31 December, 2011

The Pursuit of Happyness

Occasionally. Just Occasionally. I’ll be a bit jealous of the lifestyle my non-child-having friends enjoy. Both the flexibility and possibility of spontaneous-ism. And also the disposable income. 
Our combined salaries apparently put us in the top two per cent of UK households. But once you add time constraints and subtract childcare costs/all the things we buy for the kids/saving for their future education it results in 90% less ski trips, 100% more £5-limits on work-day lunches and infinitely less moonwalking-across-the-deck-of-a-yacht-moored-in-St-Tropez than I foresaw at these income levels.

However, human adaptability means we all get used to the patterns of our lives and quickly take things in our routine for granted, leaving evolutionary psychologists to say that happiness largely comes from "encountering unexpected positive events". So for Kanye West to feel sensationally happy he has to fly to Paris on a private jet full of Victoria’s Secret models. All it takes for me to achieve rapture is opening the kitchen bin to find I can drop my rubbish in it without having to first squish-down overflowing contents with my hands. Poor, poor Kanye West.

Plus fatherhood is getting more rewarding as the kids develop. My little girl is 4 now and is starting to be mildly hilarious (my little boy isn’t yet 2, but does a good line in facial expressions and energetic Scrappy-Doo-style assault). Conversations with other parents are also getting better. Where it was all monotonous patter about feeding cycles, behaviour-control techniques and how tired everyone is, there’s now lots of anecdotes about genuinely funny things that have happened. Ok, it’s not always as funny as days-gone-by chat with your friends about drunken antics/sexual encounters/accidental puffin slaughter, but it’s entertaining stuff. Recent examples:

- Friend tells us that her teacher called her to say there was a problem with her child’s language. Friend says “Oh bugger. What has she said?” Teacher replies “Bugger”

- Wife tells me to stop being facetious. Daughter gasps, lowers voice and says “Don’t say that. The police will get you. It’s a bad word… like f*ck-it or oh-sh*t”

- Sis-in-law finds 3 yr old son playing with huge kitchen knife. Goes spare at husband for letting him get hold of it. He later tells me that he walked past, saw tooled-up lad and – through a haze of pre-occupation, tiredness and just being very used to seeing both knives and his boy frequently (though separately) in day-to-day life – all that went through his head was “Huh. Nice knife son”

- Crackers and jokes over Christmas lunch. Family and both sets of grandparents. Daughter wants to join in but, being unable to read her cracker joke, has to freestyle… “Everyone. Why did the duck cross the road with only pants and no vest on?.. To get to the sexy cow” 
If we’d been able to ignore the uncomfortable fact that our tiny daughter/grand-daughter had just revealed her awareness of sexiness and, seemingly, beastiality, I’m sure that would have got a massive laugh rather than a stony silence. Family’s a tough crowd.

So over Christmas, while Facebook was telling me that a friend “can’t wait to go skiing” and another  “is spending a 3rd straight day on the beach”*, I was jealous but only fleetingly. Who needs exotic locations when you’ve got increasingly comical chat? (And future challenging conversations about the birds & the bovines)

Learned Wisdoms
#35: If you read back on the child-related things that have amused you over the festive season to find they’re mainly to do with swearing, sex and danger, just try not to think about it. Nothing to worry about. That’s probably fine.

* In the Southern hemisphere. Not North Yorkshire. 

20 December, 2011

The Good, The Bad & The Snuggly

While it’s not totally illegal (see Learned Wisdoms #33) to hit your kids in the UK, it’s certainly heavily frowned upon. Rightly so… If you’re disciplining your children for fighting, it’s probably a bit confusing to tell them that physical violence is unacceptable and then give them a massive smack.
That said, I do imagine it was a pretty good deterrent of naughtiness back in the day. And with the behavioural issues we’ve faced with our kids to-date, the disciplinary techniques left at our disposal have had varying levels of success…

