I've been reading this book lately, called Playful Parenting. It's all about how we parents need to lighten up and play more. The basic premise of the book is that when a child is "acting out," they're doing that because they don't feel connected - and the best way to reconnect is through play.
The author, Lawrence Cohen, says that we should all get down on the floor and play with our kids more. And not the kind of play where you're trying to sneak education in, but sitting there and playing with whatever they want to play. I've been working on that lately, and S seems to like it. These days, when she sits on the floor with her Lego, she often clears a space on the floor next to her and pats it saying "come on Mummy!"
One of the really interesting ideas in this book is using laughter to diffuse difficult situations. So when a child is doing something you'd rather they didn't, rather than shouting at them, or giving them a lecture about why they shouldn't do whatever it is, you find a way to turn the situation to laughs. Silly voices, funny faces, falling over are all winners - as are things like pretending to be scared of ridiculous things (potatoes, people with brown hair, your own hands). Basically, being really daft.
When I first read this, I thought what you're probably thinking right now: that's all well and good, but how does the child learn right from wrong if you're busy pulling faces?
A little while ago, S realised that she could pile up the pillows on our bed and climb them to get to the headboard. Then she could put her leg over the headboard, and pretend it's a horse. The first I knew of this was that gut-wrenching thud as she fell off the bed one night, and I went running upstairs to find her half under the bed, crying uncontrollably. Kids only ever remember the fun part of things though, don't they - and so, she keeps on climbing up there.
Last week, we had a few days where every time we went upstairs to get ready for bed, S would run straight to the bed, pile up the pillows and climb onto the headboard. I would have to drag her down, by which point she was giggling and having a good old laugh, kicking and twisting her body while I tried to change her nappy. I told her off. I said "no we don't do that." I physically held her body still while I put her nappy on. Then the kicking started, and she kicked me squarely in the chest several times. I ended up shouting, we both cried, and S went to bed without a story a couple of times. I felt like the world's worst mother, shouting at a toddler who was just trying to have fun.
Then I remembered the Playful Parenting book, and figured it couldn't hurt to try. The next time she made to climb up the pillows, I dragged her down by her feet and tickled her. Then I sang a song. We sang Wheels On The Bus approximately four hundred times, and then she gave me a cuddle and I sang Rock a Bye Baby and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and then she lay down in bed, gave me a kiss, cuddled Ted and went to sleep.
I was astounded, but still concerned that I had distracted her attention from the problem, rather than dealing with it. The following night, the same thing happened almost exactly. The night after that, S lay down on the bed and demanded that we sing Wheels on the Bus.
And just like that, she had stopped doing this thing that had been driving me batty for weeks! Looking back, she probably started doing it because it seemed like fun, but then the fun of winding me up probably surpassed that. Once she had my attention in other ways, there was no need to go off climbing over the headboard of the bed.
Since my success with this, I've tried to remember to be more playful with S. I sit down on the floor and build Lego towers with her, or sit at the table with her and do a running commentary on what she's colouring or sticking.
Being a single parent, stressing over money and trying to keep on top of the never-ending washing pile, it is difficult sometimes to muster the energy to play the fool and make light of a situation. On those evenings where S was kicking me in the face and chest, I was so exhausted I just wanted to lay on the floor and cry. It was the worst feeling in the world. But weirdly, in the long run, finding that little bit of energy to handle the situation differently made a world of difference. S went to be smiling; I left that room feeling pretty good.
I'm still reading the book; I'm hoping to get more tips from it - and I'm sure S hopes I do too!