Saturday, November 12, 2011

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Physical Needs

[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Choosing to use gentle discipline is scary at first.  What are you going to do if you give up spanking?  Time out?  What if that doesn't work?  Take away privileges?  What if your kids are too young to really care?  I remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach when we first decided not to spank.  It was like jumping off a cliff and not being sure of the landing.

It turns out that there are many, many tools besides spanking and time outs.  I gave an overview of some of our favorites, but now I want to open up that toolbox by focusing on each one, with practical tips of how to use it.  Even if spanking is still one of your tools right now, I hope that as you read through the alternatives you will find fewer reasons to use it. For more in this series, click here.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.

Meeting Physical Needs

Punitive parenting is about responding to a behavior.  Proactive parenting means that instead of waiting for a problem, we work at helping our kids *before* it gets to that point.  One of the basic ways to do this is to make sure that physical needs are being met.  When I first heard that kind of reminder, I felt a tad defensive.  Is she implying that I am a neglectful parent?  Of course I take care of physical needs!!

Healthy summer snack
Image credit lindaaslund on Flickr
I am sure that you do what you can to meet your child's needs.  But in the hustle and bustle of all the responsibilities that we have, many of us fall into the habit of ignoring our physical needs to get things done.  Sometimes, our kids do that, too.  If I go too long without a snack or break, I get grouchy, and so do my kids.  I have learned to ask at regular intervals:  Are we getting healthy snacks?  Plenty to drink?  Enough rest?  Younger kids even get so busy playing at times that they ignore a need to go to the bathroom.  

Another important physical need is exercise.  We all need those endorphins.  A huge part of why we homeschool is that my kids need plenty of physical activity, and sitting in a classroom wouldn't allow them to run, climb, dance, jump and do everything else they need to do in order to use their growing muscles and get the wiggles out.  This is all well and good, but what if you can't go outside?  A couple of our favorite indoor activities are pillow piles and the pushing game.  Dancing is always good, especially when mixed with a moment to freeze and see who has the funniest position or expression.  

I know there are some people who suspect that parents nowadays invent food allergies for their kids.  Whatever the reasons behind food allergies, the truth is that they have risen dramatically, and they often don't look like hives and anaphylaxis.  And young kids may not be able to verbalize their symptoms.  Mold gives me an exhausted, foggy-brained  feeling that I struggle to put into words, even as an adult.  I have difficulty concentrating and a headache.  A lot of kids respond to wheat or gluten that way.  Tummy troubles, mucousy stools, constipation and other issues can make a child very cranky.  Some kids react to food dyes, gluten and other common foods by getting hyper and bouncing off the walls.  According to our allergist, dairy and other foods can even cause bladder spasms, so that a child doesn't feel the urge to urinate then suddenly has an accident. 

Image credit Wallula Junction on Flickr
Most of us are sympathetic to a baby who is teething.  But we forget about it as they get older.  Molars, though, are some of the most painful teeth to break through the gums, and they come through around two years and again around six.  No wonder those are some of the toughest ages for kids!  I remember the pain of wisdom teeth coming through, and for little kids to deal with the constant irritation and inflammation of cutting molars has to take a toll on their behavior some days.

How often have our kids had a tough day, and then the next day they get sick?  I can't tell how many times I have been aggravated at their behavior, only to look back a day or two later and realize that they were coming down with something.  Even if they don't have visible symptoms yet, they may be fighting off an ear infection, a virus or something else.

Finally, while no one wants to suspect that their child has special needs, it often isn't until children are much older that issues like an auditory processing disorder or other things are diagnosed.  Make sure that you are giving sufficient time for your child to completely understand your request and then to respond (which even in neurotypical kids often takes much longer than we realize).  I have even known of families who eventually discovered hearing loss in their child and finally realized that much of what had seemed to be willfully ignoring them was not.  And of course, there are tons of possibilities I haven't covered here.   If your default is to assume that they are doing the best that they can in a given moment, it will save a lot of energy from regret later!

People who don't feel well usually don't act right.  We know that.  But sometimes we need to be reminded.  If your child's behavior is telling you that something is wrong, take a look at possible physical causes.  There might be more going on than meets the eye.


Sheila said...

I do this all the time. People tend to think that I'm "just making excuses for my child." Well, yeah, in a way I am. But not for anyone else -- for me. Just like I make excuses for my husband when he's grumpy after a hard day, or how I want people to make excuses for me when I've got a bit of PMS.

Finding a physical explanation for troublesome behavior doesn't mean you ignore it. It means you work to solve it where possible (hm, looks like our day was too busy; perhaps we should try for an early bedtime; I wonder if we could eliminate something from his diet) and even when you can't, you come at the problem with understanding. Do you still deal with it and try to help the child do better? Of course! You just don't get angry, because you know he's having a rough day. Sometimes on days like that, we just snuggle and read books. Other times -- especially the manically hyper over-tired days -- we go to the playground and play all afternoon. I don't have to accept bad behavior just because it has a good explanation -- I still help the child do better. I just can do a better job than that when I know what he's going through.

I guess I'm a bit defensive, because I nannied for a woman who had a different excuse for her wild kids every day. And yet she never made a move to fix the problems or reconnect with her kids to solve it. That's just trying to explain away a problem, and naturally I was put off. But knowing a physical cause for a problem doesn't mean explaining it away and ignoring it, but trying a tactic that's more likely to work based on the information you have.

dulce de leche said...

Sheila, thank you so much! That was brilliant, and I agree with you. I really appreciate you taking this topic and adding so much insight and clarification. <3

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