Thursday, 26 September 2013

Strategic Neglect

Before we had kids, I remember buying a book called 'The Idle Parent' because it tied in so well with what I wanted my parenting to be like. I want my kids to be kids, with all the skinned knees and boredom that entails. I didn't want to helicopter them - I wanted them to learn that boredom is a part of life, and that if you push through it hard enough there's usually something fun on the other side. I had - and have - no problems with not being a cruise-director parent. I used to openly mock cruise-director parents.

However.

When my kids are bored, they don't role-play or imagine or read books or even beg for TV. When my kids are bored, they fight.  One child needles, the other child squeals, then the first yells and the second bites. It's like the totally predictable steps in a dance that I've seen too many times before. I'm not talking about ordinary fighting, by the way. People who see this are all oh wow, your kids are awful fighters and I'm all I know and then we both run and prise them apart before anybody ends up in hospital, or jail.

A post-fighting time-out. In a department store. Because they had just pulled over a mannequin. I am not making this up. 


I can't stand it. I can't stand the fighting, obviously, and I can't stand the way it means that they never ever push through to independent, sustained play. It's kind of pathological and I feel sick just writing about it.

It can't go on. They are getting big - they are four, for pity's sake - and lots of kids their age are in school. We decided we wanted to have them home with us until they were five, for attachment-y reasons, and I'm glad that we did that. I'm aware that if we'd done something different, I'd probably be glad that we had done that, too; I know our brains are predisposed to think that we've made good choices, so my lack of regret means nothing, really. I have some Big Thoughts about school readiness, and how attachment stuff ties into that, but I don't know how to write about it without sounding like I'm being judgy. And believe me, I am in no position to be judgy. I met the lovely Dr Spouse recently, and during the two-or-so hours we were together, my children whined constantly, had tantrums, did constant baby talk, tried to drink HER coffee (after I'd already let them drink MY coffee) and then one of them ran out onto the middle of the road. She will back me up that I am not in a position to make statements about how anybody else does parenting. And did they hit me, K? Yeah, I'm pretty sure at least one of them hit me.

But anyway, yes, I'm glad that they've been home with us. Attachment-wise, I do feel like they have needed it. But if I'm brutally honest, sometimes I fear that I mistake ordinary clinginess for attachment stuff, or that I've enabled what I should have been helping them to overcome. It's all very chicken-and-egg:  what came first, the parent who stayed home and did attachment parenting or the child who sobbed with fear when he had to spend ten minutes being looked after by someone he didn't know? 

Yeah, I don't know either.

Anyway.

I think that they are well and truly old enough - and mentally and physically developed enough - to be playing on their own, but the problem is that they don't know how to do it. Most kids learn from when they are tiny, but not my two. Because boredom has always turned into fighting, then into intervention from me, they do not know how to push through that boredom barrier. They have no idea what might wait on the other side. They are too old for this. They need to learn.

So: my kids need to learn to do some basic independent play, but it seems that they can't do it at home. I can't just neglect them and leave them to get on with it, because of the violence.  The only way they can seem to play for any sustained period is if they are at a park or one of those horrible indoor play centres. For this reason, I have determined to start neglecting my kids in public places. The way it works is that I sit on a bench or a chair, within their line of sight, but I refuse to get up and play with them. I'm explicit with them about what is happening - I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups - and then I shoo them away.

The advantage of all this is that I'm there - no need for anxiety - but I'm not cruise directing. Occasionally, I give them tips: for goodness sake, you have a twin. Go on the see saw, obviously, but I refuse to leave my chair.

Two minutes later: Mummy-mummy-mummy! I am on the slide! and then I say Yuh-huh, that's great, now keep playing. And if they say Come and watch me on the slide! I say no, I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups. 

Because really - really- they do need to learn to play without any grownups. When I write it there, it sounds kind of harsh. Either harsh, or utterly ridiculous, that I'm so panicked about doing the wrong thing by my kids that I'm even subjecting them to strategic neglect.

I won't lie, though, it's also kind of awesome. Goodbye, boiling park-rage that I usually succumb to. Hello, twenty minutes to actually read a book (with one eye, at least). Hello, time spent just staring into space and calling it parenting.

Strategic neglect. It's all I can come up with. And it's working okay - they can manage playing together outside for much longer than they used to - but it doesn't seem to be spilling over into how they deal with each other or themselves when they are trapped inside our small house.

And winter is coming.

I'm afraid.

