From Grandma, with love (some old fashioned advice)

5 Mar

Okay, so I’m not an “expert.”  I don’t have a degree.  My kid isn’t president of the United States either, but all things considered, having your going-on-thirty kid announce that you were a good parent isn’t a bad recommendation, I don’t think.  I wasn’t perfect, but beware of anyone who ever claims that they were perfect!

I will also freely admit, it’s a lot easier to see behavioral problems from the outside rather than when you are living them too.  Distance offers perspective, it seems.  At the same time, my best parenting instructor was my daughter herself.

I remember when she was around 2, I noticed she spent a lot of time yelling at her dolls, spanking them, being angry with them, and it was a wake up call that I couldn’t ignore.  I had obviously been very negative towards her and the slightest infraction.  Finding out what I was doing wrong allowed me to “fix” the problem, which was mostly just relax about a lot of things.  I wasn’t a perfect mom, but she sure didn’t have to be a perfect child either.  We were both happier in no time.

So, I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize my own behaviors would be reflected in my child’s behavior.  I had long since learned that reflecting negative behavior could often get a toddler’s attention too.  I had a friend who had a toddler that screamed…nonstop, full volume, for hours on end, if she didn’t get her way.  NOBODY wanted that kid without her mother, as it meant a certain non-stop screamfest until she returned, not even the child’s own grandmother would babysit her.  As fate would have it, the mother needed to have a tooth pulled, and with no one willing to tolerate this child for any length of time, I agreed to go along and watch THIS child, while my own child was with this screamer’s grandmother.

We arrived at the dentist office and I looked up at it.  It was on the second floor, in a very open floor plan, with a balcony.  We were in Central Arizona, and it was August.  I didn’t care how hot it was, there was no way I was going to be responsible for this beast of a child there.  We would wait in the car.  The mother was uncertain, but decided to go ahead.  I guess she figured if we neared heat stroke levels, I had the sense to drag a semi-conscious kid into the building.

Sure enough, as soon as the mother was out of sight, the screams began.  It went on for about fifteen minutes before I got to the end of that last nerve we all know so well.  Those screams were echoing through the parking lot, ringing like bells in my ears, and my entire skull was vibrating with each new audio level she achieved.  I expected glass to start shattering in our vicinity soon.  I wanted to throttle her until she shut up, I’ll admit it.

Throttling her wasn’t going to do me any good in the long run though.  So, I just took a couple of deep breaths, reached across where she was sitting, deeply involved in her screaming activity, and rolled up her window.  I swore the temperature jumped ten degrees in the car instantly.  I then rolled up my window, and as the sweat is popping out of my pores, I took another deep breath of the oven-like air and let go with a yell of my own that would have done any warrior proud.

She stopped and looked at me, her hands over her ears.

“Don’t do that,” she demanded.  “It hurts my ears.”

We aren’t going to find out exactly what my thoughts were at that moment, but I’m sure you can imagine them.  I just smiled and told her very calmly that if she screamed again, I was going to scream again too.

“Okay,” she said.

I rolled down our windows.  We had a cool breeze now, or so it seemed.  The rest of the hour we waited went quietly.  She talked like a normal toddler, she sat in the seat, and I didn’t have people staring as she let out one scream after another.

It seems that all she needed was a dose of her own medicine, and she was done.  I never did have any more trouble ever when I babysat her with the screaming, mystifying everyone as to what my magic touch had been.  I would laugh and say that I merely out-screamed her and they never did believe me.

Kids aren’t complicated, they don’t have deep, devious motives, at least as toddlers.  They are merely asserting their individuality, while still wanting comfort and security.  They aren’t ready to venture out into the world without a parent and that is the problem.  Lots of parents don’t want to be parents, especially in public.

Kids are also not dumb.  They know this pretty quickly, and they learn how to use it to their advantage.  When I was a kid, no mother thought twice about pulling down a kid’s pants and blistering a bare bottom in the grocery store, and nobody said anything about it.  Maybe some parents abused their kids, but most were simply putting a stop to a behavior that ultimately would escalate into things that were seriously illegal or dangerous.  Shoplifting? Busted butt.  Touching things after being told to keep your hands to yourself?  Busted butt.  Wandering off or not paying attention? Busted butt.  Acting like a brat?  Busted butt double fold.

