Monday, November 2, 2009

Distraction: The “Delicate” Art Of Child-Rearing

Welcome to my second post.

So yesterday I mentioned that I have already "blogged" on my wife's laptop.  Here is the first post from that document.  I wrote it back when ... well, I explain it all below.  It is a bit long, but there's a lot to explain.  Enjoy it, please feel free to try these methods at home with your own kids, and please do NOT sue me if anything goes horribly wrong in doing so.

(written on or about June 2006, back when I had just one kid)

    My son, Li'l D, is currently 2 years and 4 months old.  I’m not exactly sure when we Dads are supposed to stop counting months.  Someone recently told me that at around 3 or 4 we are supposed to switch to halves; that is, 3 and a half, 4 and a half, etc.  And when that stops, I don’t know.  I am currently 41 and a half myself, so perhaps that rule never officially ends.  But at least I now know the accepted rule during the early years on that subject, something that has worried me for a very long time.

    But anyway … on to “Distraction”.  I realized not too long ago, well, several things.  First, that I am evidently a very slow learner when it comes to my kids (I also have a daughter on the way, due about one month from this very moment in time when I am writing these words).  It took me a long time, long in terms of a kid’s lifetime, to finally realize that raising kids is all about one single simple concept: distraction.  Hence the title of this work.  And I guess I’ve already mentioned the second of these important things: distraction.  To cut to the chase, the bottom line and the end-all-be-all (and, yes, if I could think of any other clichés, then I most certainly would include them in this sentence) of raising a child always gets back to the parents’ ability to distract them from whatever it is that is bothering them.  At almost 2 and a half years … oooops … he’s not there yet, and so I must say at 2 years and 4 months old, my son Li'l D, who is absolutely more bright than either my wife Laura or I ever imagined a 2+ year old would ever be, is still very easily distracted.  Let me begin with some examples.

    First, there is pain.  I don’t mean pain as in “He’s being a pain again, honey!”  Because, as much as I love him, he is a pain at times.  I am talking about pain as in physical pain.  One thing that my wife and I learned well before we had our own kids was a wonderful lesson from my sister-in-law Diana.  Diana has read every book ever written on child rearing.  And she practices what she has read, to the great advantage of her family.  This particular lesson involves those times, and there are many, when the child falls or stumbles or whatever inadvertent action they choose to do which causes them some undue distress.  And very shortly thereafter, they cry, or threaten to.  My attitude: If they aren’t actually hurt, and/or if they aren’t actually bleeding on my nice carpet and furniture, then let them cry and they will get over it quite quickly.  Diana uses this tack very well.  I remember very well one day when we were visiting their house for dinner (I think it was for dinner) and her son Li'l S (or was it her daughter Li'l J??  So I guess I don’t remember it all that well …) tripped and fell on the floor.  He (or she) looked up at the rest of us waiting for the sympathy.  Diana immediately, with the speed of a … well, something really, really fast, told us all not to react at all.  So we didn’t.  And Li'l S/J, after quickly realizing that they were not getting their desired sympathy from the rest of the room, went about their business of drooling or terrorizing their dog Mocha or whatever he/she was in the middle of doing when this horrible thing happened.

    This particular incident does not itself show the art of distraction, but it is a fantastic start.  And from this I can now show you my own version of the distraction method.  Li'l D often has his own mishaps … go figure.  He’s 2 (and a half), and he runs around our house at full speed, often not looking forward, which is also something that many local drivers do, but I won’t even begin my rant on that topic.  As a result of this and other 2 year old blunders, he occasionally “hurts himself”.  I am sure that many of these things do actually cause pain to him, but, as I said earlier, so long as my carpet and furniture are safe and there is no actual damage to my son, I have found it best to let it go.  The problem with this is that sometimes he cries anyway.  I hate that.  There is nothing worse than a child crying loudly right next to you when 1) you are trying to eat, 2) you are trying to watch a really cool woodworking show and Norm Abram (one of my son’s favorite TV personalities) just made some really unique cut on his table saw and you missed it, 3) you and your son just a moment ago were having a fantastically fun time building with blocks (usually his blocks) or playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, or 4) you’re just tired.  So the letting-him-cry idea doesn’t always work.  Here’s where Dad’s magic, and some imagination, come into play.

