Sunday, February 28, 2010

I didn't start the fire... oh, wait, I kinda did.

Since I'm still on page ONE of my thesis draft (which is due tomorrow... all 120 pages of it. La dee dah...) I really feel like I shouldn't be participating in Perpetua's ControverSundays ... on the other hand, since I DID suggest the topic (yippee! No one ever takes my ideas!) I feel I should participate. (Additionally, we all know I'm not fooling anyone-- it's not as though NOT participating will somehow lead me to write 119 pages of a thesis before tomorrow.)

(Great Oafs from Little Monsters Grow)

**(I suppose I should preface this by saying that no, I do not have children. HOWEVER, I am the oldest of 5 and I am a babysitter/nanny/(former) sunday school teacher/grade school teacher extraordinaire.)**

When I suggested the topic of "Disciplining Other People's Children" in my mind I was thinking of very specific instances. I was really thinking only of either those times when a child has been entrusted into your care and/OR those times when you are the only adult in the vicinity.

Though often, when I'm in public, I will see parents who are disciplining their children in ways I disapprove of (Yelling, getting in the kid's face, yanking their arm, calling the kid names) or parents who refuse to discipline their little hellions as kids run like banshees in store aisles pulling everything off the shelves-- in those cases, I really won't do anything other than give the parent the stink-eye.

Would I step in if someone was beating their child? I'd like to think I would. Spanking? Mmmm Probably not. I know, it's a fine line and some people think it's the same thing... But I think it's one of those things that fall under the category of, "I know it when I see it." When does a spanking become a beating? I know it when I see it.

So, having established what I don't mean... what DO I mean? I'll illustrate with 2 specific points.... (Mostly because I still feel righteously indignant about them and I'm sure y'all on the interwebs will back me up on this!)

In the first instance I was 18 years old. My little brother was 5 and my little sister was 6. I had not "officially" been put in charge of my siblings-- my parents were out running errands-- but I was effectively the only grown up in the house. My sister Em was a little brat (still is. Only now she's a BIG brat.) and she and my brother Jay would fight frequently. In our living room we had an almost- wall-sized flat screen tv which sat on a stand.

Em and Jay started fighting and Em totally instigated it. Jay was standing in from of the tv and Em started throwing things at him. HEAVY things. Books, plastic toys, etc. I had images in my head of the tv shattering and/or falling on my brother. Em refused to listen to me when I told her to stop, she refused to listen when I told her to to go her room. She was throwing a tantrum and just generally having a FIT.

Having no other way to stop her I went behind her, wrapped my arms around her, and held her to prevent her from moving. Note: I didn't hold her wrists, or twist her arms behind her back or restrain her in an otherwise painful manner-- I just basically put her in a bear-hug/lock so that she was unable to move.

Guess who got in trouble for that particular incident? Oh yeah, that would have been ME. My dad was very angry that I had "dared lay a hand" on my sister. (Never mind that my dad is of the "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy and he never had any qualms administering spankings.)

I was SO angry after that. I pointed out to him that I most certainly would have been blamed if something dangerous had happened and I hadn't stepped in to solve it. I also told him that, Fine, if he didn't want me disciplining his kids, I wasn't going to allow myself to be put in a situation where I was the only adult with them. They could bring them along when they went on errands, or I would leave the house.

And I stuck to that. No more free babysitter! (Sucks for them!)

But GRRR!~ I am still angry about that 10 years later!

The other incident is one in which I was explicitly put in charge of a child, I tried to impose discipline, and I wasn't backed up.

As I mentioned I babysit/nanny quite a bit in between my job/studies etc to make extra money. One particular family I sit for was nice in many ways and it was a good employment situation except for the fact that their kid was a SPOILED BRAT.

I had never really understood that old saying before (shoot-- I can't think of it!) -- the one about the parents being responsible for ruining a child. Yes, I could understand how it happened, but I had never actually witnessed it before.

Katie is an 11 year old with down syndrome. (OOo0! I know, you're all thinking about what a meanie I am for telling tales about what a brat she is. Just hold on.) The problem is not that she has down syndrome it's the way her parents (particularly her sMother!) react to the fact that she has down syndrome.

I actually really like Katie's mom. She's a sweet, friendly woman... but where her daughter is concerned she is a PUSHOVER! I think Katie's parents feel so guilty about Katie's disability that they've inadvertently made it worse.