26 comments:

  1. Okay, I don't know if you want ideas or not, but I'll just throw this in. When my kids use their creative energies to terrorize each other, I switch over to choices to get them moving into play. "Do you want to spend quiet team reading separately, or do you want to play together?" Okay, they want to play together. "Do you want to build a lego village or make a blanket fort?" If they say "painting! I want to paint!" I repeat the choices on offer until they pick one. I get them set up. If they fight, then they get to read quietly, by themselves. After a couple goes they know the drill and prefer to get on with playing something together. I make sure it's something I know will keep them busy for awhile, and that won't need me to keep helping after the initial outlay of materials. Just a thought.

    The fighting brings on madness, and the quiet cup of tea alone is bliss. Worth working for, for sure!

    Oh, a second thought, there are things that I responded to totally differently for my adopted son and my non adopted daughter and son. Figuring out what is adoption/attachment related and what is just kid stuff is hard!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES!!! Especially for those of us who don't have a 'control' sample population :)

      Delete
  2. Long time lurker but I had to post on this. I have four kids born within 22 months of each other (all adopted) and honestly, strategic neglect is a perk of having multiples.

    I am not supposed to be the entertainment at all times. You can come to mommy and daddy when you need loving or if you want to read a book or help with chores. But you are not to come to us to entertain you because we will put you to work. My 4 year old will do laundry, clean the bathroom, sweep the kitchen, etc. My oldest is seven and she does all those things and makes beds, handles dishes, etc. Because if you're bored enough to bicker that means you're ready to do some chores.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I need to try doing more of this!! Great idea!!

      Delete
  3. ^^ Kait is smart. Two thoughts on this. 1- I think they cannot do it because they came as a package deal so they've never truly had the opportunity to self amuse. I don't know exactly how you achieve it because mine came 4 years and 9 years apart, so I've never had a herd. A twins forum maybe?
    2- Some kids are good at this, some aren't. I have two that are/were (15yo bio, 3yo Russian) and one that isn't, still, at almost 12. If it's any consolation though my niece was bad at this too as a child, but now she's a senior who's social and working on being valedictorian. And she happily self amuses. All teens will spend countless hours alone. Not really, but away from you.

    Oh and if you conquer the hitting, let me know what works. I've tried it all and I'm still getting whomped on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that's the best advertisement for having a teenager that I've heard in a long while.

      Delete
  4. Oh yes. And the next step will be-- You need to learn to play, while mommy has a grown up conversation with another adult. That's big. And ups the ante. "are you bleeding or need an ambulance? No. Than you need to learn to let mommy have a FLIPPING GROWN UP CONVERSAAATTTIOONNN!!!!" only.. you know. calm. balanced. and matter of fact. I think you should copyright the phrase "strategic neglect"

    ReplyDelete
  5. OMG. You have written about my house and my twins. The FIGHTING! I swear it will kill me. Pinching and biting and hair pulling--that's what my kids do. My daughter beats up on her brother and he comes crying. But then 10 mins later he taunts her so of course, she beats up on him again. And then for variety they switch, he's the hitter and she's the teaser. What I wonder about -- is this level/amount of fighting a regular sibling thing or a twin thing? I just had one older brother and we weren't even close enough to fight so I don't know what "regular siblings" do. We have spent the last year very purposefully trying to separate our twins -- putting them into different little classes at our local park so they 1-stop depending on each other 2-they stop protecting each other and 3- so they can figure out how to play with other kids! It's helped but like you I wonder if we would have been better off putting them into day care at least part time instead of sitting around with just me all day for the past 4 years! I do like Kait's advice on "if you're bored enough to fight then you can do some chores!" Will be starting that tomorrow!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See, Kat, for some reason I imagine that YOUR twins are always angelic to each other. So glad to hear you've got fighters too! (Sorry!)

      Delete
  6. Hi!

    I was wondering about separate activities too, I don't know how practical that is for you. Or maybe some nursery time which will be a lot gentler than school, and where in my experience they do understand about attachment?

    ReplyDelete
  7. We're working on playing without mommy too. My son is an only child, and he's clever enough to tell me I have to play with him because he doesn't have a brother or sister to play with. So I'll play games, read stories...but at the park? No way. I will assist with things that are physically challenging, spot him when he's climbing things he could get hurt falling from, push him on the swing, but play? No, look, a dozen other kids. Try them. Mommies do not chase you around being a monster, climb on the play structures, play superheros, etc. Sigh. Mommies talk with the other mommies, please?