My mother had a warning phrase that told us to cool our jets.  It was pretty blunt, something along the lines of “if you don’t stop that, I’m going to beat you black and blue.”  By the time my own daughter was old enough to need a warning phrase, saying something like that in public was apt to earn you a visit from the state child protection services.  Obviously, I needed something different that carried the same message.  Now keep in mind, this wasn’t a literal threat from my mother back in the 60s…and my threat in the 80s wasn’t literal either.  It just was a way of telling the kid that they were pushing their luck and they better cool their jets before they didn’t like what happened.  My phrase was “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to turn you into a toad and feed you to the dogs.”  It was preposterous, but they knew what I meant.  It also couldn’t be taken too literally by anyone.

Warnings don’t always work.  That was also the case of my daughter.  Twice, in the same restaurant, but years apart, she had to be carried out.  Both times, she started screaming like a banshee and trying to bite me as she squirmed and kicked all the way to the door, knowing she had gone way too far this time.  Both times (of course!) we were seated as far as physically possible from the door, making sure everyone got to watch me carrying this dreadful child out to the parking lot, where I’m sure they all expected me to beat her unmercifully.  By the time I got outside, I was furious, and there was no way she was going to get a spanking from me and she knew it.  She also had added the final clincher (both times!) as we went through the door of “Mama, don’t BEAT me!!!!”  which was pure theatrics on her part, as she had never been beaten and was rarely even swatted.

The first time, she was going-on-two.  It was evening, after a day of shopping, and she just wouldn’t sit down and behave, no matter how many times she was told to.  I had told her grandmother that I was going to take her out and we’d best just go.  (We hadn’t even ordered yet, just drinks at that point.)  I hauled out the now screaming, kicking, biting child…and strapped her very unceremoniously into her car seat in the back of the Jeep CJ-5 we were traveling in without saying a word as she began sobbing.  I knew she was tired and hungry, but she also knew how to behave.  There were no other alternatives to the restaurant we’d stopped at, so now…she would have to just wait until we got home, which was about an hour away.  I was so mad I could have spit nails, and wouldn’t even look at her.  She knew it too.

The second time, she was far older and she knew she had gone too far the minute I stood up and snatched her up.  Still, she couldn’t seem to resist the urge for some more childish theatrics, with plenty of kicking, screaming, and biting.  Once again, she was plunked very unceremoniously into the same CJ-5, in the same car seat.  (She was about four, but not very big for her age…she still fit with plenty of room in the car seat.)  Once again, I wouldn’t look at her, talk to her, or even acknowledge her now sobbing apologies and promises of better behavior.  Those were the only two times she ever pulled it, so it was odd it was the exact same restaurant.

Now my granddaughter is old enough to begin asserting her own personality, and she shows plenty of her parents’ temper, stubbornness and determination.  I love her to death, but she has a shriek that makes me jump back to that hot car in August in Casa Grande, Arizona all over again.  She has also learned to use it quite well, manipulating her parents into immediately giving her exactly what she wants.  Do I think this is good? Nope.  It needs to come to an end.  It was cute for about one nanosecond.  I’ve also already told her that “Grandma doesn’t play that game, girl-io.”  So far, she hasn’t tried it on for size when it’s just her with Grandma & Grandpa either, but it has been a while since we have taken her for the day.

Now as far as the screaming-kids-in-the-restaurant business goes, I’ll admit.  I hate it.  She rarely does it for long with us, but I’m sure she has done it or will do it at some point with her parents.  Most kids do.  Some kids learn how to act in public sooner than others, but the most important thing is to expect certain standards of behavior from them when in public, take them in public often, and reward them for behaving well as well as disciplining them for misbehavior.  For some kids, there may be reasons why achieving “good” behavior in public is a nearly impossible standard.  I know this–I’ve been there too.

When you have a kid on medication that causes strange appearing (to others) behavior, or that has issues that mean that complete control aren’t going to happen too often, it doesn’t mean that you need to give up going out with them and hide them away.  We did the same things as always, we just shifted a few things.

