Project Parenting III: Attending

Long and Forehand said that this week's challenge would be hard. 


They were not joking.


It was hard, but not for the reasons that they suggested. 


The author's of Parenting the Strong Willed Child suggest that there is a correlation between strong willed children and parents who do not "attend" well during play. Parents of strong willed spawn, apparently, like to direct play ("Good stacking! Now stack the red block on the blue block, no the red one! That's right. Okay, now knock down the tower!!! Knock it down. There you go! Weeeeee! ") Or they like to use play time as a pedantic tool {"See, Johnny, this is a blue block. Mummy is getting the BLUE block. Now, what colour is this? IS this green?! Yes, this is the GREEEN block.")


Apparently neither type of play is particularly fun for kids who tend to run screaming defiance and NO NO NO NO NO whatever chance they get. Ahem. Smart, those kids because OMG. Also, GAH. (Side note, I totally do this.)


This week's parenting exercise was about learning to engage in child centered play, without  demanding anything from the child. Drop the directions. Kill the teachable moments. Just play. And attend.


How do you attend, then?


Like this:


Narrate what your child does. Describe his actions. Ask no questions. Make no demands. Do not teach. Just watch, follow his lead, and narrate. Show him through your up-beat, excited! exclamatory! positive! narration that you're interested in what he's doing. Comment on positive, or even vaguely acceptable behaviour, and narrate the hell out of  it.


It goes like this:


"Hey, Stella you want to play!"

"You're sitting down!"

"You're getting out the tea set!"

"You're pouring some tea for Jimmy Frog!"

"You're stirring the tea!"

"You're drinking the tea! Wow!"


The program was as follows:


1. Each day, make a 20 minute practice session where you work on attending. Don't ask questions. don't make demands. Follow the kid's lead. Let them direct the play.


2. Add a second play session on day four.


3. At the end of the week, also add an hour wherein you go for 20 "attends" in one day.


How did it go?


Well, the authors warm that it's hard to learn to attend. That you'd be sucked into directing, questioning ("do you want to play?" "Do you want the tea set?"). They say this is the hardest step.


In my experience, when I sat down the first time to practice attending, I did initially want to ask questions. To give directions. And I was tongue tied for maybe the first five minutes. But I got the hang of things pretty quickly, and was able to attend without being pedantic or directing all the activities.


The problem for me was more with the playing.


Pssssst. Here's a little secret: I have a major hate-on for playing. I love spending time with my kid. I love going places and doing things and making things. I love wrestling, and building castles, and making elaborate ski jumps and seeing how far and how fast we can send a toboggan down and just how much air we can catch (in my imagination, obviously, because snow is in short supply here). I love running around and screaming with five kids hanging off me, doing summersaults and back flips, and making a total ass out of myself. But I hate sitting down and playing tea. Or Barbies. Or babies. Or house. Punch me in the face. 


Also, I practiced on a friend's kid who's five, and he said to me " Why are you saying that? Why are you doing that??" So, he wasn't so much a fan of the attending. Just FYI.


So actually forcing myself to sit for 20 minutes and twice a day and play tea AGAIN was the hard part.


And I may or may not have been a bit of a slacker in following the program. Ahem. I'll never tell. (Okay, I was. Total slacker.)


But I did lear a few important things:


1. Show interest in what my kid is doing. Pay attention. Comment, and not everything has to be teachable, educational, or a learning opportunity. 


2. It's a good idea to have  a few areas to focus on. Hotel living necessitates a great deal of restaurant meals, and those are becoming increasingly difficult (shall we talk about the fact that the staff found my phone in a potted plant in the dining room, and I was so harried with tiered baby wrangling that I didn't even know it was missing?) Sitting quietly at the table is going to be a major area of focus.


3. I hate barbies. I always have. I always will. And no amount of attending will change that fact. 


What are you working on in your parenting practice this week? Tell me about it below. Or write a post and link up in the comments.

I loved reading the comments last week, particularly from Rachael, a taker of beautiful photos and a fellow China-phile, and from Tiffany, one of my very first Internet friends, and a mother of a Stella, too, whom I can imagine being nothing but sugar and spice.