Stop Crying

I babysit a lot. 

I like to think that I’m pretty good at it.  The kids are usually excited when I get there and disappointed when I leave, which seems like a good sign to me.

Of all the time that I spend with kids, I would say that maybe 5% of our time is spent watching television or playing video games.  And I only say 5% because it’s a nice sounding number…it’s probably less than that.  More often we are at the park, doing crafts, playing barbies, writing stories, dancing, singing, reading books or baking things in the kitchen.  I rarely have the kids play by themselves and do something on my own (which some babysitters evidently think is alright?)  If they have friends over or have made a new friend at the park, I will back off so they can play on their own, but I never make them play alone. 

I don’t think that I have ever yelled at a kid.  Spoken strongly and seriously with lots of eye contact, yes, but even that rarely happens.  We are usually homies and when I ask them to do something or not to do something they are usually respectful and acquiesce immediately.

I try really hard to only shape kids in positive ways.  I try to tell them that they are hard workers and adventurous and creative instead of labeling them with qualities that don’t require effort (like smart or beautiful…this is one of the hardest ones for me, though).  I push them to try things that they are nervous about (ie climbing higher or more creatively on play equipment).  I prove to them that their little scrapes aren’t as bad as they think by asking goofy questions about their injuries and give them lots of kisses.  I encourage them to be creative by telling them made up stories and asking for one in return.  I help them think up names for bugs that scare them so they don’t seem as bad. 

In short, I try to stretch their comfort zones, increase their self-awareness and work ethic and challenge them to try new things especially if they seem different or scary.  I try really hard not to say “no” or “don’t” without first asking why and I never punish (whoohoo time outs!) without making certain that the child understands and can tell me what they did that was wrong.

Yesterday, though, I told a girl to stop crying, which I do not think I have ever done before.

We were going to play at a park for our last couple hours together.  I had talked to the kids’ mother about this park before and she said they went there every once in a while, so I figured why not?  I told the two girls that we’re going to a certain park on Lake Shore, which is exciting for the younger sister because she loves parks in general and for the older sister because she loves monkey bars, which she says are there.

A block away from the park, the moment it comes into sight, the seven year old (we shall call her Allison) stops in her tracks and declares her undying hatred for this park.  I tell her that we’ll play here for fifteen minutes and move to another one, but we’ve been walking for a while, so it would be nice to let her sister out of the stroller to play for a little while.  Allison begins to sob with huge, gasping breaths.  Her face takes on a petrified expression and she glowers at me with her huge brown eyes like I’ve suggested she play blindfolded in the middle of a highway.  And her eyes stay dry.

I try a couple different compromises, but am only greeted with excuses about why she can’t play in this park.  Almost everything that comes out of her mouth is clearly a lie.

I stop the stroller.  My nice voice disappears and I crouch down next to Allison and tell her to stop crying.  I tell her that crying is a perfectly ok thing to do, but that she is not allowed to cry because she is disappointed about a park. I tell her that when she feels a certain way about something she has to use her words and her “nice voice” to explain what she is feeling, that a breakdown is not an acceptable way of dealing with what she feels.

Now that I write it out, it doesn’t seem that bad.  In fact it reads like exactly the right thing to do.  But I felt so bad saying it.  I think Allison manipulated me with her magical puppy dog eyes.  Brown eyes should be outlawed.  They are too powerful, I tell you!  Too powerful!

As a mere point of interest…this is the same girl who, when her mother works from home while I babysit, will run to “tell on me” whenever I take her sister’s side on anything.  She also tried to tell on me when we got home yesterday.  She knows how to manipulate people and she’s cute enough that it is going to work for a long fricking time.

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10 Responses to Stop Crying

  1. Vividhunter says:

    You sound like a really great babysitter, trying to compromise with Allison. Not knowing the girl, maybe she gets away with a lot from her parents?

    • tertiaryhep says:

      Yeah…it’s kind of hard to tell, because I definitely hear her getting reprimanded by her parents if she is acting out. Maybe they cave after a reprimand or two, though, which makes her feel even more influential? *sigh* Children. 🙂

  2. James says:

    As a Sunday school teacher, I have always had a like and dislike-feeling for the cutest kids in the age program I’m teaching for. Some are mature and handle situations as I would expect them to for their age and accept a challenge to do better when it is offered to them, but others will simply throw temper-tantrums right in the middle of my lesson because they didn’t get their way during the game time or what-have-you. I think I have even less control over the class than you over the kids you babysit because I have anywhere from five to twenty kids in the class.

    I think there’s got to be a line that you draw in your mind as to what you are willing to put up with. It sounds like you handled it the right way, in fact probably much better than how I would have handled it. I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to children acting out in response to not getting their way, but I also recognize that I’m not their parental unit. I can’t change the fact that my hour and half with them each week is a very small percentage of the time they are taught valuable social lessons about life and how to make it through.

    Don’t know if that spurred on any revelatory thoughts, but I hope you find a resolution to your problem.

    James

    P.S. – I really admire your style. Encouraging children to get outside their comfort zones and discover new limits is exactly what kids need. I really wish I had had babysitters who were as dedicated to giving me new challenges to face rather than letting me play games on the computer for hours non-stop or watching cartoons from sunrise to sunset.

    • tertiaryhep says:

      Haha. Yeah. Sunday school teaching can be stressful, too. They are both completely different arenas, though, like you said…you don’t have quite as much one-on-one time, but I think there is still the opportunity there to have conversations about behavior instead of having zero tolerance. 😀

      And thanks! 🙂 I have fun with my kids!

  3. blesshsu says:

    So I think that you did two incredibly brave things here (speaking of giving specific feedback!): writing, and sharing about how you relate to kids. I speculate that when parents are being watched during trying situations, it’s a very vulnerable act. I also definitely testify to feeling naked when you have someone else read what you’ve written. In some way, it’s as if both those situations show the best you have to offer, or like, the purest essence of what you believe is true or right. So I likewise am impressed at your “nannying” style! I am taking mental notes for when/if I ever have children of my own. I agree with your principles, but the practical elements are specifically very notable.

    I have to say that the manipulative part of children (girls I’ve noticed, in particular) can really get to me. It’s amazing how, if you’re careless, you can get sucked into Puppy Dog Traps like Big Brown Quivering (Dry) Eyes. But as you saw with the tattling, you should always trust your gut. Hearty slaps on the back for doing something out of the norm, in the moment, and showing those girls that you are a consistently reasonable person, who follows through with what she says she’ll do.

    • tertiaryhep says:

      Thanks, Vicki!

      And I completely agree. The manipulative parts of children always surprise a little. I just want them to be completely perfect and innocent, which, of course, is idealistic of me. Luckily I am also practical enough to realize when I am being manipulated and talk to them about it, but it’s heartbreaking to witness the evil bits of humanity lurking in the most angelic of us.

      MELODRAMA. 😛

  4. Eric says:

    Brown eyes rule.

  5. lyricsninja says:

    i think you handled things delightfully really. unfortunately our society has a lot of the “yell at you in public and make a spectacle” kind of people instead of what you have done.

  6. judy says:

    I love what you wrote! You are a great nanny – and an amazing daughter!

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