Monday, April 30, 2012

Gossip About Your Kids

Yes, I want you to gossip about your kids--and so does Dr. Harvey Karp, M.D.  Dr. Karp wrote two fantastic books that I recommend to all of the other parents I know.  When we were pregnant with Jane, we read The Happiest Baby on the Block, and as Jane neared her first birthday, we read The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Both books have given us invaluable tips on getting the kids to sleep, eat, get along with others, and everything in-between.  I refer to the books on a regular basis when I'm struggling with one parenting problem or another.

Currently, I'm struggling with Janie being rough with Walt.  Check out that big bump on his head! 

Janie knows it's wrong to push him over or bonk him on the head, but she just can't seem to help herself.  She even started pushing over her playmate last week when he came to play.  My sinking suspicion is that she's doing it to get attention.  My mistake was putting Jane in a timeout every time she bonked Walt on the head or pushed over a playmate.  This was negatively reinforcing the behavior because she got my attention in the form of a timeout and a quick conversation about why it was wrong afterward.

The other day, Philip suggested using gossip to end the behavior.  Leave it to the pediatrician to be right-on about what needed to be done! 

In The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Karp talks about green-, yellow-, and red-light behaviors and how to either encourage or discourage them.  As parents, we can use gossip to encourage green-light behaviors (the good things we want our children to keep doing) and to discourage yellow-light behaviors (the things that are annoying) or red-light behaviors (things that are dangerous or break the rules).  Gossip is one of the many tools in your parenting arsenal that you'll pick up from Dr. Karp.

Here's how Dr. Karp explains gossip:
Gossip means saying things out loud near your child, so he overhears.  It works so well because all of us (kids and adults) are more likely to believe something if we overhear it than if it's told directly to us.  Gossip makes your praise five times more effective.  (And it makes your words of criticism have five times more impact too.) 
If Jane's doing a green-light behavior like sharing a toy with Walt or eating all of her carrots, I gossip about it.  I find a stuffed animal, pretend to pick up the phone to call Daddy, or tell Walt.  "Hey, Ernie!  Janie ate allllllllll of her carrots!  She is such a great eater.  It makes me soooooo happy when Janie eats all of her carrots."

Gossiping to Ernie
When I gossip, I have to make sure not to make eye contact with Janie because, as Dr. Karp says, "gossiping only works when he thinks you don't want to be overheard."  When I'm done gossiping, I simply return to whatever I was doing, and I give Janie some understated praise like, "Good job eating, Janie."

When Janie does a yellow-light behavior like whine or a red-light behavior like push over Walt, I use gossip to be a form of what Dr. Karp calls "reverse praise."  When Janie pushes Walt over, I gossip about it to a stuffed animal or directly to Walt.  Instead of asking Janie to immediately apologize or put her in a timeout, I cut off all attention.  Attention is what she wants, after all!  

I gossip about the behavior to Walt and say, "Oh, Walt!  Ouchie!  That makes you really sad when Janie pushes you over.  That's mean!  You don't like it!  It makes Mommy and Walt happy when Janie is gentle."  Or I'll grab stuffed Ernie and tell him about Jane's bullying.   

Janie perks up when she hears me talking about her doing anything--good or bad.  When she knows she'll get positive attention for doing a good thing, she'll want to do it even more.  So, when Janie hears me gossiping to Walt or Winnie the Pooh that we don't like it when she pushes, she stops the behavior.

We're still far from a perfect track record with bullying Walt, but the good news is that the pushing episodes have drastically reduced.  As a mom, I'm learning that I need to keep spotlighting my kids' good behaviors through gossip and time-ins with them--a tickle fest on the couch, a few stories, or getting out the Play-Doh.  The more I "fill up their tanks" with my love and attention, the less they act out.  

The less I "fill up their tanks" and only give them attention for the negative stuff (the yellow and red-light behaviors), the more they do them!  If you were doing a bunch of great things and only got acknowledged when you were being rotten, you'd probably keep being rotten, too!   

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it's tough when put into practice.  When it's 5:00 and you're making dinner, and Janie's whining for dinner now and Walt's crying because Jane just pushed him over, the last thing you feel like doing as a mom is a 5-minute time-in.  You want to put on Barney and plop them in the family room! 

Slowly but surely, I'm learning that the 5-minute time-in, gossip, and the other tools I picked up from Dr. Karp are helping to keep the kiddos happy and on the right track behavior-wise.  One of the many reasons that children are a blessing is that they keep instilling within their parents the virtues they need to master.  Among other things, Janie and Walt are helping me with humility and patience!     

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