Tuesday, 31 January 2012

In Praise of Good Behaviour

I am awash with parenting books at the moment.  None of which are making the blindest bit of difference, I should point out, other than rendering me more confused and exhausted than I already was.  Which is saying something.
First up is Divas and Dictators (by Charlie Taylor)  which is great, and promises to give me well behaved children, but THERE’S SO MUCH IN IT, I’m really not sure where to begin.  Do we do one behaviour-changing tactic, or all or them? Why isn’t there a chapter titled: “What to do if your child is FOUL at home but remarkably sweet when you are not around”?  But I tried to get into the spirit of it, and so got all crafty and creative at the weekend and made this:
What do you mean, “what is it?” -  it’s a Good Behaviour Snake, OBVIOUSLY.  (And as you can see, with every sticker he earns, we get to drink a bottle of wine – we LOVE the GBS). As instructed by the book I involved the Boy, asking him what little treats he wanted along the way, to encourage him on what I assumed would otherwise be a verrrrrry slow rise up to the Snake’s head.  It quickly became obvious that I needed to rail-road all of his suggestions – a HUGE car! A GUN to kill foxes! - and inserted ones I might actually get around to providing;  however, I did concede power on the big reward. 
“I want a dinosaur!” 
“And a dinosaur you shall have, my ferocious little fellow. Let go of my leg.”
“A BIG dinosaur!” 
“A BIG dinosaur with buttons that go ROOOOARGH when you press them!”
“Um, ok...” (surely the Natural History Museum will have one of those?)
“A BIG dinosaur with buttons that go ROOOOARGH when you press them AND A SPACE SHIP and he climbs in the spaceship and says ROOOOARGH and FLIES TO SPACE and EATS THE MOON!”
He is absolutely dead set on this – it was the first thing he mentioned this morning - so if anyone has any idea where I might find one please let me know.
Initially the GBS was intended to improve his behaviour towards the Girl.  I have a horror of him bullying her, and tend to overreact at any non-gentle interaction between them, so figured that maybe a GBS might be able to help.  Plus D&Ds counsels against using a sticker chart for general good behaviour – it needs to be specific. 
The Man however doesn’t think that he’s particularly bad in his behaviour to the Girl, and there are other areas we need to focus on.  So we colour-coded Mr Snake and now have three categories of behaviour, for his three worst habits:  Shouting, screaming, throwing and generally being angry (he now must use his Big Boy voice to communicate);  throwing food, wandering away from the table mid-eating, and refusing to feed himself (“Sit nicely at table”, which includes not throwing food and must feed himself); and being nice to the Girl. 
This is where things have started to go a bit Pete Tong.  We either give him a sticker every time he manifests any good behaviour in these categories – in which case we’ll both be pissed by lunchtime and I need to find a moon-eating space-travelling T-Rex today – or we hand out three stickers once a day upon contemplation of the day’s behaviour.  Which isn’t exactly the instant reward that a 3-yr-old needs.  As a result, three days in, both the Boy and I are bored of the GBS, the Boy wants his dinosaur NOW, and actually I’m tempted just to get him one (wherever it might be), because if I have to listen to “I caaaaaaaaaaaaaan’t waaaaaaaaaaaaaaait” one more time, I’ll be taping him to the wall and covering his shouty gob with wine stickers. 
And this is why I’m such a crap parent - because I’m totally unable to do anything properly, don’t follow things through, and fall at the first hurdle. 
