Monday, December 11, 2006

Water of Life

"Why can't water cure cancer?" was the question T asked on the way home from school today. As we drove into school this morning, many houses had lines of paper bags outside them. These bags held candles which were there to reflect on those who have cancer and it is also a fundraiser for cancer research. The journey to school caused many questions about cancer and who gets cancer and why.
I always find these times in parenting really hard and enlightening. It really stretches my skills and I find myself reflecting on them deeply later on.

Firstly, how far do you go to tell children about cancer? For my children they have yet to encounter anyone with cancer or even a similar life threatening disease (touch wood they won't have to for a while). I don't want to frighten them but equally I don't want to shield them.

I always try with these discussions to be led by them, to answer what they specifically want to know and give them time to process it. Normally (as it did tonight) they have a while to dwell on it, then they want to know more.
I want to be honest as much as I can, so when T. asked if he would get cancer, I said that I didn't know, I hoped not, but I don't know the answer to that. I explained that there are ways he can reduce his chances by living healthily, not smoking or doing bad things to his body, but even then, that is not finite.
He and W. wanted to know what it was, so I told him it was a disease that caused large lumps inside people's bodies that eventually ate away at the good things in their bodies and made them really sick so they couldn't live. So W. asked if Cancer was a monster, (I think the link was that he thinks monsters eat people!!??) - truthfully - yes, Cancer is monster, but the type of monster he means, such as the "Wild Things", then no.
T. then asked why on earth they give people drugs to make them better if the drugs make them sick in other ways - OMG - too smart!! After a full 20 minute interrogation on Cancer (and my knowledge being less than enough!) I was close to passing the buck here, but I think he got it.
"Why can't water cure cancer mum?" he asked - "wouldn't that be simple. You tell me that if I am sick I need to drink lots of water to feel better, why can't people with cancer just drink lots of water too?" I wish sweetheart.............

Another parenting thing that has been making me think recently is an ongoing discussion and circular e-mails I have been sent from well meaning friends about the use of praise and in particular (something the Americans love to use!") "Good Job!" when a child does a task well or completes something.

From what I gather, to use this, is demeaning to a child, it is "training talk" as you would train a dog, rather than talk to another human. The dog follows a command knowing that he receives praise and a cookie on succesful completion. Some real followers of someone called Alfie Kohn actually think that children don't require this kind of positive reinforcement in which ever way it is given "good job, well done, that's great" etc etc, that we should be treating children as adults, not encouraging them to seek this positive praise but rather to achieve things for themselves alone and this is unconditional parenting (I know there is far more to it than just that, but this is the bit that sticks in my mind!) This is just a glimpse of what it is about: Five Reasons article

I think my ball lies firmly within the side of giving positive reinforcement. To me, there are many times when my children do really help, they do work hard on an activity, play together without fighting, sort out arguments and reason with each other, listen etc etc and to me I see the glow of pride when I tell them exactly that.

Sure the praise isn't an "off the cuff" derogatory comment and I do avoid "good boy/girl" as that is not an acknowledgement of their task or achievement, rather it is personal - much like "bad or naughty boy/girl". I try to stay generally along the lines of "you must be really proud of that drawing, or I really appreciate how well you helped me" but to see their faces knowing that their parents have acknowledged their triumphs, their keeness to try and help etc is so important.

Maybe we shouldn't be a society with the need for reassurance in our abilities or tasks, but tell me who out there, as an ADULT, doesn't like to be told they have done something particularly well, a cake or meal was really tasty, or they look nice in a certain outfit. I know I do, and I would think, judging by my children's reactions, they do too. I suppose the crux of this is that if we, as parents, had been brought up this way, and the generations before us, then maybe there wouldn't be the need for seeking out affirmation for what we do...knock on effect. That said, I parent in the 21st century within which, I know for a fact, I often really craved some comment from my maternal grandfather particularly, that I was doing okay. To me, not receiving this, made me feel like there was something missing, that there wasn't unconditional love, there was definitely love, and in his own way, he showed it.......perhaps that is just it though........the feeling that I needed to "aim to please" is exactly what Kohn is all about?

But I see it that, longterm, if you don't give children positive praise and reinforcement when it is deserving, then perhaps we are pushing our children underground, they won't want to come to us with something they have done, either positive or negative, for fear of being shunned or rejected? How will this have an effect when they are 15/6? To me, it seems somewhat cold, conditional and detached. I think I need to read it fully to understand and maybe accept some of his reasoning.

To me, unconditional, attached parenting is all about being aware of my children's needs, for them to know that they are acknowledged and appreciated, even if something took them twice as long as anyone else or they really struggled, to tell them just how much we appreciated their trying will surely encourage their need to be proud of what they do. And besides all that..........I LIKE to tell my children when they have done well or tried hard........Selfish or not, for me, if I have seen the effort, then they deserve to feel that their works are not going unnoticed. Food for thought .......

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