Frequently Encountered Bad Things:
- Not sharing with other kids / snatching / hitting
- Name calling & using naughty words. My favourite example of this was when I told my daughter she shouldn’t call people names. She paused then said, “Ok. You’re not a stupid bum-bum head face”
- The vindictive saying no to every question phase
- Lying! This one caught us off guard. “Mummy – daddy hit me” What?!? No I didn’t. “Daddy – the child-minder bit me”. Questionable. (Making stuff up was one thing. When she started planting forensic evidence and bribing cronies for false alibies, it got beyond a joke)
-Acting-totally-spoilt-with-a-massive-sense-of-entitlement-and-crying/whining-anytime-what’s-wanted-isn’t-got.  Grrrr

Disciplinary Responses:
Reward good behaviour. Ignore bad behaviour:  The ignore bad behaviour bit can be difficult. Especially if it involves super-loud whining in public. Or hitting me with a broom. But kids like attention and hate being starved of it - this seems to work. Our 4yr old is now always keen to dress herself/wipe her bottom/make her own breakfast, knowing she’ll get a big cuddle and be made a fuss of. And at times now she’s so proud of not hitting her little brother back that, rather than moving out of the way, she’ll call out “Daddy, look – I’m not even hitting him back!” while he’s still lashing at her. 9/10

The naughty step: Everyone knows the naughty step. It’s a natural extension of the ignoring bad behaviour idea. Actually being isolated from the rest of the family and starved of attention for a short period is pretty effective. Though we did have to scrap this technique for a short period while our little girl had a phase of always wanting to play on the stairs. 7/10

Shouting: Doesn’t really work. Makes you look like an idiot. Similar to the smacking-for-fighting paradox, doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re disciplining your kids for making too much noise. Innocent bystanders are often caught in the crossfire – any time I’ve shouted at my little girl for being naughty while her little brother has been in earshot he’s got scared and burst into tears [#makesmefeellikeadick] 1/10

Take a toy away: Bad thing has a non-violent, non-shouty consequence. Explain what’s going to happen if bad thing doesn’t stop. Two warnings then, if bad thing still doesn’t stop, something gets confiscated. Like the naughty step and the reward-good/ignore-bad, the key is consistently following-through to ensure it’s understood that bad things always have consequences… and with the added bonus of making me feel like I’m some sort of hostage-taking mafia overlord (“I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. Perhaps you stop snatching your brother’s toys for the next two days and perhaps you may one day see your Rapunzel doll again, eh?”) 8/10

Super Sneaky Special Counter-Moves:
All was starting to feel in control, but - in the same way there’s a constant race between the performance-enhancing drug producers and the anti-doping screening organisations - the kids are swiftly adapting to our techniques. Largely with charm offensive. When my little girl is in trouble she’ll act all sad and cute, say sorry and try to kiss me; if my 23 month-old boy clocks me round the head with a plastic horse, he’ll instantly smile and try to cuddle my head… turns out I also like the attention and it is tough to discipline them at that point.  
Manipulating me already. And they're, only 4 and nearly-2. The next 16 years might be difficult...

Learned Wisdoms
If you’re unsure whether smacking children is illegal and so google the subject, you’ll find articles containing the following information/quotes:
- In the UK, spanking or smacking is legal. However, parents in England and Wales who smack children so hard it leaves a mark face up to five years in jail under laws passed in 2004. In Scotland since October 2003 it has been illegal to use any implements when disciplining a child
- 2004 reaction to law:
NSPCC boss Mary Marsh: "There is a risk parents may choose to hit children on parts of their body where injury is less visible”
Head teacher of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, Phil Williamson: "The law doesn't say how long the mark has to last for. It also ignores totally black children who don't mark and don't go red. It's just a ridiculous law,"
… if you have something of an enquiring mind, this may lead to these follow-up searches:
- On which parts of a child’s body is injury less visible?
- Most popular implements for hitting Scottish kids
- Totally black children
- Does black skin mark when hit?
- How do you completely delete your search history forever?

#34: When your daughter has fallen in the playground and got her first little black eye, if you’re subsequently out with her in public and a shopkeeper looks at you disapprovingly it’s best not to react. What you absolutely shouldn’t say is “What? You think I did that? Are you kidding? Look at the size of her. She can’t even defend herself. If I’d have hit her, half her head would be gone”. That doesn’t make anyone more comfortable.