If only we lived in Paris!  Yes, I too am reading French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman, which is a bit of a media darling at the moment.  At the risk of isolating myself from every other commentator, while it’s well-written and clearly alot of work went into it, I’m finding it a bit of a drag really.  I was all into it for the first few chapters, but now it just reads like a litany of everything I’m doing wrong.  (Although in my defence, we were – and still are – pretty French when it comes to their sleep (for which read: if they cry at night we mutter OhFuckOff and roll over) and as a result their behaviour between 730pm and 745am is pretty exemplary.  It’s just the other 12 hours that we continuously cock up.) I can’t help feeling that it’s too late to start introducing most of the concepts laid out in it to the Boy, although I’ll admit that really, I just can’t be arsed.  And reading about how brilliant the Parisians are is starting to piss me off.
I started The Idle Parent, by Tom Hodgkinson, and while I can see the merits in his arguments, I get all eye-rolley and spluttery when I imagine the carnage that would result if I was to let my kids basically do what they wanted.
And so my final hope for toddler salvation is the eminently wise and utterly brilliant Win the Whining War & other Skirmishes, by Cynthia Whitman (which seems to be unavailable in the UK, so I had to order a second-hand copy from the US, and waited for what felt like months. Where did I hear about it?  Well funny you should ask;  a complete stranger approached me in the park when the Boy was having a... moment (a very very LOUD moment) and recommended it.  Oh the shame. But thank you for your interjection, kind lady;  it’s not the easiest things to tell a stranger that they’re fucking up and I appreciate it.) This instructs me to ignore bad behaviour and praise-praise-praise good behaviour.  In this regards it’s very like Divas and Dictators, however actually tells you how to ignore.  (By contrast the famous Dr Green – author of Toddler Taming, and he of the tying his kids’ bedrooms shut fame – just says “Ignore Them” over and over again, which isn’t much help if they’re throttling their sibling / stealing a teenager’s skateboard / nicking packets of crisps off a shelf in a deli and spreading the contents all over the floor (all of which happened on Sunday afternoon).)
Anyway, all the experts are agreed that praising is the key to changing kids’ behaviour.  D&D says I have to give six – SIX! – pieces of praise for every one bit of criticism.  Which is a bit much, if you ask me.  How about two gentle words for every shouty one, and one of these, which so far has been a winning solution in our household:
Chocolate nut cookies*
You need:  (For a VAST amount of cookies)
  • 125g softened butter
  • 225g any type of sugar 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
  • 1 egg
  • 30g Cocoa (or more if you like it chocolatey)
  • 175g plain or self-raising flour (if plain, add a couple of pinches of baking soda or powder)
  • Two large bars of chocolate, any type, roughly chopped up into big chunks
  • 150g nuts (or whatever sized bag you have), any type, roughly chopped 
Preheat the oven to 180C / gas 4.
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until smooth, then beat in the egg.  
Stir in the flour and the cocoa, then add the chocolate and nuts.
If you have the time, stick the dough in the fridge for a while – at least an hour, preferably two. (Otherwise just go ahead and bake them.  Cooling them helps to stop them from spreading so much, so you get more chew and less crunch.)
Scoop up a tablespoon full and place on a baking tray lines with non-stick paper;  space the dough about an inch and a half apart.  
Cook in the oven for about 12 mins (maybe a bit more, depending on your oven). 
When they first come out of the oven they’ll still be soft, but they harden as they cool.
If you are lucky enough not to have to hand them out as rewards or bribes, they’ll last for a few days in a biscuit tin.  
Serve while telling your children how great it is that they’re sitting at the table, you like very much how they’re not flicking milk at each other, and if they can please put their willy in their pants (him) and stop eating marbles (her), that would be great, thanks.