Katie is actually a very smart and intuitive girl... and VERY manipulative. She's manipulative because her parents have NEVER said the word "NO" to her. She wants a toy? She gets it. She wants a candy? She gets it. She wants to play video games and not work on her reading? No problem. She wants money for no particular reason? Sure thing.

And so Katie is very sweet and agreeable... as long as you are agreeing with her. The moment anyone says 'NO' to her, or makes her do something unpleasant she has a meltdown. And her coping skills (because no one has ever made her work on them!) are about those that you would expect a 3 year old to have.

Her parents are not "bad" parents... they've just done her a MAJOR disservice. Katie would be perfectly capable of having a 'normal' life and holding down a job. She's very high-functioning. Will she ever do that? NO. Her parents have made sure that she's incapable of doing so... (And she doesn't really have to I guess, since her parents are rich.)

So, anyway, on to my story...

I was staying with Katie for a week while her parents were away on vacation. I was responsible for getting her to school, making sure homework was done, etc. Basically a "normal" week, only I would be the one in charge.

About half way through the week (and of waiting on Katie hand-and-foot, because that's what her parents do), I told Katie that after dinner she would have to help with the dishes. I gave her the option of either unloading the clean dishwasher or loading the dirty dishes. (Not exactly and arduous task.)

She ignored me, and so I unloaded the clean dishes and told her loading the dirty dishes were now her responsibility.

She kept ignoring me and returned to her video games.

I took the video games away and told her that she would get the video games back when she had finished this chore.

She had a MELTDOWN. I stayed calm throughout and kept telling her what her options were. It was getting late, so I added another one, and I told her she could also go straight up to bed.

What did she do? She ended up barricading herself inside the living room (there's a lock there for no particular reason) and calling her parents who were away on vacation to tell them what a horrible person I am and how I was mistreating her.)

If I was her parent, what would I have done? I would have told her to suck it up, listen to her babysitter, do the damn dishes, and go straight to bed.

What DID her parents ACTUALLY do? They called me and said, "You know Hypatia, we don't really ask Katie to do any chores. It only upsets her and causes problems. We don't want to stress her out, so just give her her games back."

Ummm... No. Not ok with that.

That was the last time I babysat for that family.

If I've been put in charge of a kid I need the parents to back me up when I discipline that kid otherwise my authority is totally SHOT. That kid will then know that they never have to listen to me and there's no point in me ever being "in charge" with that kid again.

So, yeah, those two incidents steam mean in particular. Would I have 'disciplined' those kids differently knowing what I know? Absolutely NOT.

I think, in those moments, it's perfectly ok to discipline someone else's kid.


Kathleen said...

I totally agree with you. There are certainly times when you are justified intervening, especially when you are the only adult there. And if the parents don't back you up, then you don't watch those kids again.

And I think it is sooo tragic when kids are over-indulged. I think it is even more tragic when any child, disability or not, is underestimated. People, kids are smart and very capable. If you give them a shot!!

Also, you can come watch my kid any time.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kathleen, I'd love to have you for a babysitter. You have decades more experience with kids than I have. :)

Your scenarios make perfect sense: when you're the adult in charge, it's up to the other adults to back you up (unless you do something harmful/unreasonable, which you obviously didn't). Your instincts are great; I'm pretty sure the "bear hug" is the method that they teach you in education classes when dealing with a dangerous/tantruming kid. You had to stop the craziness, and you didn't have any other options. Nuts to your dad for not realizing that.

As for the babysitting situation, it seems like a good example of a situation where "the system" should have intervened in the parenting. I thought one point of mainstreaming kids with disabilities was to teach responsibility and to prove that they could be just like everyone else. I wonder why no one along the way in elementary school said, hey, your kid has potential that you're ignoring because you're too busy babying her.

Hypatia said...

Aw, shucks, thanks ladies! That's sweet.

Kathleen, I totally agree-- Adults really underestimate kids! I remember that was one of the most frustrating parts about childhood for me!

Perpetua, Katie's mom works at her school. She doesn't *NEED* to work, as I said, but I think she got a job there just to hover over her daughter. *Sigh* It's really unfortunate because Katie could accomplish a lot if her mom would just let her and give her some responsibility and consequences.