October 25, 2012

Behavior Regression

Elizabeth is having a behavior regression of some sort. One reason it's hard to put a finger on what kind of regression it is is that I think I stopped using the word "regression" after babyhood, so it no longer feels like a natural word to use. But I'm finding it's a really good word for post-babyhood, too, as it implies "temporary" and "a step back, but still on the path" and so on. Encouraging! It felt better to say a baby was having a sleep regression instead of saying that the baby had stopped sleeping nicely, MAYBE NEVER TO START AGAIN; and it feels better to say 7-year-old Elizabeth is having a behavior regression, instead of saying that she may be morphing into someone who leaves her coat and backpack on the floor even after I've told her three times to pick them up.

Exhibit A

Based on her temperament I don't THINK it's defiance, although it's likely to be line-finding: seeing how much she really has to do. Paul told me that when he was a child, his mom would tell him to do a task---say, mowing the lawn. He would start mowing, but then halfway through he'd "come in for a drink of water" and then drift away and start reading a book. He found that if she came upon the task half-done, and then found him reading, she would sigh heavily and then finish the task herself. As you can imagine, this pattern has caused us some issues in our marriage. Thanks for the enduring legacy, mother-in-law.

But I see how easy it is to do, without intending to. When I tell Elizabeth that after she takes her shower she needs to bring her discarded pajamas back to her room with her, and then after she's left for school I find those pajamas still on the bathroom floor, it's easy to sigh heavily and do it myself: I don't want to look at the clothes on the floor all day, and I don't want to bring out the Big Parenting Guns for a single episode of forgetting.

But it's not a single episode anymore, which snuck up on me a bit. With my own temperament, and with this number of children, and with the way I'm typically half-composing a blog post in my head at any particular time, a child has to do something quite a few times before it gets to the front of my attention---which CAN be good (it means my controlling/micro-managing impulses are distracted and I'm not likely to jump on the kids for one single error or for an issue that will resolve itself) but also CAN be bad, because things can get pretty far off-track before I realize I need to engage the parenting engines. Then it takes longer to pull things back to where they should be than it would have if I'd noticed and corrected right away.

As in this case, where even though for several days I have been pointing out the problem to Elizabeth and cracking down on the follow-through, I haven't yet seen a change in HER behavior---just in MINE, which is the first stage of change. I don't remind her three times; instead, the very first time I need to remind her I include a gentle scold with that reminder: "Elizabeth. You are supposed to be putting away your backpack without me reminding you." I DO leave her pajamas on the bathroom floor all day so she can put them in the laundry herself when she gets home from school---and to compensate me for looking at the messy heap all day, I also have her do another little task for me. Instead of waiting to scold until after we've had to scramble and panic, I include a partial scold with an instruction: "Time to get ready for school. And remember, you've been dawdling recently and then we've both had to scramble, and a scolding at the bus stop is not a nice way for either of us to start our day; let's not have that happen today."

(the view this morning, after Elizabeth left for school)

25 comments:

MomQueenBee said...

Now that is some excellent parenting right there. I tended to be more of a Paul's mother, with the heavy sighs and doing it myself, and I have a message for my future daughters-in-law: I'm sorry!

LoriD said...

Sigh. We've had the same backpack/lunch bag/school papers routine going on FOR YEARS. Everyday, I still remind at least one of them to "do the right thing with your backpacks".

Anne said...

My MIL-husband clearly had the same dynamic because if he has one flaw, it's NEVER EVER EVER finishing a task to completion!! Cleaning the kitchen doesn't count if it isn't swept and the counters aren't sprayed and wiped down!! But great job sticking to your guns and making Elizabeth actually do her tasks as well as an extra one. Brilliant really.

Mary O said...

This is excellent. I am seeing similarities between my parenting style and Paul's mom, though, and that is not excellent. Time to course correct!

Melissa Haworth said...

Glad it's not just me that finds talking to a 7 year old girl more like talking to a brick wall. I am a broken record (with the repeating track regarding responsibilities interspersed with both "gentle correction" and remarks like "I don't want to SPANK YOU I don't believe in spanking but OH MY GOSH I MIGHT CHANGE MY MIND"

Erica said...

My husband has been having the same behavior regression... For about the entire time of our marriage. I either live amongst all the clothes on the floor or pick them up myself. Good luck with it!

Laura Lou said...

Seven explained by one of Moxie's commenters: http://hedra.typepad.com/hands_full_of_rocks/2008/08/seven-is-not-my.html

Helpful to know that it's a regression--just like you said!

And yes, I have mentally filed this away for when I need it in two years.

Nicole said...

Good parenting! I have recently adopted the "No one likes it when I speak sharply and rush you first thing in the morning" and OMG it works! The children are like, yeah, we hate that, and they CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR. However, I need to adopt your method about leaving their gdamned socks on the floor. They do this every day after school and I end up picking them up WHILE SIGHING HEAVILY. I should just leave the gdamn socks until they run out of socks.

Swistle said...

Laura Lou- OOOO I HAD NOT SEEN THIS! Good stuff! I emailed the link to Paul, too!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

I am currently staring at a pile of last night's pjs in the bathroom. It's upstairs and all but I can still SEE IT ARG.

Usually, I would wait till tonight to point it out or loudly TRIP ON IT in front of my 6 yo but perhaps I will try your tactic and have her pick it up as soon as she gets home from school AND do something else helpful (The sink! It needs a good wipe down!)

May the force be with us all.

d e v a n said...

