Test Driving ‘The Explosive Child’

We’ve actually had this book for a while now, at least two years.
When I first read it, I wasn’t very impressed. I didn’t think there was anything we could use. But it has been recommended to me by several people since then, so I am returning to it with a new determination to find out what it has to offer.
It’s an easy read. I read it in an afternoon, between scraped knees, games of draughts and our usual procession of snacks.
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It’s one of those books with lots of imagined dialogues. Now, my big hobby is writing so I have a lot of sympathy for writers struggling with dialogue. But, I didn’t think this was great dialogue, and I found that slightly distracting.
Enough about style, the real point is the content. Greene does claim to have a strategy aimed at children with difficult temperaments, even diagnosed behavioural problems – for me, that is always promising! The book begins with some fairly standard advice about avoiding the situations that provoke tantrums. Nothing new there.
The crux of this book is the three Plans for dealing with problems.
Plan A: tell child what to do.
Plan B: come up with a mutually agreeable solution with your child.
Plan C: let it go.
It is abundantly clear that Greene considers plans A and C to be inferior to Plan B. The majority of the book is devoted to examples of carrying out Plan B.
I would agree that being able to come to a mutually agreeable solution is ideal. I would love to agree solutions with my children. I can think of no parenting style that would please me more. It would give peace in the moment and give the boys lots of practice in the problem solving skills they will need as adults.
The question is: will the advice in this book get us there?

Well, I gave it a couple of weeks.

As I would have expected, the results were very mixed. Sometimes the boys can talk about solutions, sometimes they don’t want to discuss it at all. When they agree to talk, their preferred solution is ‘give me lots of chocolate, then I’ll be good’, repeated until I give up on the conversation. We haven’t yet made any mutually agreed solutions.

In fact, I am finding that presenting a ‘problem’ makes the boys less inclined to listen to my ideas than usual. I can often persuade them to consider my ideas by saying ‘some people find this helpful, would you like to try it?’ When I ask them for ideas, they fixate on an opportunity to ask for sweets and cannot be budged from this theme at all.

I don’t think we’re ready for this. If I have any success at a later date, I will update.

Everytime a parenting book fails to work out the way I had hoped, I worry that I’m just doing it wrong. Of course, this is why my husband thinks that I should read fewer parenting books. They are a bit of a guilty pleasure, I suppose. Though I do live in hope that one day I will find a magic answer!

For now, we will move on to the next book. This time I’m going with a book aimed at adopters: ‘Creating Loving Attachments’ by Kim S. Golding and Daniel A. Hughes.
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Test driving Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Part Two

Since this is such a big book, I thought I would report on a few more techniques.

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Once you get past the Descriptive Praise section, the techniques are fired out pretty rapidly. There’s a bit on Special Time, a bit on Routines, a slightly confused chapter on Sibling Rivalry, but none of those were new to me.

The technique I found most interesting was the: How to Get Your Child to Do What You Say bit. Now, I have ambivalent feelings about this idea.

Most of the time I want my children to think for themselves. I want them to question me and challenge me. I don’t really want them to be obedient people. I want them to be kind, gentle, creative and courageous people. So, I do worry that if I focus too much on getting them to do as they are told I will be teaching the wrong values.

On the other hand, sometimes things are dangerous to them (like running into roads or sticking fingers in boiling sugar) and sometimes things are dangerous to others (like throwing tables or cutting guy ropes). Sometimes I want to be able to get the children to stop fast and ask questions later.

In addition to this l want to teach my children. I want them to listen when I explain things. I want them to practice skills even though it isn’t always fun. I want the children to take me seriously when I am being serious.

So Janis-Norton has a two part process to make children do as they are told. These parts can be rather times consuming, which I have decided is a good thing. If it takes a while to tell your child to do something, you are more likely to carefully select what things you tell him to do. I suspect that telling the children to do things less frequently is a good strategy, though it’s not the focus of the book.

Step One: Give Clear Expectations. Janis-Norton recommends ‘Think Throughs’. Basically you ask the child what to do in such and such a situation so that when such and such a situation occurs you can just ask them to remember. This is like a read-through of the role plays that we often use to get the boys to practice responses. It is quicker than a role play and easier to fit in more options.

Step Two: Wait a Bit. Several times Janis-Norton suggests that you should wait ‘slightly longer than you are comfortable waiting’. She’s right. The boys can move slowly and we have had some success with standing and waiting for Middly to do as he’s been asked. Once the child has acknowledged what you want, you just stand there and wait. Sometimes they get on with it.

There are definitely a few good ideas in this book. I found the tone a touch patronising, but that is rather common in this genre!

This isn’t a book for extreme problems. There’s no help for aggressive tantrums, for example, Janis-Norton suggests physical restraint and ‘not allowing’ children to hit parents.

