E+E Column: Pushing Boundaries

Isaac has always been more prone to pushing boundaries than his elder sister, I suppose it’s just in his nature. However recently, he’s been taking it to a new level. And to be honest, I’m not quite sure how to deal with it. Sophia has always been curious and prone to exploring but if told no, as long as provided with a good reason, she’s been quite happy to accept the boundary and carry on her merry way. Not so with Isaac. Take yesterday for, example. He had helped me make some malteser biscuits, ready for a picnic today. Once baked and cooled, he asked if he could have one. I said no because they were for the picnic today and it was almost dinner time. He said he was hungy to which I repeated that we would be eating dinner soon. He pottered off.

I popped out to the garden to get in the laundry and upon my return, five minutes later, was met with Isaac who had an unidentifiable look on his face. Then he casually announced that he had taken the tin of biscuits to his bedroom, ready for tomorrow. I said that they didn’t need to be in his bedroom and asked him to bring them down. Off he trotted…and then, ‘Mum, one of them got broken in the tin whilst I was carrying them’. I peek in, and see a half eaten biscuit. ‘Isaac, this looks like a bite mark, did you eat it?’ He protested his innocence and declared the remainder of said biscuit to be in the tin. I confirmed that it wasn’t and suggested the biscuit to either be in his room or his tummy. A cheeky smile flitted across his face and I had my answer.

Now, this wasn’t a massive indiscretion as things go. But it was indicative of a larger issue. Recently, time and time again, when told no, he will defiantly do exactly what he has been told not to. It is beyond frustrating, especially when it is an issue of safety as it often is. I’m not a fan of reward and punishment based discipline personally but apart from maintaining distinct boundaries and talking to him when they are broken, I’m not quite sure what else we can do. I’m guessing it’s a case of running the course and that as long as we remain consistent, eventually the message will sink it. I like the idea of ‘natural consequences’, for example, your child refuses to wear a coat despite it being cold or wet. Rather than having an epic battle, if they don’t listen to your reasonable suggestion that they do wear a coat and explanations as to why, they’ll soon discover that you were right upon spending a few minutes outside. In this case, Isaac could have ended up with one less biscuit when we actually came to eat them. Although just to be awkward, it turns out he didn’t like them anyway! Sods law in play there… I am only 6 years into this parenting game though and am quite happy to learn new and better techniques if folk are willing to share. So if anyone has any thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a picture of the biscuit-stealing monkey in question – hard to tell him off with a face like that!

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E+E column: Naturally Needy

An article I read this week spoke about how utterly natural it is for young children to be clingy or needy to their primary caregiver. It was a good reminder that the almost total dependence that my three (all five and under) often have on me is the biological norm and not anything to get frustrated with or to try and put a stop to before they’re ready. We visited the monkey sanctuary in Looe earlier this year and witnessed a tiny monkey taking her first nervous steps away from her Mum. Our guide explained that after she was born, she spent six months permanently attached to her Mum’s back and after this point, would still only scamper away for a few minutes at a time and all the while, in the near vicinity of her ever watching Mum. This is normal for the animal world, and actually, is normal for human children as well if we allow them (well not the clinging to our backs but you get my point!)

We are so quick to try and break our children’s instinctive need to be near us. A lot of parenting ‘experts’ and advice doled out tells us that we should be getting them in their own rooms within their first months, that we should be making sure they can play independently and that they are happy to be away from us at a young age. And if they’re not, we are presented with a wide array of solutions to fix this ‘problem’. But is it really a problem? The process of entering this world, finding their place in it and finding out how everything works and how people interact must be utterly overwhelming. No wonder young children are naturally prone to being ‘clingy’ and retreating to Mum, Dad or a loved Grandparent when it all gets too much. Society often tells us that this isn’t appropriate, that we’re making a rod for own backs, that they will never learn independence, that they’ll be spoilt. But can you spoil a child by offering unconditional love and comfort? I would argue that you can’t.

Admittedly, when you’re needed round the clock, it can all get a bit wearisome. I’m perfectly guilty of wanting to go and shut myself in a room with a book and mug of hot chocolate. I’m no saint. There is no perfect Mum (or Dad!) But I do think we shouldn’t feel guilty about offering our children that extra level of support or comfort that others might say is unnecessary at their age. The world’s a scary place at times, even for adults, so I’m happy for my kids to still need me right now. In the blink of an eye they’ll be running off without a backwards glance, perfectly confident and independent individuals without such a strong lifeline or need for me and their Dad. And a final note of reassurance, as my wise old Mum said when I bemoaned Isaac at 18 months creeping into our bed in the wee hours, he won’t be 16 and still wanting to sleep in his Mum’s bed!

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