My 7 year old is currently having a regression in the listening area. I also let it go on too long, and he's sharp enough to really take advantage of that (as most 7 year olds are!) and the fact that I'm spread too thin. *sigh*

Ali said...

I have that same pile in my bathroom, only it's from my 33 year old husband. Is there a 33 year old regression? When I kindly (in a nice tine and everything) told him it was driving me crazy to pick up his dirty underwear, he said "no one is making you do it.". Arrrgghh! Any ideas of how to solve this..,other than murder?

artemisia said...

See - I wouldn't even THINK of how to handle this situation. I am sure I would just REACT to everything as a parent, and thus, be a horrible parent and raise immature, weird monsters.

So already I think you are handling this quite spot on.

H said...

Did you see the segment (not sure where I saw it, Today maybe?) about the parents who stopped picking up after their kids? They waited, if I remember correctly, until the kids realized what was going on and started to clean it themselves. Anyway, the house was a disaster by the time they cleaned it up! My kids don't live at home anymore, but it made me wonder what would have happened had I done that when they did live here. I tended to pick it up myself and let the irritation fester until it became a huge deal. Your approach sounds MUCH better!

Swistle said...

Ali- I think I'd start with simple: asking him if he agreed that (1) those things needed to be picked up, and that (2) it was fair for him to be the one to do it. If he does pick them up but not for days, I'd add stuff about how bad the bathroom looks in the meantime, and how much it bugs me, and would he be willing to do it out of love, just because he knows it bothers me.

If that didn't work, I'd move to talking about how such actions made me FEEEEEEEL (like he viewed me as a lesser being; like he didn't care that something was making me unhappy, even if it required almost no effort from him; like my choices were to put up with a messy bathroom or else do his work for him, which wasn't fair or respectful of him), because Paul would hate that kind of talk and might shape up just to avoid a repetition.

If that didn't work, I might move to a threat: that if I had to pick them up, I'd do what _I_ wanted with them. What I'd want to do with them would be something like put them onto his pillow, or put them back in his sock drawer dirty, or throw them out the window, or put them in the trash, or hide them, or put them in his car, or do anything that would make it a MORE inconvenient situation than just picking up his own socks.

If THAT didn't work, I'd despair and feel like probably I married the wrong person. (That's how I feel about the way Paul loads the dishwasher.)

g~ said...

because Paul would hate that kind of talk and might shape up just to avoid a repetition.


***BEST LINE EVER!!!!

Sarah said...

Does your girl ALSO leave all her dirty clothes turned inside out, consistently and even after repeatedly being asked to please please either figure out a different way to remove the clothes or to turn them out again herself? I swear doing her laundry makes me so mad because it takes twice as long as the boys when I have to stand at the washing machine untangling dirty underwear from pants that were all shoved off together and left in a crumpled, inside out pile on the bathroom floor.
Ahem. But thank you for the reminder to DO something about it other than seethe and bitch. Such as make HER turn everything inside out when it's time to wash her clothes.

Bibliomama said...

I've had this issue with Angus (12) about leaving his clothes on the floor/bed/bunk ladder/everywhere else in his room, rather than walking them two metres down the hall to put them in the laundry. I let it go and pick them up and rationalize that he's so good in so many other ways that it's really not a big deal and then suddenly I'm a flaming bitch-meteor who will ignite at the site of ONE MORE SOCK ON THAT EFFING FLOOR. I managed not to go off on him too badly, but he definitely got that I was fed up, and it's been good for a few weeks now. As for the thing where they throw their clothes in all tangled up together? It never even occurred to me that I was allowed to get mad about that.

Swistle said...

Sarah- OMG TIGHTS TURNED INSIDE OUT, SOCKS TURNED INSIDE OUT, UNDERPANTS AND TIGHTS AND SKIRT ALL IN ONE UNIT INSIDE OUT, AIEEEEEEEEEE

vanessa said...

OMG SEVEN IS THE WORST. funny story: 4, 7 and 13 year olds all get the same surge of hormones. but 4 is still cute and you can still just pick them up and cuddle them and they dont have common sense yet, which I find endearing; and 13 you EXPECT to be kind of awful, and also you can make them do all sorts of things by themselves and reason with them more, but SEVEN IS HORRID.

Ahem.

Ali said...

Swistle, I knew I loved you! Now let's just hope one of your ideas works without leading me to despair. :)

Beth said...

"engage the parenting engines"
I love this.
So descriptive of what happens after I suddenly wake up and realize I've been letting something slide.

Lora said...

As a "parenting professional" (not to be confused with "professional parent"!) I say you are doing the exact right thing.

And this is totally typical "7" behavior. Seven year olds are pretty complex. Complex is a nice way to say they are pains in the asses.

I have some awesome ages and stages stuff I can send you, I think it really helps to post it on my fridge so I can go to it and know what's normal and what's a flag signaling that my child is morphing into a serial killer.

Swistle said...

Ali- I thought of one more thing I'd try: offering a trade. If there's some little thing that bugs him that you could offer in exchange ("I will try to remember to hang up my purse / brush the crumbs off the counter after I make toast / turn my pillow flap so it faces the outside edge of the bed, if you will try to remember to take your dirty clothes with you"), that can be very effective.

Missy said...

I have handled this by putting any items that the child failed to pick up after being asked into a special basket. To get the item back the child has to do a chore to "pay" for getting it back. It's win-win to me. I don't have to look at crap on the floor all day, and the child gets a consequence about leaving stuff out and failing to follow directions. It usually works pretty well. It works best during those times I happen to get an item of importance in the basket.