Saturday, June 27, 2009

She's only two. She does not understand. Wrong!

Funny sort of morning yesterday. At the end of what appeared to be a fairly calm toddlers session, a childminder came up to me to say "Did you know you have a very naughty girl here?"

It turned out that this little girl has been pinching cheeks, slapping faces and pulling hair, etc. Usually these incidents get reported to us fairly quickly so I was surprised that it had not come to our notice till then.

And then, apparently, in a matter of ten seconds after this report, this little girl had traumatized another three kids.

The mother?

I had always thought this mother rather strange. Sometimes she sticks around for nearly 20-30 minutes after our closing*. All of us here are volunteers. We have other business and family to take care of. We rather like being able to clean up after a session and head home.

Soon I had two or three mothers telling me how the little girl had misbehaved. Well, we expect two-year-olds to go through a certain phase, don't we? But what came across to me was that this mother did not have a clue about controlling her daughter.

At least two mothers had spoken to her about her daughter's behaviour. Her standard reply was, "She's only two. She does not understand."

I have noticed too that this Mum would push daughter in her little ride-around all around the hall when the daughter should be doing the peddling (oops! I meant 'pedalling', of course) herself. Sometimes Mum puts her into one of the babies' bouncing net thingeys. It's not right. Daughter throws her biscuit away at snack time, only to grab a biscuit from another child, or picks scraps up from the floor.

So having gathered evidence from three other people I approached the mother. Before I could say anything more than "I'd like to talk to you" she said, "Wait, I'll get someone to talk to you."

A few minutes later she got one of the grandmothers who "saw what happened" recounting how another mum (described as having blonde hair) had grabbed her daughter's arm because both daughters were fighting over a doll.

Then I heard the phrase, "They were ganging up on her." Grandmother and her own daughter (another mother at the group) joined in support. Then another mother chipped in to say, "No, that's not right."

Amidst these accusations and counter-accusations I noticed an interesting pattern. The anthropologist in me said, "Hang on a minute. There appears to be this group of white mums and carers against a group of non-white mums and carers. What's happening?"**

Mother (let's call her "G") was then in a flood of tears. "Some children play hard, some children play soft. But there is no need to grab her like that." I was puzzled as she repeated this statement at least twice later on. What does "playing hard" mean?

So far, no one has owned up to grabbing the little girl (let's call her "M"). One Mum (the one with blonde hair) described how she had touched her on the arm with a finger to say "you must not do that".

Another (carer, J) said she might have touched her, but definitely not grab her arm roughly as demonstrated by Mother G. J is a very experienced childminder and would not touch a child unnecessarily. She felt it was necessary to do so only because M was digging her nails into another child and stepped in before that other child was hurt.

When everyone had calmed down I spoke to G and told her in no uncertain terms that I did not agree with her that M does not understand. Disregarding whether the other mums were right or wrong, she needed to do something to control her child.

I said, "For example, speak to her at her eye level," and demonstrated by squatting down to M who was strapped into her push-chair. And what did M do? She started hitting me.

Then she snatched the brochures from my hand. The mother raised her voice (in their own language). M took absolutely no notice and pretended to read my brochures with a very defiant look on her face.

I said to G to avoid saying "no" and "don't" all the time. It's very discouraging. (See earlier post.) Tell her to do the thing you want, not say "don't do" the thing you don't want.

I turned back to M and said in a very firm voice, "At the count of five, you have to give me back these brochures. OK? 1-2-3-4-5, I want the brochures back." Mum translated.

I counted to five and she handed the brochures back to me. I praised her. M looked pleased.

"OK. You did that so well, we'll do it again. Here, take my brochures. Now this time at the count of three, 1-2-3, you must give me back the brochures." Mum translated.

"One, two, three," and straightaway she gave me my brochures back. I praised her for listening well. She looked happy. She had achieved something and was praised.

Mum looked rather surprised. She told me that in her home, being an only child, M does pretty much what she likes.

"That's no good. If you are planning another baby, what's going to happen when you have a baby and she still won't listen to you?"

As it turned out, mother G is expecting a baby.

"All the more you have to get her to do what you say. Or she'd start hitting the baby."

I went on to say briefly what she could do, like giving her a choice of two: "green dress or blue dress", "wash her hands or sit down", rather than open-ended questions like "what do you want to do?"

Mum G realized that M is not too young to understand after all. Even when I spoke in a different language she could clearly respond, what more if mum was speaking in their own language?

The other mothers had expressed surprise at Mum G's attitude that a two-year-old cannot understand. They did not seem angry with the child as such but thought G's parenting skills were pathetic.

Some things we do so naturally we do not realize that other parents have to learn this. Sometimes there is a cultural element in that children are treated like gods and goddesses, as in some Chinese cultures. Then when they turn six (for example), they are suddenly treated as little adults, given responsibilities, etc.

In some families grandparents who help in childminding counsel that "they'd be OK when a new baby arrives".

Let's just say in the six years or so that I have helped in this toddlers group, we have seen how older siblings start biting other children in the group when mum has a new baby.

I now have a plan on how to help this mum. But would she be willing to accept this help from others?

It's up to her. I hope and pray that next Friday would turn out alright.

*The reason mother G sometimes sticks around well after 'closing' is probably because she could not get M to agree to go home.

**It is not unusual, as I learned as a minority person, that when we felt that we are being 'singled out' or 'picked on' our first reaction is "it's because of our ethnicity" whether or not this was really the case. In this instance, I think the divide was more along parenting styles, and the ethnic divide was incidental.

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