(*It used to say "adapted, barely, from Dan Lepard" but then I was told by people from Dan Lepard's website that the recipe was copyrighted, so I did what all cooks** do (even, I'd imagine, Mr Lepard himself) and I took the basis of the recipe and played around with it and changed it, and frankly, made it nicer. Just as well really I didn't do what I nearly did when the battery on my camera went, and pinch his picture...)

(**Not that I consider myself a cook, but you know what I mean.)


  1. Have you read 1-2-3 Magic? Pretty self explanatory but really, really, really useful. I've given up reading books though, they just made me feel crap about my parenting and I don't need to read books to have that happen :)

    By the way, doing a quick, nonscientific poll of people I know and from my own experience French kids are leeeeeetle 'orrrers, or at least as horrid as British/NZ/Aus/Swiss/Singaporean/Malay/German kids. Possibly something about them being kids.

  2. Not sure I need another parenting book on my shelves, but I'll buy it none-the-less. At the very least because the more reading I do, the less parenting I have to... Which is itself a form of magic.

  3. I wish I could master something and then write a book on it. But I guess the general masses aren't really dying for a book on how to get drunk and fall down in public. Office wage slave I remain.

    Also: I want a good behavior snake! I really, really do! I'll have to come up with one that gives me points for things like "using words other than fuck/fucking/mother fucker when at work" and "having a slightly better attitude in the workplace."

  4. Au contraire (see? I did learn something about parenting in Paris), I know of many people who could learn a thing or two about how to fall properly while drunk. Myself included. I can't imagine our GBS is going to last more than another day or so, in which case I will roll it up and post to you. You'll have to get your own wine stickers tho.

  5. What if you reversed the snake? The fewer good boy points or whatever, the closer to the mouth the boy is. If he isn't careful, the GBS will come to life and when he's in bed after being a very naughty boy, slither out and nip at him?

    Yeah, OK, right there is a very good reason why I will never be a parent. I just thought about using psychological terror to instill good manners into a toddler.

  6. We have a chart like that for the oldest and it's very fancy. It looks great on the wall entirely untouched because I'm completely forgetful and we've used it, I don't know, 3 times in 4 months?

    I just typed a long comment and deleted it. You don't need my crappy half-assed advice that doesn't work. My book recommendations - anything non-child related you want to read, just use earplugs.

    I am now going to pour myself a drink in our honor.

  7. Great post, as usual. We, too, are historically brilliant at never following through with anything like this. Cool snake, though! Did you read this piece in the Guardian about the French parenting book? http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/21/jenny-colgan-france-children?INTCMP=SRCH Good insight, I thought. I remember three years ago we took our kids (aged 6 and 3 at the time) on hols to very close to Mont St Michel in Brittany. We decided to take our chances and have a quick lunch at a local restaurant where a French school group were all sitting down having their culturally-mandated 2-hour lunch. I couldn't believe that the group of 10-year-olds sat there beautifully the entire time we were frantically distracting ours with colouring books, bolting lunch in 15 minutes, ordering ice creams before we'd finished our main courses just so they wouldn't have to wait. We left and were walking home from the park and the school group was STILL THERE, sitting patiently round the table. Part of me thinks "wow" - imagine just expecting that to happen, and it happens, and there's no fighting, fussing or (indeed) food-throwing. BUT on the other hand... that's two hours they're never getting back, and they're sitting in a bland restaurant at the foot of an incredibly fascinating monument (even our kids loved it) where they could have been doing treasure trails or just imagining themselves as knights of old or whatever... I really don't know what I think about the French model. Obviously I'd give my right arm for a peaceful Sunday lunch with friends every now and again but...

  8. Heather, I beat you to the drink. seriously, now I understand why so many parents really look like crap - it's not (just) the sleepless, but the constant need for booze to remind you that you're not just a parent... Simply - if you could promise me that terror would work, I'd use it. I just think that he'd get a kick out of it. Liz - I completely get what you're saying, but seriously, I'd go for the french model every time. they're going to bitch about how awful their childhoods were no matter what we do, so why not raise them in a way that suits us... And with that I must sign off because the Boy has abandoned Quiet Time (hope springs eternal...) and is putting stickers all over the snake.

