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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Progress, Eureka!

It seems like my world has changed so much since Nile has become a toddler. The changes have been huge and I have been finding myself quite often feeling very overwhelmed.

My baby is loud. He is expressive and creative and wonderful and fun and smart and did I mention, loud? I personally really adore his exuberance and enthusiasm for life. But it has gotten us into a spot of trouble on several occasions. While we were in Mexico we were literally attacked by an uptight (obese & toothless) American man in a restaurant who responded to Nile's happy shrieking by requesting that we "Shut him up or get the hell out". (We had the misfortune of running into the same man again on the beach the following day where he proceeded to lecture me on how I was raising a monster). It was pretty traumatic.
And back at home in Canada we have been harshly scolded by restaurant staff on more than one occasion for Nile's inability to do anything quietly. He's just a loud, excitable little guy.

I've been really conflicted lately as to how to handle this situation. On one hand I want him to behave "appropriately" when we are out in public. But on the other hand I want to honor the fact that he is two and not squash his joyful expression. Either way, I have been feeling really stressed out and judged lately and find myself always looking over my shoulder expecting someone to attack me for my parenting.

I hit rock bottom last weekend when I took Nile to a child-friendly Earth Day dance performance / celebration. I made sure to sit in an aisle seat so he could move freely and dance if the mood struck him. As soon as the lights dimmed and the dancing began Nile began to chatter loudly about what he was seeing, "Mamma! ladies dancing!!". He was loving it, but I was immediately stressed and concerned that he must be bothering someone. Before long he was dancing in the aisles, body-slamming himself into neighboring seats and climbing the stairs to the stage. I was completely and utterly paranoid that it was only a matter of time before someone decided to confront me for his wild behavior. Try as I might I could not get him to comply with my requests to sit down and watch the show quietly. (I should mention that although it was a child-friendly event and there were many kids of all ages there, Nile was the only one dancing wildly and talking loudly. Most of the other kids were on their parents laps happily watching the performance).

I had so many manic thoughts running through my mind: Why can't I control my child?...Why can't he just enjoy this like a "normal" kid? Why is he the only one behaving this way? What is wrong with him? What is wrong with me? (*note to anyone who might think I'm being over-dramatic: I wasn't always like this, but our run-ins with irate people have really put me on edge*).

Nile's wild antics resulted in me not being able to enjoy any of the performances because I was too busy trying to control his behavior and worrying what everyone was thinking of us. It was a really stressful evening. I got home and broke down into tears from the frustration and the worry. I felt awful and I realized then & there that I needed a parenting strategy, pronto. My days of freestyle parenting were over.

For the past several months I have subscribed to a daily parenting email called 'The Daily Groove" by a wonderful man named Scott Noelle. I have always loved his outlook and advice. It's based in NVC (non-violent communication), which is something that our family has been really getting into over the past year. We love it and really believe in it. In addition to the "Daily Groove" Emails, Noelle also has a great website and he also offers very reasonably priced telephone coaching for parents who are in a rut or experiencing a crisis - like me! So, at the urging of my dear friend, Sabrina, who has used his coaching service in the past and strongly recommended it, I called Scott and set up an appointment.

This is already getting to be a pretty long post, so I won't go into all the details & particulars of our session. But I will say that is was very helpful and I would really suggest him to anyone who is in need of a little parental inspiration. He was able to really shift my perspective on my situation and diffuse a great deal of the fear and frustration I was experiencing. It's been a few days since the consultation and I am feeling really inspired and hopeful.

Noelle advocates creating a "child-honoring" space for our kids as opposed to constantly forcing them to conform to the rules of our grown-up world. One of the biggest gems that I took from our conversation was his suggestion to approach each incident of "difficult" behavior by asking, "What is wonderful about this?". I know that this sounds really touchy-feely, but I am really beginning to believe in it.

Here's a real-life example, the other day Nile found a full watering can in the bathroom and proceeded to "water" the bathroom floor. I asked him to stop, but he ignored me and headed out towards the rest of the house to continue his mission. At that moment I began to feel really frustrated and aggravated with the mess, the disobedience, the entire situation. My instinct was to snatch the watering can away & clean up the mess. But I stopped to ask myself, what is wonderful about this? The answer: Water is wonderful and Nile is discovering that right now. He is curious and playful and having fun experiencing what will happen when you wander around the house with a watering can. Looking at it from this perspective (his perspective) I was immediately able to shift my energy from being annoyed and snappy to being a co-creator in his experience. I scooped him and the watering can up and transferred them both to the garden where he could continue to explore and have fun with the water.

