Taming my inner bitch-mum

Buttercup and the pianoI wish I could say I’d come from a long line of fascinating women. I actually do say it, but I wish it were true. Instead, I actually come from a long line of mothers who fight with their daughters. And when I say long line, I actually mean it started with my mother and me and is at risk of continuing to my daughter and me. Yes, you spotted the common factor there, didn’t you? Me. Yeah, I spotted that too.

My daughter, Miss 4, has inherited a fairly wide streak of willfulness… yes, probably from me. I, in turn, inherited it from my mother along with a tendency to go grey early (spotted my first grey hair at just 25 – you should have seen the gnashing of teeth and howls of despair that day).

As a result of our combined willfulness there’s a large dose of Mexican standoffs that occur with predictable regularity. It usually goes like this:

Me: Matilda please sit down and practice your piano.
Matilda: OK Mum. (Brings stuffed cow to piano and sits it on the keys. Smiles charmingly up at me. Matilda, not the cow).
Me:  (Removing Buttercup the stuffed cow). Let’s start with Cuckoo, both hands.
Matilda: No, I’m going to do Twinkle Twinkle, one hand.
Me: OK, would you like to do that with your right or left hand first?
Matilda: I’m going to play it with my nose.
Me: How about we play it with your hands first and THEN your nose as a big finale?
Matilda: No.

OK, she may not have said that last two bits but the point I’m making is that she will rarely acquiesce to any of my requests easily.

Basically, there’s a lot of times during our day when I ask something and she decides not to do it. The contrast is all the more stark when stacked beside my sons, who are malleable, eager to please, and generally less stubborn.

How can I get her to do the things that I need her to do? More important than that, how can I change the dynamic so that our relationship isn’t oppositional, and doesn’t go as badly off the rails as my relationship with my own mother did during my teen years. I want to learn from the mistakes of the past and I want a good relationship with my daughter.

So far, my strategy has been to not push anything. If she doesn’t practice for a whole week, I don’t make a big deal out of it. Piano is one thing. But there are things, such as having as shower, learning to tidy her room, doing her chores, that are not negotiable. I’m searching for a way to make them manageable issues.

Naturally, in times of great parenting need I turn to the font of all wisdom, the Googling machine.

Here are 10 top tips by an expert I’ve never heard of, who apparently touts Yale University qualifications. Many of the tips are the usual suspects, but there are a couple of new ones that I’m going to try:

  1. Notice good behaviour and praise it (nothing new here, so I won’t expand).
  2. Be specific when praising positive behaviour. Instead of saying, “Good job” say “Well done on putting your socks in the laundry hamper”. (Again, old news).
  3. Use only positive language. Instead of saying, “Stop” or “Don’t leave your socks on the floor”, say “Please put your socks in the hamper”. (Have heard this before and am skeptical about its efficacy).
  4. Enthusiasm counts. Let them see how excited you are. (Well sure, but what if it’s not very? Hard to get excited about your child hanging up their towel when you’ve asked them 23 times to do it).
  5. Start a reward system. This, too, is old hat, but there are a few nuances in Dr Allan Kazdin’s post so I’ve reproduced it. Start a reward system for a child who rarely does what you ask, but make a game of it. When you are both calm, tell him it is a game and practice giving a pretend request like “Please go to bed.” Then give him praise and a point when he goes the first time you ask him to. If he doesn’t do what you ask the first time, say, “I can see you’re not ready to do it right now, you don’t earn a point right now, but we’ll try again later.” And they don’t earn a point. If the child then turns around after you’ve said that and does what you asked, then praise her effusively, but don’t give her a point. You want to get the child used to doing what you ask on the first try. The key is practice and role play. Give him a reward point for doing a successful pretend. Show him the rewards he can earn by doing what you ask right away without complaint. Rewards can be anything a child really wants, and don’t always cost money. Maybe they get an extra story at bedtime or get to go shopping with mom. I can see all kinds of problems here. For starters, Matilda will be up at 9pm saying she doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about no stinking point system.
  6. “Give an instruction only once. Don’t foster greater disobedience by giving it a lot of attention. If you focus on their defiance, it will actually increase. ” See, this one, I like.
  7. “Learn to ignore – or actually walk away – from annoying behavior.” Look, I don’t want to create the wrong impression. She’s not a kid who throws tantrums, not by any stretch. She may shed some tears, but there’s no howling or stamping of feet. Not usually, anyway. She’s a good kid, she just prefers to do what she wants rather than what I want.
  8. Move quickly past tantrums. Stay calm and your child will calm down fast. Well, as I said, she doesn’t throw howling tantrums.
  9. Mete out punishment quickly and make it brief. Don’t drag things on.
  10. Make sure you do tip no.1.

Look, if Alan Kizdan from Yale University Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic says it, then it must be so (can you hear the sarcasm dripping from those italicised words?). Either that, or all parenting experts are morons. I’m pretty sure I know which way I’m leaning based on this most recent list mined by the googling machine, but only time will tell for sure.

In the meantime, any great tips or suggestions you might have will be gratefully received. I’m confident my readers have more of a clue than Dr Kizdan seems to. I’ll be over at the piano with Buttercup in case my daughter decides to grace us with her presence.

2 comments for “Taming my inner bitch-mum

  1. Brooke
    August 29, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Hi Felicity, well it’s clearly not a girl issue, because my eldest son rarely does what I ask. Ever! I end up asking him to do something – get in the bath, put your shoes on, stop jumping on the couch etc – at least 50,000 times before I end up shrieking at him like a fishwife! *Sigh* Not exactly great parenting from me 🙂
    The only thing that has worked is a combination of threats – “Unless you do it now and I will turn the TV off!” and praise – “Awesome, thanks buddy!” etc.
    At our house we also have what is called “The Saturday Box”. During the week, any disputes over toys or general bad behaviour results in a toy being placed in the Saturday Box and it does not reappear until, you guessed it, Saturday. Not so effective on Friday nights, but at 4 and 1, they haven’t worked that out yet 😉
    Good luck!

    • August 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks Brooke! I’m hoping I get a little less tense about it as time goes by. I’m really working hard to not snap at her when she frustrates me. I think I’m making progress. Fingers crossed! And for you too. I’m sure if we try hard enough we’ll get there in the end! 🙂

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!