Dine earlier, before the “dinner rush.”  It may not be convenient for you, but it means a lot less pressure from staring and disapproving faces.

Choose a casual, family buffet restaurant to suit shifting moods when it comes to what a kid will eat.  You have more options.  Don’t load a plate with food for them, let them choose 3-4 items and see whether they eat any of it.  Don’t go overboard with catering to their food moods, but make it relaxed to reduce everyone’s stress.  Behavior is better.

If they aren’t able to actually sit quietly for the duration of everyone eating, be a bit relaxed about it.  I used the rule of getting them to sit long enough to eat, then if they wanted to move around, they could stand up, etc. but never getting more than arm’s length from me.  Under the table was not a bad place either.  Yes, I know it’s not sanitary, but believe me, they find non-sanitary everywhere.  A small, quiet toy was often hidden in my pocket or purse, specifically to keep them occupied or to bribe them into sitting and eating.  It wasn’t new–it was just a small toy from home.  Cars were a frequent pocket toy with me.  Inexpensive (sometimes they get left behind) and quiet, they were entertaining.  The goal here is that staff and other diners are neither inconvenienced nor annoyed, and that we were the only ones who were occupied with monitoring Lil Mr. Go-Go.

Dessert NEVER happens without a reasonable attempt at eating dinner.  Period.  Non-negotiable.

If you make a threat, ALWAYS carry it through, even if it isn’t very pleasant. This can be hard–once I had promised the kids an ice cream cone if they behaved until we saw a place to get one.  The three year old wasn’t, continually escaping from his car seat, kicking the seats, and being generally a pain.  I had warned him repeatedly, but he didn’t seem to care.  Sure enough, there came a Dairy Queen and I stopped and went in and got one ice cream cone.  I gave it to his sister…who did NOT want to eat a cone when her brother couldn’t have one, especially with his now tearful apologies.  I felt sorry for her, but they both learned a hard lesson.  I meant what I said.  She still remembers that ice cream cone, and said it tasted like ashes.  I know exactly what she means too.

  • Kids want to be loved.
  • They want clearly defined boundaries.
  • They want to be accepted for who they are.
  • They want to explore.
  • They want to learn new things.
  • They want to feel safe.
  • They want to feel secure.

None of that stuff is rocket science.  None of it requires a college degree either.  Those things aren’t even expensive things, kids living with Stone Age parents in the Amazon jungle have the exact same needs as kids from New York City or Los Angeles.  None of them NEED the latest battery operated kiddy car.  They don’t NEED video games.  They need parents who are willing to love them, establish limits, help them explore, make them feel safe and secure, and let them be kids.

Baby Einstein?  Nah…but a happy and well adjusted child is a joy for everyone…most of the time.  The rest of the time, we want the parents to manage them.

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6 Responses to “From Grandma, with love (some old fashioned advice)”

  1. morezennow March 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    I agree with all your advice and I loved reading your stories. One of my children threw a tantrum at Target when she was two. I told her if she didn’t stop I was going to leave. She didn’t and I walked away, leaving her there on the floor while many people gave me angry looks. I just went around the clothing rack but that was all it took. She never did that in public or at home again. I probably scared her and scarred her for life but it worked. 🙂

    • giascott March 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

      Yep…people really don’t seem to like parents, when they ARE doing their job or when they aren’t. But nobody likes a spoiled, loud, and destructive kid in their vicinity either. I guess it’s all part of the package when you are parenting, right?

      • morezennow March 9, 2012 at 10:22 am #

        The Worst Part!

      • giascott March 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

        I have to admit…I’m glad that I am Grandma now rather than the Mama…it seems like each generation faces tougher problems. Now, when people look at me disapprovingly, I can get by babbling about how wonderful it is to be a grandparent and they just think I’m dotty…

      • morezennow March 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

        I can’t wait…well, you know what I mean!

      • giascott March 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

        Oh yeah, I know what you mean! Actually, our granddaughter is practically our little miracle, as no one really thought she could happen because of some health problems her mother has. So…maybe we’re even more inclined to regard her as “our angel.”

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