This may seem like a no-brainer to a more highly-evolved mamma, but prior to my conversation with Scott I was finding myself constantly getting stuck between satisfying my own needs (ie: a clean, dry house) and my son's need to be a curious, fun-seeking toddler. It truly felt like an impossible conundrum.

I feel so much lighter and more optimistic knowing that there is a middle ground and I'm slowly learning how to walk it.


  • At 9:17 AM, Blogger Cataclysm said…

    OMG Melissa! I totally hear you! I remember thinking about 6 months back that I'm an 8/10 momma, i.e. pretty capable at this parenting thing.

    Needless to say, my self ranking in the parenting charts has slipped to about 4/10 on average. I wonder if I'm just a crap negotiator or a tyrant or what...

    I've been grateful that the weather has been better lately so we can avoid the house with its crusty floors and crayoned walls. And then yesterday, Rian picked up a frizbee and with 1 min of instruction, he can throw that thing nearly perfectly! Rian is not into books at all (he loves Doppleganger but not books...) so I sipped my morning coffee relieved that Rian can still get into Harvard on an athletic scholarship.

    Anyway, so yep, there's always a couple ways to look at our little people's actions! So love this post!
    Kris (and Rian, 2 years and 2 weeks old)

  • At 1:59 PM, Blogger Melissa said…

    That is a really great way to think about things. The water thing reminds me of something A did the other day. At her request, I gave her a cup of water with a straw and she dumped it all in her high chair tray and was sitting there putting her hands in it and having a great time. Instead of encouraging her exploration, I was just annoyed. (When, really, so what if she dumped it? She didn't even get any on the floor!)

    I do feel like I'm always straddling the line between setting limits and upholding rules for rules' sake. A's personality (and it sounds like Rian's too, and probably most kids' of this age) is so bright and buoyant, I really don't want to squash it! Great post, you have given me a lot to think about. :)

  • At 4:52 PM, Blogger Tammy said…

    I can totally sympathize. It's one thing to correct loudness that's a result of misbehaviour, but I agree that it feels wrong to quash noisiness that comes from pure happiness and exuberance. And yet we're supposed to teach our little ones appropriate ways of being social animals out there in the world. Gah! It makes my head spin.

    My husband tends to be a lot more paranoid than I am about whether or not Sam's behaviour is bothering other people, and it's so hard to navigate this issue when there's no clear "right" answer, short of polling every stranger in our vicinity.

    One thing that kills me, though: the rudeness police who have no problem telling you how to raise your child. Er, hello? Did anyone ever tell them that giving unsolicited parenting advice is also considered rude?

  • At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I read this, my first thought was 'thank god my Sam is such calm, good-natured boy'. Then, THEN the gods smiled upon me and reminded me (oh so kindly) that all toddlers are a little nutty. In the last few weeks, my days have consisted pretty much of running after Sam; down the street, in the playground, at the coffee shop, in the supermarket.... Sam's favorite thing (and honestly, I find it sooo cute) is to run away (at the coffee shop/restaurant/supermarket) while giggling and screaming out 'come back sammy! come back sammy!' or, 'run away.....'....

    Toddlers are just nutty and you gotta laugh about it....


  • At 2:39 AM, Blogger Qtpies7 said…

    It really is hard to define what is right or wrong about a toddlers behavior. But we do live in a society that requires a child to "behave" and we need to teach them to be respectful. It is not respectful of others to keep them from enjoying, even being able to see or hear, something they are there to see by being loud or obstructing the view or bumping into them.
    Really, I don't see it as squelching their enthusiasm and zest for life, but teaching them when it is and is not appropriate to express it. Kids really are able to learn there is a time and place for everything, and that not expressing it whenever you feel like it will not harm them.
    Go wild at home! Have a blast dancing and singing and exploring, but reign it in when in public. Teaching them respect from the very get-go will be so valuable a character trait for their whole lives. They will not turn into that crazy man who verbally assaulted you!

    It might take awhile of having to leave places, but soon he will understand that if he acts respectfully he will still have fun. It goes quickly if you are consistent.
    Really, children feel so much more secure when their parents set limits on their behavior and teach them self control. Self-control, not suppressing their personality.
    For the most part my children are extremely well behaved in public, and they are very happy, well adjusted children who have no problems socially or artistically or emotionally. Its all a matter of balance.
    I hope that my comment comes across as encouraging and not judging, because I am not judging you at all! I completely understand your desire to be a great mom!

