As we, as parents, all know, without direction babies/toddlers and children would grow up to be fairly feral without the moderating effect of humanization. What are parents for? Yes, we need to feed and clothe and keep them safe, but even in all herds/tribes of animals, there is a code of behaviour that if transgressed, will have consequences. Humans have arguably more complex ones – or so we would like to think . . . .
Loosely, our behaviours need to fit into the whole as, otherwise, we could not be together – a bit like having no, or random rules for the use of motor vehicles on the road . . . . how would we be, if sometimes we decided (individually, and without warning) to drive wherever we felt – on footpaths, on the left, on the right, and sometimes, in the centre of the road?
Chaos and calamity would reign.
As the mother of a massively brain injured child who went through the Institute of Human Potential’s in Healesville, Victoria centre for neurological rehabilitation twenty five years ago, I eventually was given a ‘programme’ to instigate at home to correct behaviours. There can be a tendency to treat these kids differently from their able bodied siblings.
To we parents, some of our damaged children appeared to be ‘cute’ as they were now doing something (ANYTHING) as opposed to vegetating on the floor. Some were just aware that as they were able to manipulate their parents – the sympathy factor, the “I don’t know how much longer they have got . . .” thoughts, or general exhaustion from dealing with everything else, and prioritizing behavour less than basic care and survival needs. Much like the modern family with far too little time to do much past the instant.
I definitely knew at my place, that Kathryn got ‘allowances’ for doing things that I would never have dreamed of letting her brothers do. This, reasoned the directors of the developmental programme, had to be curtailed, as part of our child’s re entry into the real world we were rehabilitating them to live within. How were they ever going to fit in, if they did not know how to behave?
Basic Tenet of “The Law”
If children learnt language with the inconsistency of how they are taught the rules of conduct within a society, no one would be able to communicate with anyone else.
This is extremely important. We all now we have ‘rules’ and that they are bent, according to . . . how we feel – how ’good’ or otherwise we feel the transgressor has been today; the time of our menstrual cycle; the way our partner has responded to us today; the sense of tension we feel – all unrelated to anything parenting . . . . etc.
How to Execute It?
- Be consistent.
- Use no emotion, as it muddies the whole process
- Be consistent.
1 – Find a behaviour that is aggravating – and easy – not the hardest thing for you to deal with. In my daughter’s case, she was apt to push over the wooden chairs, and have them crashing to the ground, as she went past – a kind of aural full stop! to whatever was going on inside her head, I guess. . . .
2 – It has to be something that no one else in the house is allowed to do either.
In our case, there is no way anyone would get away with this wilful and destructive, loud and random behaviour. I guess at the beginning we were just happy that she could do SOMETHING .
3 – It is then ‘posted’ – as in something like an edict is written up and posted on the fridge, or wherever, and everyone is made aware of it.
As Kathryn was immensely autistic, and I had no idea what she CHOSE to hear and retain, I spoke it out, and assumed that my intention (we were playing with ESP I suspect) was clear. Sure, it came to pass that she walked past the chair, and down it went.
4 – The trick is to have the CONSEQUENCE of the action to be immediate and at a level that will ensure that it does not need repeating. This means not to be fatal, obviously, or even damaging – just something that child is not interested in having happen again – ever.
5 –To be always and forever the same with this – if “A” happened, so did “B” – immediately – no exceptions, no emotional ramifications, no reaction from anyone – just the consequence – no “I told you so’s” etc . . . . If the “B” was not a strong enough deterrent, then another stronger one would be needed, until it was, in our case, totally appropriate and instantaneous.
Also, it goes without saying that EVERYONE in the house is in agreement with this process, and there is no passive aggression going on within the parenting partnership, as kids – especially ‘special needs’ ones, (they have us on their space more than their ‘normal’ siblings) learn very well how to play us off against what and whom they want.
For Kathryn, I had a set of pot lids handy. When the thing happened that I didn’t want, I did what I knew she wouldn’t want. I crashed them together as hard as I could in her immediate vicinity.
What she had done as long as she had been able to: stopped IMMEDIATELY and never happened again. OH!! What was I doing with her brothers who were both tested past genius level?
Over and over again, nagging about minor hassles.
So – if Kathryn, who was apparently so brain injured that she was incapable of training at any level – could work this out, then why was I not using this method of living easily on everyone?
Flow-On to her Brothers
I went over to her then 12 year old brother, and took him over to the cutlery drawer. I opened it up (he was perplexed at this very odd maternal behaviour, and I had his full attention).
I explain that if he does not get all his dirty washing into the laundry, without being told to – he will have all the contents of the cutlery drawer on the floor, as I would upend the lot, and it will be his job to wash and dry all of the contents, clean the drawer, and reassemble it all as it looked at the moment.
He was horrified “But that is a waste of my time!”
Their five year old brother was next.
I led him down to his bedroom, and opened up the top drawer containing all the socks and underpants. Then I opened the next one down, that had all the tee shirts.
I then explained that if he did not pick up all his toys after he had finished playing with them, and put them right back where they were supposed to be, I would empty out all of the top drawer, and if I was particularly aggravated, due to the size of the mess he may have left about for the fairies to pick up, I would repeat this with the second drawer.
He could spend as long as he liked putting it all back in order, and then I would put the drawers back in, but he would only be getting a glass of water to drink, and only allowed out of his room to go to the loo, until it was done.
Needless to say, this was never executed, as both of them (being bright) got the point.
We all know when driving in Australia to stay ALWAYS on the left side of the road.
In places where there are a lot of overseas tourists – NZ scenic roads particularly – there are very large white arrows painted on all of the roads/exits leading out of anywhere – off bridges even. We need everyone to have the same rules; otherwise we are all in trouble.
Always and Forever as This
No exceptions – we don’t say, because it is a holiday, we can relax this and do what ever we feel like. Just because it is Sunday, we get to all drive in the middle – and choose which way we veer to, to escape the oncoming vehicle – we just ALWAYS AND FOREVER, WITHOUT EXEMPTION, know that this is what we do when driving.
Even if we come from another country (family) where the rules may be different – IN THIS country (family), THESE are the rules, and there is no argument.
Start small and see what amazing things happen when the boundaries are clear and immutable – like the driving on the left hand side of the road rule – it makes life predictable and safe – and it works.
Heather Bruce as a mother of four, has spent her adult life training to be and then training others to be an inspired healer – using the natural ways and traditional medicines. Her websites www.simplenaturalsolutions.co.nz and www.easybabies.com.au may start you on your own journey of common sense and sustainable parenting.