Monday, September 05, 2011

Sotto Voce II- Speak Softly and Regain Control

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, I once described my experience with my kindergartners on the day I had no voice. It was surprisingly positive, and taught me an important lesson in expectations and what it means to "control."

Nearly six years later, with a home-schooled four year old and the world's busiest toddler boy (seventeen months old this week!) it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to out-shout the crowd. When water is being spat upon the floor while simultaneously Lola, the super dog, is being vigorously petted with a toy screwdriver, my instinct is to go into drill-sargent mode: "WHAT ARE YOOOU DOOOOOOOOOING? NO!"

The ridiculousness of the words aside (I find "What are you doing?" and "What do you think you're doing?" to be some of the absolute stupidest questions any adult could pose to a child), the tone accomplishes nothing. Not that the instinct is any less because of this. But on the rare days that I remind myself to stop, take a breath, and use a very quiet voice, I surprise myself with the attention-grabbing power of just being quiet. This works much better for the four year old, as the seventeen-month old is still very much in the stage of "Talk him through what he needs to do, while escorting him through it," but it's still surprisingly effective.

What does this look like? Roll film:

Small girl-child decides to take a big mouthful of her Calm tea (oh, the irony) and then slightly whale-like, spouts tea all over the floor. She then glances at it, laughs, and takes another giant mouthful.

I observe this with the growing horror of someone who had just washed that floor. I feel a giant, rushing intake of air, and adrenaline that makes me absolutely spin- surely a loud voice will only make the situation better, yes? Um, no. Tea will almost certainly either splatter out, or be inhaled (and choked) in. My expression must be triggering the small girl-child's radar- surely this sort of behavior is just not done. I let out the air and kneel down next to the spill.

Small girl-child smiles and tries to dance away- the "after" of tea being on the floor is nowhere near as fun as the "during" of tea being sprayed onto the floor. I remind myself of my goals here- I do not want this to happen again, and I do want her to clean this up. Around here, what we do, we un-do. What we un-do, we re-do. Whatever it takes to make things right. And that rule pretty much covers every situation I can possibly think of, from messes to harming a sibling to breaking something. I focus only on the goals and very quietly tell her to put the tea cup down, and go find the towel near the sink. Whether from the super quiet voice or the potential for "Fun With A Towel," she complies and comes over to begin the process of skating around the wet floor with a towel on her feet. She explains, while wiping the floor, that she wanted to make her cheeks puff wayyyyyy out. I respond that it didn't work so well, and that I do not want to see that sort of thing outside of the bathroom again. The floor is cleaned, my voice doesn't go into "Screechy Anger Mode," the small-girl child is on to bigger and better things without being crushed verbally by an adult.