    OH, I also saw that you cloth diaper, which is a passion of mine! I have a cloth diaper laundry detergent give-away on my blog. It is made by a friend of mine, and it is fabulous!

  • At 8:13 AM, Blogger Jennaratrix said…

    First, I loved your watering can approach. Joining his enthusiasm and redirecting it more appropriately - perfect. Perfect! I'm going to remember it for my 3 boys.

    I have to be honest and say that when I first started reading this, I was ready to blast away. I agree that someone shouting at you to "shut him up or get the hell out" is so far beyond the bounds of appropriate that I would have wanted to throw things at that guy. However, regardless of our want to encourage the kind of happiness our kids show by running around, yelling, dancing and bodyslamming off of chairs, we do have a responsibility to teach appropriate behavior for place. If our child is hampering other people's enjoyment of an event by slamming into them or yelling/chattering so loudly they can't hear, we HAVE to do something.

    Based on the watering can approach, I'd say try to redirect. Find a way for that enthusiasm to be shown in an okay way; but if it can't, it's just not right to subject everyone around you to it, even if it is alarmingly cute or so funny you're busting a gut.

    I second qtpies7; I certainly don't mean to be judgmental, but I think part of our job as parents is to prepare our kids for the outside world, and one of the things they need to learn is how to behave in public.

    As far as the "shut him up or get the hell out guy," though? I'd have asked to be seated right next to him and fed my kid sugar and caffeine.

  • At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm new here..but I think that I have the female version of Nile. Hang in there. I have been avoiding certain grocery stores for months now. My oldest daughter was very complacent, so this wild child has me puzzled a bit. All I can say is not's just nature. And your job is to nurture so nature does not take over!

  • At 1:54 PM, Blogger Carolyn said…

    Thank you for this. "What is wonderful about this?" I am going to promise to ask myself that this week when I start to get impatient. (And I'm going to try really, really hard not to answer "NOTHING!")

  • At 7:56 PM, Blogger BrightBoy said…

    First of all, that American man had no right to talk to you the way he did (and I am an American, so am ashamed that someone so badly misrepresented our country).

    Second of all, your son is two years old, and if at that age he's very boisterous I wouldn't be particularly worried about it.

    That being said, he is reaching the age where discipline can be effectively administered, and he should start to learn some very basic limitations.

    I would recommend that, when it is absolutely necessary that he remain quiet, you have a talk with him beforehand letting him know that whatever event you're attending will require "inside behavior."

    If, after you've asked him to pipe down several times he won't do it, pick him up and walk out.

    Eventually, he'll get the message.

    Of course, these are just suggestions, and if you really are concerned about your parenting you should talk to someone who knows a lot about that field so that they can give you professional advice on how to balance nurturing and restraint.

  • At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Children need boundaries. They actually ask for them by trying out things that are potentially beyond their limits. BE A PARENT, NOT A PLAYMATE.

  • At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The problem may arise though when he is in the street and so geared to ignoring you that he fails to listen when a car is coming.
    People who pay money to go out to eat should not have to listen to your child.
    People who go to child geared events? Do so knowing children will be there and possibly loud.
    Sounds like it is not paid help to tell you what you possibly want to hear that you need. You might look into the guilt that does not allow you to reprimand your child in a way that does not involve violence yet let's him know who he has to listen too.
    While I did not advocate my child into a grown up world when he was small I did expect, and teach him, that there were times and places. As the parent? It's your place to teach him the difference. ie: the watering can and house and garden. He did not learn that he should not water the house...only that there were other places to water. No lesson learned.

  • At 12:03 PM, Anonymous TSimon said…

    "forcing them to conform to the rules of our grown-up world"

    This is the problem with the world today. Our job, as parents, is to raise an adult, not a child.

    My daughter is constantly praised for her behavior and level of responsibility. She just turned 3. If she makes a mess, she cleans it up. She is aware of others in a way that you don't find in most adults. She has been doing her own laundry (sort, fold, put away/hang) for a year now. It's a beautiful thing. She may be a child now, but soon she will be an adult and my job is to prepare her for that day.

    Unfortunately, I believe she will be working her tail off as an adult to support all of the non-conforming grown-up children out there.

  • At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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