    I’m not sure where I came up with this, but it works, and it works wonders.  Li'l D is always concerned about fixing things (or, in his pronunciation, “fisking” them).  So when he is hurt, I assume that he assumes that something on him is broken, be it his knee, his elbow, his finger, whatever.  I quickly figure out what is hurting him and ask him if we should fix it.  He usually says “Yes.” When he does, and even when he doesn’t, I begin our healing process.  We count to three, and when three comes, we wave a hand and wiggle our fingers around the painful area, and at the same time we utter the magic sounds: “Bzzzvvzzzbzzzvzzzzzzz”.  No, it is not a word (at least not an English word that I have ever heard).  But it is enough to get him to giggle a little bit, which means that the distraction process has begun.  We then sometimes do it again: “1 – 2 – 3 – Bzzzvvvzbzzvzzzz.”  Almost always, by this time, Li'l D is so fixated at making that funny sound and waving his fingers at the pain that he has forgotten why we were doing this in the first place.  And voila, there is distraction at its utmost.

    I knew that this was a good idea when two things happened.  First, my wife Laura asked how I came up with this idea.  My reply?  A shrug.  I don’t know where I get these ideas.  They just come to me, which is a little unsettling at times.  But the other time that I knew that I was on to something was several days after Li'l D and I first went through this little ritual.  Laura and I were in the kitchen and Li'l D was playing in the family room (also known as Toy Central, as I am sure it is known in many American households).  Our family room is just off of our kitchen, so when Li'l D is playing by himself in there we are in bliss, and can monitor him from our kitchen by ear.  This one time he did something to hurt himself.  We both sat upright from whatever important things we were doing at the time, just to be sure that he didn’t actually hurt himself.  He hadn’t.  He was whimpering a little bit, and within a few seconds we heard just what we wanted to hear: “1 – 2 – 3 – Bzzvvvvzzbbbzzzzvvvvvvzzzz.”  Followed by “Better!”  It was great!  Li'l D had “fixed” himself.  What could be better?!?!?!?!

    Next example: The idea is always to try to get his attention off of the painful incident, or appendage, as soon as is humanly possible.  This, obviously, can be done in many ways.  Another method I have found simple, and somewhat fun (why not keep it fun for all??) is to ask about other possibilities.  When Li'l D comes a-runnin’ to me with a boo-boo, I sometimes ask him what it is that hurts.  But before he has a chance to answer (usually not too difficult, what with the whimpering and such), I ask him if it is something else specific that hurts.  If he hurt, say, his toe, I then quickly ask him if he hurt his nose.  Our short conversation might go something like this:
Li'l D: “Daddy, I hurt a foot.” (Remember, he’s only 2.)
Daddy: “What did you hurt?”
Li’l D: “I hurt my toe.”
Big D: (Ignoring his previous answer) “Did you hurt your nose?” (touching his nose)
Li’l D: “No.” (still whimpering)
Big D: “Did you hurt your ear?” (touching his ear)
Li’l D: “No.” (whimpering slightly less, because he knows how this conversation will continue)
Big D: “Did you hurt your … uhhh … knee?” (touching his knee)
Li’l D: “No.” (smiling just slightly by now)
Big D: “Did you hurt your tushy?” (because tushies are always fun topics for 2-year-olds)
Li’l D: “No.  [giggle] I hurt my toe.”
Big D: “So let’s fix it together.  1 – 2 – 3 – Bzzzzvvzzbbbbzzzvvzzz”
And there we are again, back to the magic touch.  And a happy kid once again, which also means a happy Daddy as well.

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