February 26, 2010
Awhile back, I found a rather ingenious and invaluable parenting technique on one of the blogs I frequent. (I truly wish I could remember which one, but I'm sorry to say I don't. Please let it suffice that I am acknowledging your genius. If you recognize your own sage advice, feel free to identify yourself.)
Anyway, one of my children is a hypochondriac. Seriously. Not a day goes by without some new ailment plaguing her. Usually, she's attacked by several at once. (I'm fairly certain I know the origin of her hypochondria, and let's just say it's NOT from her mama. I'm just sayin'.) Almost daily, upon pick up from school, she'd start in with the litany: "Mama, I don't feel good. My tummy hurts. My knee hurts from running today. My big toe hurts cuz I have an ingrown toenail. I've had a headache since choir today." Mind you, none of these infirmities ever got in her way when she wanted to go to a birthday party or play with her friends, but whenever it was time for chores or bedtime or, say, running in P.E., they were debilitating medical health issues. (And remember The Boy Who Cried Wolf? On the rare occasions when there actually was something going on with her, I felt like the mean, horrible mom for having told her to just 'deal with it' as usual.)
The advice I read, from the genius blogger I can't remember off the top of my head, changed all that. She said she gave her kids one ailment per day. Period. They weren't allowed to complain about anything else. Huh. So straight-forward, so easy! I decided to give it a try. I explained to my daughter that this was going to be the new way of operating around our household. She could let me know anytime if she was feeling bad, but I would only be interested in hearing about one health problem a day. That's the one we'd focus on and treat, but no complaining about any others--til tomorrow. Got a headache? Okay. We'll rest, keep quiet for awhile, pull the shades. Tummy hurts? Sorry. Remember we're focusing on the headache today, so you'll have to talk to me about the tummy tomorrow. Your knee? Nope. Not dealin' with that today.
And you know what? It worked! Unbelieveably well, actually. It only took about three days of reminding her that we were only focusing on one thing a day before she started remembering on her own. She came in to me a couple of days after I first let her in on the plan, and started to open her mouth to say something, before closing it again quickly. "What is it?" I asked. "Were you going to say something?"
"Well," she said, "I was, but I'm not going to now. I already told you my tummy hurts today, so I guess this one can wait til tomorrow." Then she went off to her room to play contentedly with her toys. Sweet!
(Before anyone gets too mad, let me assure you that if my kid was, indeed, truly ill, I'd take care of her without question, and immediately. I just wanted her to get out of the habit of 'feeling bad'--a general malaise--which was more often than not borne out of boredom, rather than anything else. Just wanted to throw that out there.)
So, since I was fortunate enough to come across some advice that I have found to be worth its weight in gold, I thought I'd 'pay it forward' and share a piece of my own advice that was a sanity-saver when my own kids were very little. (It's a little deceptive, but sometimes you've got to resort to such measures. And word to the wise: this only works until the kids start school. Then they become wise to the ruse.)
When kids are very young, pre-school age, they don't really grasp the concept of time. When there's an event on the horizon that they're looking forward to, the wait can seem unbearably long, and they are compelled to ask, repeatedly, HOW LONG UNTIL....(...we go to the zoo, ...we get to see Aunt Lisa again, ...my birthday comes, ....). The real answer might be in a week, or in a month, or in seventeen days. To a very young child, all of these answers sound essentially the same. They all mean, "Not right now, but some vague time in the future." Since it's so nebulous to them, that could mean sometime tomorrow, or even later in the day. In a month? Three year olds simply don't conceptualize a month. They aren't sitting there in their playpens, working out the math in their little baby brains, letting them know it's fruitless to ask about when we're going to Aunt Lisa's for at least another 29 days or so.
My solution? I started answering every question of that nature with "Tuesday." Random, yes, but it worked. Apparently, "Tuesday" was concrete enough to my little tykes that it satisfied their need to know when. When are we going to the zoo? Tuesday. When are we going to see Aunt Lisa? Tuesday. When do I start kindergarten? Tuesday. Is it Tuesday today? Nope. Oh, okay. Guess we'll move on then. (Occasionally they'd ask me if it was Tuesday ON Tuesday. Easy fix. Not this Tuesday--the next one.) It was magical! For whatever reason, that was enough of an answer, in a way that 'next month' wasn't. So yeah, sometimes it was a little deceitful. We don't do everything in our world on Tuesday. Sometimes things happened on Saturday. Or Wednesday. Or even Sunday. But they didn't know. Every day is just a day to them. Who cares what we call it? Once they start school though, and learn the days of the week and how calendars work, all bets are off. But by then, they figure out how long a month looks, so it's all good.
(Sadly, this does not work for the mind-numbing, "Are we there yet?" on long car rides. Not even Mom wants to hear that we're not getting anywhere until Tuesday.)
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