Friday, 18 December 2009

Can Dr Green Tame my Toddlers? Part 1: Attention Seeking.

As you know from my recent blog “Can Supernanny really help me get the best from my children?”, I’ve been on a mission to understand my toddlers and how to manage their behaviour.

Supernanny’s book was an interesting read, but I was quite surprised that it lacked detail, clear guidance on discipline, or case studies. I then moved on to Toddler Taming, a very highly recommended book by parents and nannies alike, in the hopes that Dr Christopher Green would have the answer.

Dr Green’s book has been around for 20 years or so, and is based on his experience both as a paediatrician and as a father. His style is much more informal and humourous – that might not appeal to everyone, but it certainly makes it easier to read and understand all of the information in his book.

Seeing that he doesn’t even touch on the subject of discipline until Chapter 8, I was very frustrated at first – I am a desperate mum in need of some answers and I certainly don’t have time to read 80 pages of background before getting to the nitty gritty! Having started at the beginning with a scowl on my face, I actually started to enjoy myself. I turned down the corners of pages I thought contained real gems, or little words of wisdom that really resonated with me. I realised I was turning down every second page. I’ve pulled out a few of the passages that really struck a chord with me. There are too many to discuss in one blog post, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to split it up a little bit. Here’s the first

The five triggers of toddler behaviour:
When we parents are having a bad day, our toddlers’ repertoire of behaviour may seem extensive, but in fact almost every performance comes from one of five very predictable origins. These are:
1. Attention seeking
2. Jealousy and competition
3. Frustration
4. Fear of separation
5. Upset and illness

When a little child performs some particularly antisocial act, stand back and ask yourself why.

The section on Attention Seeking is particularly interesting and I think it is something that each and every parent should read. Green’s Attention Spectrum starts with Grade A attention – this is undivided, positive attention, like when you read a book to your child at bedtime. Children receiving lots of Grade A attention generally behave very well.

When you aren’t able to give Grade A, toddlers tend to slip down the scale. They might start with the endless questions, then down towards endless questions or little arguments. Still ignoring them? This is the point where you might find the little one drawing on the wall, hanging up your phone, emptying out your handbag, or leaning dangerously over your delicate newborn baby. As we slip further down the scale we’ve got verbal abuse (You’re not my friend!), tantrums, breath holding, and so on.
“By the time we get to Grades Y and Z, attention is of the very poorest quality. Parents shout angrily at their child and some may even a few well aimed smacks. While it may be difficult to understand why toddlers would actively seek pain and punishment, bear in mind that even a smack can hurt a child less than being ignored altogether.”

What really struck me about the section on Attention Seeking was that M follows this pattern pretty much to the letter. When I spend quality time with her on her own, she is as good as gold. As the quality of the attention deteriorates, so does her behaviour. As I mentioned in the Supernanny blog, it isn’t really her behaviour I should be trying to change, but mine.

When I am able to sit on the floor and play with both M and E, it’s lovely, and M is genuinely a sweet little girl. As soon as I start chatting on the phone to a friend or checking Twitter, some very annoying behaviour starts to bubble to the top. If I need to spend one-to-one time with E, even if it’s just to change his nappy and I haven’t involved her in some way, then it gets worse. If (heaven forbid) I try and do something for myself and don’t pay attention to her for 5 minutes, it all kicks off.

I’m not really so thick that I didn’t understand the connection before, but I didn’t really get how strongly M feels what I consider to be very subtle changes in attention-giving.

Worse still, many of the things that I do to preserve my own sanity actually may be making matters worse. If I need to cool off and not get angry with her, I need space… but if I try and put space between us, she sees this as a rejection or abandonment and ramps her attention-seeking behaviour up a gear. When I need to talk through the issues with a friend who can commiserate and reassure me that I am not actually a rubbish mum, all she sees is me completely ignoring her in favour of a grown-up, and again her behaviour reflects that.

Having read this section I am now acutely aware of M’s reactions every time I check Twitter, chat with a friend, or try and prepare dinner. In response I have really brought all of that down to a minimum – I’ve been neglecting Twitter (sorry!), try to save my conversations with friends for nap-times, evening, and when M is busy playing with her friends. For dinner, I’m doing quick and easy recipes from Jamie’s Ministry of Food that I can prepare while they're having a rest and then just leave to slow-cook all afternoon.

The result? Suddenly I have more time to spend with my little ones doing puzzles, drawing, stories, and just being silly. Obviously there is still the issue of having a 15 month old boy running around the house demanding attention as well, but that's one thing I can't change!

Has her behaviour improved? Well, sort of…. I find that if I put a slightly ridiculous amount of effort into paying attention to her, and if we get Daddy to distract E for a while, she is a little star. But I’m not sure it’s sustainable! I guess I’d better turn to Chapter 8 and see what else Green has to offer.

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