Thursday, 23 January 2014

Learning Self-Regulation

I've heard over and over of parents who allow their toddlers to self regulate with food, claiming that if we leave them to it and don't interfere with 'on demand' feeding that children will learn to recognize their own hunger cues and equally know when they have had enough.

I like the principle - but I don't know anyone who has made it past about three years old.

photo credit
The reality is that society dictates we should eat at certain times, and it's kind of awkward if you refuse lunch whilst everyone is seated at the table and 20 minutes later you are hungry but mum has put everything away. So you either end up telling your kid when to eat - or feeding them junk because real food takes time and preparation.

Still, like I said, I like the principle.

It's something Cosmo's doctor told me about when he was very young and I was getting frustrated about him just wanting to watch the same DVD on loop, or when he just wanted to read the same book (or sometimes even the same page!) again and again. He said he's trying to puzzle something out. I assume that because he can read the words, he's got all the information, but particularly for children who learn to read early, being able to understand what they are reading may take more time.

He asked me to indulge him.
Read the same page 50 times if necessary, move on when he is ready.

Gosh, that took a lot of restraint from me, but it worked! He would watch the 20 minute DVD on loop (brilliant baby by the way if anyone is interested) but then he'd know everything on it and never choose to watch the same one again (at least not for a long time, and when revisiting an old DVD it was for comfort, watched once and then relegated to the 'I've seen that' pile).

We've been up against this battle again recently, only this time it's grated on me even more because his current obsession is Minecraft - and I am not a gamer.

Everything in me wanted to limit him to 20 minutes a day - or some other such rule - but having been through plenty of other past obsessions I let it play out properly.

My mum bought him the game for Christmas and for a couple of weeks I was convinced it was all he would do with all of his free time - and then we hit our breakthrough. He just turned around and said 'I think I'd like to take a break from minecraft for a little while'. He started playing legos with his sister again (boy, has she missed him!) and at the end of the day, it's only really been a two and a half week obsession.

He still enjoys playing minecraft, but he's also enjoying other things too and he doesn't play it for hours at a time.

So, here are my top tips for surviving obsession phases:

1) Try not to worry about making everything meaningful. I like to relax and read a magazine sometimes, or watch a movie. Not everything I do has value other than relaxation and not everything your child does needs to either.

2) Respect what they value. I don't love minecraft. I don't think it's awesome. But my son does and I wouldn't like it if he told me I couldn't look at pinterest because he doesn't think it's cool. Live and let live.

3) Find ways to work it into other things they might enjoy. Cosmo is currently working on a book of tips for his Dad so that he can learn how to play too. It's still Cosmo's favourite topic, but thankfully it's away from the computer screen!
Top tip for Minecraft... but also life in general...

4) If you really need to limit their time on something (eg. I don't want him sat at a PC all day) rather than saying no to it, find something else that will take up some of that time. If Cosmo wants to spend all his free time on the computer, but I don't want him to spend more than an hour, I need to find tasks that will take up all but an hour of his day, then he can play as long as he wants without a conflict. If you tell them they can't do something (or they can only do it for a limited time) it becomes the craved for 'forbidden thing'. I'd rather say 'of course you can play - right after we get back from the park and have picked up the groceries'.
We also have a rule where nobody has free time until they have completed their curriculum based activities for the day.

If you have anymore strategies, let me know. It might sound like I have it all sorted, but I really don't. It pains me to wait out an obsession, but it's totally worth it in the end. The result is a happier, less frustrated child, who learns how to self regulate their own time.


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