    ReplyDelete
  8. "strategic neglect" you say? I'm glad it has a name. I just thought I was being too lazy to get up off my rear to watch her every move---even though she would like me to. I'm with you on the SN therapy. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. There is no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothes - so I suggest we do some joint strategic neglect in warm and waterproof clothing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes!! I think this might be the winter when I finally buy a down-filled coat.

      Delete
  10. I SO feel you on the fighting thing - my girls (22 months apart) are big time brawlers, even though the baby's only just now two. My almost-four year old just started full day preschool instead of the 1.5 days of daycare per week that they were both doing. Having time apart has vastly improved their sibling relationship - the other day I told them to go play together nicely while I did dishes. AND THEY DID.
    good luck with your littles, and count me in for SN parenting! (nurture does not always look like intervention!)

    ReplyDelete
  11. lol D and I've been parenting with "strategic neglect" ever since ours were babies. We'd leave them on their blanket and let them get on with it... for 5 minutes at first and now they're really good at not coming to us all the time, unless they're in that annoying, tired, nagging and whining phase.

    I have lots of good ideas for you - but only take if you feel up to it.

    I always have a mental list of things they and I can do in the same vicinity (I'm not a park person :)) in the house, and in the garden.

    Outside - they run around and play, and I walk around taking pics of arbitrary things, or hanging laundry, tidying up and tossing toys surreptitiously, etc. Inside, what about those activity books, or puzzles, or cutting and pasting (a big favourite around here - very messy - I have to "feel up to it", but verrrrrrry worthwhile - they can easily spend an hour cutting and pasting nonsense in books). Latest favourite is this present thing (I think they see me doing presents all the time for people) - they wrap up any nonsense - crayons, puzzles, etc. in paper with a LOT of sellotape. First I got upset, now I think, hey R3,99 (a roll) = 30 minutes with a book... BARGAIN!
    ]
    Hey, I should write a post!

    And oh yes, the fighting. Granted it's only 5% of the time here but it's vicious. I have to say, "HEY, you're supposed to LOVE YOUR BROTHER/ SISTER" depending on who the perpetrator is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ours, unfortunately is hte other way around. Fighting is 95%; playing is 5%. Sigh.

      Delete
  12. I love this idea. I did not know it had a real name.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I can't imagine doing this with twins, but I 100% do this with my 2yo. I'm somehow in the minority of my friends - I don't mind if kids have to bicker to settle a toy argument while the other Mom & I chat on the couch (note - I am NOT comparing this to your twins & their level of fighting!). It's hard to find the right balance, but I think Strategic Neglect can be a great teaching tool!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Strategic neglect is my favorite. Well, except for the part where sometimes other grownups at the park decide to help my child with whatever she wants done. In particular, I have a rule about slides: either you work up the bravery to go down yourself or you just don’t go down. Apparently this rule is unacceptable to many other parents.

    I once nannied siblings that were 15 months apart in age, and they did a ton of fighting. I can’t remember at what age they started being able to work things out between themselves, but it did happen. Then your plan of strategic neglect will work out beautifully; all you have to say is, “Work it out, or you won’t have anyone to play with, plus I’ll give you something very boring to do instead of fighting.” I probably should feel somewhat bad about this in retrospect, but I got a great deal of pleasure out of choosing boring activities. Perhaps you have home decor magazines you could all look through together, in silence? While drinking plain water?

    ReplyDelete
  15. No useful comment, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I love the photo! Thanks for the laugh of "it's not just me." I have heard of someone who, when their kids fight, she MAKES them hold hands in everything they do for the next hour. And someone else created a t-shirt that they fits over both of them and they are STUCK together for the next hour. And they have to figure out how to get along during that time. Works for them; no idea if it will work for you. But again, thanks for the photo! Love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh, I have seen picutres of that T-shirt! HILARIOUS!

      Delete
  17. Lols Gag is the the Best Lol Network Ever, where you can every thing is lol and Funny, Troll Images, Prank Peoples, Funny Peoples, funny planet, funny facts, funny cartoons, funny movies pics, iphone funny, funny jokes, Prank Images, Fail Pictures, Epic Pictures, Lols and Gags, Lol Pictures, Funny Pictures, Lol is the Laugh out of Laugh where you can Fun Unlimited and Laughing Unlimited.
    lolsgag.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. I envy your lifestyle, and you want to be able to become friends

    ReplyDelete

Over to you!