  9. I SO look forward to reading your blog every week. My life, home and kids seem perfect compared to yours! Ha (only your sister could say that) On the subject of parenting books, I have never read one, I tend to turn a blind eye to everything, the best tip I can give you is: When your kids act up in public, look the other way and pretend they are not yours.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Al - thank you for the sisterly tip. If nothing else it's good to know that the chaos of my life provides a service to someone, somewhere...
    David - I have removed your comment because frankly, I don't particularly like been told what to do on my own blog. Also, before you think to comment on copyright, there are a couple of things you might want to be aware of:
    1. It is arguable whether the original recipe was so unique and original as to warrant copyright in the first place. It's a recipe for cookies for fuck's sake.
    2. The recipe is in the public domain, so unless patented - which I highly doubt - then it's free for use and open discussion.
    3. Fair criticism and review is a specific copyright defence.
    4. Before I decided to selflessly dedicate myself to the wonderous task of raising my children (ahem), I was a partner in a law firm.
    If you want to chat about copyright law in detail, send me your details and I'll give you a call.

    1. LOl J. Go get him! Reminds me of the time a cop threatened to do me for being drunk in charge. I wished him luck with that one - I was in the back seat of someone else's car with no keys! Oh yeah, I had also just got an A in criminal law, including the Road Traffic Act!

    2. What rubbish you've posted here, if you knew anything - yes anything - about copyright, you'd know that not only are recipes copyright, but that this recipe isn't "in the public domain". If you can't tell the difference between "published on a website where you can read it" and "in the public domain", you'd be better off not setting yourself up as a copyright expert. Nothing says this recipe by Dan Lepard is "public domain", you're just a rather foul-mouthed internet bully, and you should grow up, and respect other people's work. Bet you, as a scuzzy lawyer, didn't give your work away or allow other people to nick it, and then when you then make rude remarks about the original Dan Lepard recipe, you're just pathetic, childish and insulting. You're nasty !

  12. Who is Dan Lepard? Never heard of him. Maybe he should stop wasting his money on lawyers and spend it instead on a decent agent???
    and you're right, they're only fucking cookies.

  13. And frankly, they weren't even that good. But they are NOW. so good in fact, that I might just patent them. (COPY THIS RECIPE AT YOUR PERIL, people...)

  14. Oh no, I have already written the recipe out, to give it a go, should I burn it?

  15. Laura, you will be hearing from my lawyers.

  16. I do my fair bit of fucking around and wasting time but copy writes and cookies? Really?

    What a job that must be, to patrol the internet in search of blogs that are illegally reproducing cookie recipes.

    And people are worried about nuclear weapons. Idiots.

  17. A friend actually recommended the Idle Parent to me. She thought it was just right for me, haha. I don't think it is about letting them do what they want though. Just give them a bit more responsibility to develop themselves. But let me read it first and come back to you...

  18. No, you're right K, it is about more responsibility. I was being glib. BUT - the first step in more responsibility is stepping back from the kids, which I seem just UNABLE to do. So really it's no wonder that my children are manic beasts. (Having said that, the Boy's behaviour has been quite good this week. Turns out he just doesn't like being told what to do by ME. However, if eg a toy dinosaur or plastic horse orders him about, he complies immediately. So now I have one more feather to my cap: puppeteer. That's handy.)

  19. Do you think it's boys? My eldest boy, 4, is a nightmare. I've read ALL those books, but the thing that helped the most was a parenting course ran by the local childcentre called positive parenting http://www.parenting.org.uk/. I still shout ALOT but mainly because I enjoy it. I know what to do now (more or less) but am just incapable some/most of the time. It's Sunday night and I'm so ready for them to go to bed...

  20. Thank Claire (or Lucy?) It might be boys. The Boy hosted two tea-parties (play-dates that turned into food-fights) over the wkend, and the girls sat there there sweetly and calmly, looking a bit shocked. (Not all the girls - mine was up to her elbows in orange juice and potatoes) Whatever the root cause, praising and being positive is actually the only thing that has any effect on them. But God, it's exhausting - and a bit dull - being nice all the time...

  21. My rictus grin and permanent spew of praise makes is turning me into a poisonous old goat on the inside - a kind of Dorian Grey affect. It's Claire btw