It’s not a great book for people with more than one child (admittedly also a very common failure in parenting books). All the advice – even the Sibling Rivalry chapter – is about dealing with one child at a time.

But, it does have a couple of interesting ideas. And it does cover – albeit sometimes briefly – a lot of the standard parenting tips. If you wanted to read one parenting book and get a good overview of modern parenting books, this would be great.

As for us, we’ll be trying a new one next week! 😉

We’re moving on to ‘The Explosive Child’ by Ross W. Greene
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Test Driving Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.

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We read a lot of parenting books. I am desperate to give my boys the best childhoods possible, desperate to prepare them well for their adult lives. Sometimes, just desperate to get through the day!

I thought it might be fun to start a series of posts recording how we get on using the techniques from various books. I’m going to start with Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton. This book can (obviously) be picked up online or in shops, but there is also a course and all sorts of other stuff, which you can find out about on Janis-Norton’s website here.

This book doesn’t target adopted children in particular, though the author has been a foster carer and does claim to have had success with ‘children with more extreme temperaments or with diagnosed special needs’.

It is quite a long book, with an informal style and very clear examples.

Janis-Norton asks readers to begin by spending several weeks implementing her plan of Descriptive Praise before using other techniques. So I’ll talk about those later.

First Descriptive Praise. It sounds rather like Positive Parenting, which is pretty ubiquitous at the moment, you can get a good summary of that from the NSPCC. The idea is to ‘catch children being good’ and say what you see e.g. I see that you waited in the line until it was your turn to go on the slide, that was considerate.

To be honest, I feel we use this sort of thing quite a bit already. E.g. our star chart has a little explanation by each sticker:

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It’s also a big part if my technique for teaching the boys. For example, I always draw a little star underneath really neat letters when they do some writing.
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But, Janis-Norton does add something I hadn’t tried before. She suggests that, even if a child isn’t doing quite what you want, you comment on how close they are getting. For example, when the boys are tantrumming, I could wait for a pause and say (very fast, maybe) ‘you’ve stopped hitting, you are controlling yourself’.

I am not going to recap the entire book here, that seems rather unfair. Obviously, I am very much in favour of buying books! But, you might want to see how we get on first!

We have been trying for only one weekend so far. Like most new techniques, we are taking a bit of time to get used to it. We forget sometimes and use our usual techniques. Also, Janis-Norton doesn’t suggest that this is the only thing you say to your children, so – obviously – a lot of stuff is just going on as usual.

But, so far, I am reasonably hopeful. I haven’t noticed any change in the children. And, as I would expect (and, to be fair to Janis-Norton, she does acknowledge), a lot of the time the boys respond to my descriptive praise by instantly doing the exact opposite. Yet, I am feeling a bit more cheerful. Saying positive things makes me feel positive. And a lot of the time parental attitude is a bigger factor in how the day goes than child behaviour is.

We have selected one particular problem to try and solve with thus technique. The book does suggest this as a possible approach, so I feel it is fair. I will post again in a fortnight and let you know how effective we have been.

Of course if this book solves all my parenting problems then this won’t turn into a series at all. 😉

Parenting Guide by My Boys

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This afternoon, I was still recovering from a pesky virus, so the boys were enjoying Free Time. They got on the computer together and wrote a book on how to be a good parent.
It includes 15 tips. Here they are:

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Well, it’s worth a try. We have always been very resistant to long term bribery (short term bribery is a cornerstone of my parenting, however). But, my boys have great faith in the power of the written word.

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I was rather pleased to see them including routine. I have always felt that our family routine is important to the boys. Not sure if this shows their self-awareness or their impressive ability to say what I want to hear.

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I am sure it is a bad sign that the boys are so confident that mummies and daddies can put on the TV or give their children electronic games and then relax. Eldest sometimes says ‘Mummy, why don’t you put on the TV and switch us off for a bit’. Oops.
They made a front cover, and even wrote a little blurb on the back:

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Then they gave it to Daddy for Valentine’s Day.

Great Lesson Two – Life

So, after the success of the First Great Lesson and the First Research Projects, maybe there was a little bit of pressure to ensure that the Second Lesson was good.
I didn’t make much use of Montessori stuff with this lesson. I wanted to talk a bit more about the evolution of life and there isn’t a lot of that in Montessori.
Instead I wrote my own talk, drawing rather heavily on The Great Wall Book of Natural History. I got a box of fossils, which I gave the boys to hold at various points in the talk. And I had some cuddly amoebas (part of the utterly adorable Giant Microbes range), which the boys held on to throughout the talk. I also got out the boys’ microscope and a set of slides showing bacteria, fish scales, hair etc. I encouraged the boys to look at individual slides throughout the talk.
I found a poster dividing animals into groups. And I made my own posters showing the Five Kingdoms and also the Prokaryote / Eurakaryote division of life.
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Then the boys had a bit of fun looking at all the things I lined up to inspire their next research projects.
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Eldest wants to play with the Bug Barn. So he’s exploring the wildlife of our garden. Middly wants to set up the Ant World. So he’s going to investigate ants.
Secretly, I am slightly concerned that we’re ignoring all the other fantastic things, like the DNA model and the microscope and slide-making kit. But, I think I concealed it! Theoretically, I do want this to be interest-led learning. If I am really excited about making slides, I should just do it myself (I already have played with the DNA model while they were in bed)!

