Tuesday, June 17, 2008

more playful parenting

So it's going to sound like my son Jabberwock is kind of a mess, but once again, the best word I can think of for him is "intense." He's smart, witty, wildly imaginative, and he has a flair for the dramatic. He can be "shy," which mainly means that he takes a little while to get used to new situations and people before he jumps right in, but just when I think I've got that figured out, then he gets in a crazy mood and strikes up elaborate conversation with perfect strangers. He seems to have quite a bit of fears and anxieties, but at the same time he can be extremely brave. It's a mixed bag with him, and you just never know what the surprise will be.

So like I said yesterday, I've been reading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, and I've also been telling all the relevant (in my opinion) parts to my husband, David. One thing that often frustrates me about Jabber is that he's a perfectionist. If he cannot do something perfectly right, he will not try. This may be why he did not start walking in earnest until he was almost a year and a half. He's always been a bit better at the verbal and intellectual stuff than the physical, and one thing that has been a big challenge to him is throwing and catching a ball. (And kicking, hitting with a bat, you know, all that athletic-type stuff.) I'm not a superhero athlete by any means, but I kind of think that when I was a kid I was influenced to believe that I wasn't athletic by poor phys. ed. teachers and such, and personally it kind of bugs me. So I really want to be encouraging to Jabberwock when it comes to learning how to play sports.

"Hey, Jabber, do you want to play catch?"

"Yeah!!!" He jumps up and down spastically and then runs to find a ball.

"OK, here you go, are you ready?"

He says yes but is holding his arms out ridiculously stiff. He will never catch the ball like that, so I go over there and show him how to relax his arms.

"Now are you ready?"

"I can't do it. I don't want to play." And he goes away.

This is how it has gone for much of the last year or two when it comes to throwing and catching. I try not to over-direct, but it doesn't seem to matter. He always feels like he's not good enough to even try. So in reading Playful Parenting, I find a section about children learning new skills, and how even though we may see them doing an awfully good job for a beginner, what they see is all the mistakes they make in comparison to other people they see doing it. Cohen suggests acting a bit incompetent to make the child feel better. What he actually suggests doing is completely abandoning your dignity and making a fool of yourself until the child is laughing so hard he forgets to worry about his own lack of skills.

So, to set the scene, Lissnkids backyard, half hour before bedtime. Both kids are covered in mud and mosquito bites from emptying buckets of rainwater in the sandbox. Monkey found an old toothbrush we had been using in a Matchbox car wash about a week ago and was dipping it into the "toothpaste" (mud) and "brushing his teeth" (eating the mud). Enter Daddy with a big bouncy ball.

We form a triangle, with Monkey sort of bouncing around inside like a pinball on the loose. I suggest that Jabber throw the ball to Daddy, and then Daddy throw the ball to me, and then I throw the ball to Jabber. You know, the usual triangular set-up. Except, unlike the usual, both Daddy and I are suddenly hugely clumsy oafs when it comes to catching and throwing. Jabber is so busy laughing he forgets to hold his arms out all stiff-like and actually catches the ball most of the time. We all laugh a lot, like when I keep chasing the ball all over the yard, but every time I bend over like I am going to pick it up, I simultaneously kick it farther. These antics go on for about twenty-five more times than my back is happy with, but the laughter was worth it. And I honestly do think that Jabberwock was learning more about catching and throwing AND getting a lot more confident at the same time.

Sheesh. I haven't even had a chance to sneer at this book yet. What a let-down.


cowpops said...

Again, this is fantastic. I wish my parents would have made me feel better about myself like this. :P I've been battling that crap for years. You really are amazing. Just reminding you. ;)

If I ever become a parent, I will read books. Reading parenting books doesn't mean you can't parent, or that you can't parent well, it is just perspective. I mean, we're writers, right? And we read other people's writing, other people's ideas. Sometimes it's for the sole purpose of entertainment, sure, but has it ever hurt to experience another perspective?

God. I could write an essay.

My four parental units are extremely diverse. jesus. Anyway, none of them are BAD parents (not really.. lol) but they are all very different in everything. In turn, I've gained a lot of knowledge on people. Just with my parents being themselves. Gather and filter, my friend.


Shana said...

This sounds like a really good book. I try to use humor a lot with our kids and it works well with them. I do find it difficult though when they are not behaving well and I am irritated with them, and you know that my tendency is to yell in those situations too. I'm working on it though. (And I've been working on it for years!)

liss n kids said...

Shana, you are SO good at using the playful approach. I know it's easier when you're not angry, but that's when I need to use it most. I imagine I'll work on this until my kids are grown, and then probably still working on it, since that's what being a teacher is all about, too. Reading the book is kind of a reminder, though. And it's like I need a little sticky note pinned to my shirt that has playful ideas to dissipate rather than detonate!