the parent, and you're feeding them what you think they should eat. The kid eats what you think they should eat, or they don't eat at all.

    Now, here's where being flexible is important. Sometimes kids don't show any indication of being sick, until it comes down to meal time. Then they won't want to eat, or they'll just pick at their food. It may look like sulking, but sometimes it's jsut that they don't feel well. You need to figure out what it is before taking any action, or your not only going to have a sick kid, but one that's upset because they made mommy mad and it wasn't really their fault.

  6. Don't buy toys that make noise: Yeah, kids love them. They also love making you mad with them. It's another one of those tests. Just do yourself a favor and either don't buy them at all, or buy ones that can be easily turned off. If you MUST buy them, don't buy the ones that make repetitive noises, that sing long songs, or that will stop and restart the noise from the beginning every time the toy is activated.

  7. Don't buy toys with small pieces: Never mind the choking hazards, you'll be down on your knees in the carpet looking for the pieces that they flushed down the toilet until you're ready to chuck the whole thing out the window. Kids LOVE small pieces, because they can hide them places... you know, like their little sisters noses. Oh and of course when the small pieces are lost because THEY threw them out the car window, or fed them to Mr. Kitty, they will cry and cry, and cry, until you get them a new one.

  8. Don't buy toys that permanently stain: Again, kids love them. Markers, crayons, paints... oh yeah, they do. But don't buy them; or if you do, make it a rule that is ABSOLUTELY enforced that they can only be used when you're with them; AND that they can only be used in a special place (probably not their play space) that gets cleaned up right away/ ALWAYS stick to this rule.

  9. Don't buy toys that they can eat: I really don't need to go into this one do I

  10. Don't buy toys that make it easy for them to break the rules: If you do, all you are doing is inviting them to do so; and confusing them. The rule says don't throw the ball in the house, but you buy them a kooshball and don't let them take it outside... what does that say to them?