What my children taught me about Jupiter and Rocks.

Middly and Eldest have done their second presentations. I was rather proud of how much better these were than the last ones. There were more facts (hooray!). And Eldest’s talk flowed rather well.
Eldest had chosen to research Jupiter. He made a model (he used marbling inks to make the pattern, then stuck on tissue paper for the rings).
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This is his script:
“Jupiter has a set of rings. All the Gas Giants have rings. Jupiter is a Gas Giant. Jupiter is 1,300 times the size of Earth. You can fit all the planets inside Jupiter.
“After Pioneer 11’s launch, Mission Control realised that they could use Jupiter’s gravity to alter Pioneer 11’s course to reach Saturn before Voyagers 1 and 2.
“Scientists think the very centre of Jupiter is 40,000°C and Jupiter’s cloud tops are about -150°C.
“The volcanoes spit special chemicals out to make Io yellow. Europa has a sea. Jupiter has 63 moons, 4 of which were found by Galileo. Ganymede is bigger than Mercury.
“Jupiter takes 10 hours to spin on its axis. Jupiter’s storms make it spin very fast. Jupiter spins at over 29,000 miles an hour. If Earth span at this speed our day would be less than an hour.”
He also drew (using a pair of compasses for the very first time) some of Jupiter’s moons.
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Middly researched rocks. This is his speech:
“Rocks contain fossils and plants. Meteorites can be bigger than 14 jumbo jets. Weathering means exposure to the effects of the weather. Wind blows sand grains that break rock. The reason Oceanic Crust floats lower, on Mantle, is that it is denser than Continental Crust. The Mantle is molten rock. The crust is up to 40km thick.”
He drew the Rock Cycle.
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I was particularly impressed when he paused to answer questions. It’s amazing, he really has learned something!
He also had a little demo. He made a Fold Mountain and a Rift Valley out of plasticine.

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At the end of the presentations we did something extra. Everyone said something they had enjoyed about each of the presentations. Then each boy thought of something they wanted to do better in their next presentation. I am looking forward to seeing if that makes any difference to the next ones!

I don’t just want them to be happy.

‘I don’t mind what they do when they grow up; I just want them to be happy.’
Someone said this to me and I was a bit taken aback. Really? They just want their children to be happy. All the time? What does that even mean? And how can you aim for that? What kind of parenting produces a ‘happy’ adult?

I prefer imagining my boys happy than sad, of course (that said, who actually wants their children to be sad? Hoping your children – or indeed any people at all – will be happy is basically an empty remark). But I don’t really believe that they can be happy all the time. Nor do I think that their happiness is something I can aim for.

My husband and I have talked about the future, and we have a list of aims for our children.
We want them to be:
1) Independent – we want to set them up so that they can live without us. We want them to have all the necessary skills to live independent lives managing bills, housework and self-care.
2) Employable – we want to give our children the knowledge and abilities they need to get and keep jobs.
3) Able to make loving commitments – obviously we don’t know what their lives will be like or who they will love. But we want the boys to be able to live in healthy relationships with others. We want them to be able to fall in love, to show their love, to make a commitment to love someone else. We want them to be able to raise children of their own.

But, the truth is, that isn’t the full extent of our ambition. We also have short term aims. Today (and tomorrow, and so on) we want our children to be:
1) Safe.
2) Listened to. Mainly by us, of course, but it is also my job to make sure they learn to listen to each other and don’t get ignored by shop assistants.
3) Supported. We want to give them everything they need: the coats, the gloves, the boundaries, the footballs, the felt tips, the acknowledgement, the plasters, the snacks, the routine; so that they can get on with childhood.
4) Challenged. We don’t want things to be too easy. Sometimes they need to stretch for a higher branch, to puzzle out a tricky word, to work out an agreement over sharing that new toy; sometimes I want things to be a little bit difficult for them. If the children are going to grow up over time, they have to do a little bit of growing every day.

Of course these are aims. I wouldn’t say that I always keep them all in mind or that we achieve everything I want to achieve every day. And if the boys grow up and don’t achieve all that we want for them, we certainly won’t love them any less. I hope that we won’t feel disappointed in our parenting either, but I can’t be sure.

It just seems to me that, if you want to make progress, you need to be moving towards something.
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