On Coins in the DVD Player

When I had but my first babe-in-arms, I went to the apartment of my girlfriend, who then had a toddler.  I watched in amazement as he toodled up to their DVD player and started putting dimes in it.  I nodded quickly in his direction expecting intervention, but she just smiled and said she didn’t really care.  Later she told me that she didn’t now what was the right balance between giving children freedom to explore and establishing boundaries, but she was pretty sure she didn’t have it .  But she erred on the former, because it was really important to her that her kids be in possession of themselves.

Now the earth has travelled around the sun a few times, and I watch myself as I allow my boys to do as much as I dare in the house.  They are allowed to climb on counters and stools, jump on the couch, cook with me, and generally run roughshod over our space.  My husband, a squash player, used to swing racquets in the kitchen with our first son, and said racquets would smash into the cupboards we had just installed in our ktichen reno.  The kids can get as dirty as they can outside, and often do, which means that a good bit of it inevitably comes inside.  They can re-arrange my pantry when playing store, do messy painting and crafting indoors, and scratch the wood floors with toys and sticks.

There are no adults-only parts of our house.  Just as some people pride themselves on having such spaces, I pride myself on not having them.  Part of this is just practical, as we live in a small house and cordoning off any part of it would just shrink it further.  But mostly I really want to foster a sense of family inclusiveness, to instill in my children an unquestioned knowledge that they are an absolutely integral part of this home, to last long after they leave its four walls.  To help create that sense of belonging, I have few boundaries around what they can and can’t do around here.

Like my girlfriend, I’m pretty sure I don’t have this boundary perfectly mapped out, but I’m happy to fall on the side that I do.  I was reminded of this a few months ago as my three-year old wandered over to put a record on our turntable.  Sometimes he can do it, and sometimes he can’t.  My mother was over and kind of raised her eyebrows.  But I told her that repairing the needle would cost only $35 (ask me how I know) and pointed out that lots of people would spend that much money picking up clothes or toys that their kids don’t really need, and most of us would not think twice about that expenditure.  In other words, extravagance when it comes to children is not just in the eye of the beholder, but also sways according to social norms.

Little did I know that when I gawked in amazement at my friend’s coin-laden DVD player years ago, I was in fact absorbing a parenting lesson.  Our turntable is, alas, broken – we haven’t made the time to take it to the repair shop.  But we will, and when we do, I’ll remind my three year old how to use it.  And when our favourite songs come on, we’ll sing to them together.


Branded With A Scarlet S

When Carol initially suggested the topic of how we spoil our kids for this month’s At Issue, I rebuffed.  I don’t spoil my kids!  The 4 and 5 year-olds make their own beds every morning, sort their dirty laundry every Friday afternoon (after all, if you want something clean you’d better make sure it winds up in the washing machine) and put away their neatly folded clothes on Saturday.  They help to load and unload the dishwasher, put away groceries and collect the garbage from the washrooms.  I have even resigned from making my 5 year-old’s daily snack for school.

So what could I possibly be doing that other people might perceive as spoiling?

But before I could answer that question, I had to ask what is spoiling anyway?  Isn’t it like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?  One person’s trash is another’s treasure?  One person’s foot in the face is another’s restful slumber?

According to this website, to spoil means to do harm to the character, nature or attitude by over solicitude, overindulgence or excessive praise.

Uh-oh, excessive praise.

Does sounding the marching band and ticker tape parade for every successful use of the potty count as excessive praise?  What about the high-fives and the string of  “Good boy!” “Great job!” “ That’s awesome!” and “I am so proud of you!” that spill from my mouth several times a day?

If excessive praise counts as spoiling a child, I might as well pin a scarlet “S” to my chest and brand myself a spoiler.

There has been considerable attention paid to the pitfalls of excessive praise at my boys’ Adlerian preschool and at my local moms group.  Experts warn that over praise can actually have the opposite effect on a child’s self-esteem and encourage children to be too results focused.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D. wrote a celebrated article for Psychology Today about the possible psychological dangers of over praising.  In it he offers parents solid suggestions of ways to encourage our kids instead of praising them and by doing so he maintains our children will take more risks without worrying if they are doing a “good job”.

Initially some of the praise substitutes sounded scripted and unnatural but over time I find these words rolling off my tongue:

“I believed that you could do it!”

“It looks like you are having fun out there!”

“I like when you read me the stories,”

“Oh, I see you used your favourite colours.”

Let’s not forget that old habits die slowly and last week when my oldest son showed me his Degas inspired ballerina painting, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Wow!  That’s awesome!  Good job, buddy! I am so proud of you!!!”

I am pretty sure that Alyson Schafer would have passed out on the spot.

image credit

At Issue: What’s Your Indulgence?

A few years ago, my sister was talking to me about how someone said she was spoiling her daughter in a particular way.  In response, she said that she thought that everyone “spoiled” their kids somehow, meaning that every family has its indulgences and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There seemed a certain wisdom in this observation.  Personally, I have a healthy terror of raising egomaniacs who feel the world owes them pretty much everything, and on some issues about which many parents seem flexible, I am quite firm.  On the other hand, I probably do things with and for my children that I think lots of people might consider indulgent.  I have my reasons for most of these choices, because I’m trying to think about my parenting choices as consciously as I can.   Just as the parents whose behaviour with their children I consider immoderate may have done.  Or maybe they haven’t.

This week at 4Mothers, we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to give some thought to the ways in which we make allowances for our own kids, whether we have reasons or not, for good or for bad, and maybe just because we can.   We hope you’ll join in the discussion with indulgent tidbits (kidbits?) from your own lives.