Monday 25 January 2016

Recognizing When "Can't" Really Is "Can't"

Every parent knows that children are apparently incapable of a wide variety of acts: from eating the chicken that they ate happily a week ago to tidying up their rooms to going to bed without 20 lights on; a wide number of parental demands are met with "I can't!"

For the most part, when a child says "I can't" what they mean is "I don't want to" and thus most parents can proceed accordingly.  (Yes, you have to eat supper.  No, Lego Mini-Figures are not an acceptable carpeting substitute.  Night is supposed to be dark, etc.)

Sometimes, "can't" really means "can't".  Lately Nathan has been stretching his screentime in the morning to right before it's time to go to school.  (He gets a half hour and he's been delaying starting until 35 minutes before departure.)  This has resulted in a large number of tantrums.  We've tried giving transition warnings.  We've tried talking with him about taking deep breaths and taking a moment before he speaks.  We've tried punishments.  

No matter how much he promises or what his intentions are, Nathan can't control the upset feeling he gets when it's time to turn off screens.  Pair that upset with any kind of demand, and it's a recipe for disaster.  Hopefully he'll be able to control this better as he gets older but for now, we have to accept that this is something he can't do and react accordingly.

Today he was told that screentime will be finished 15 minutes before it's time to leave, regardless of when it began.  If that means he only gets 5 or 10 minutes, then so be it.  (He can still get the half-hour, he just has to finish his morning chores on time rather than taking time to play with his Lego or chase the cat.)  I'm hoping the additional buffer will give him an opportunity to calm down before we have to start telling him to get ready.

He has pleaded and promised and begged to be allowed to continue playing until it's time for school.  I can tell he's sincere.  He's not trying to say what I want to hear in order to get his privileges.  But, in this case, it is like a heroin addict promising not to do any more drugs.  It's a promise which the user may desperately want to keep, but is beyond their power of control.  Instead, the environment must be set up to maximize the possibility of success and wherever possible, deny the possibility of failure.  (Someone pointed out that I use a lot of drug metaphors in raising my children ... there's probably a psychologist somewhere who could make a really interesting paper out of that.)

Hopefully this will make mornings a little quieter and more manageable.

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