Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Iced Tea and Dr. Phil

Everyone needs a spiff sometimes, so here’s mine to the world at large – my recipe for iced tea, slightly sweetened and Southern style (quick and easy).

½ gallon boiling water
½ gallon cold water
2/3 cup sugar
6 bags Constant Comment tea
8 bags decaf tea, brand irrelevant

Put the sugar and enough cold water to cover it in the bottom of a gallon jug, something heat resistant. Swish it around to thoroughly wet the sugar. Put all the tea bags in another heat resistant container and pour the boiling water over them. Steep no longer than 5 minutes, then decant the tea into the sweetened water. Pour part of the remaining cold water over the teabags to get additional essence from them, discard bags. Add remaining cold water to the tea, stir, refrigerate immediately. The tea will remain clear, and there’s just enough sugar to take the tongue-fuzzing edge off the tea without making the tea distinctly sweet, it tastes good, and it’s strong enough that you can keep drinking the tea as the ice melts, as it will on a front porch on a hot summer day, and it’ll still feel like you’re drinking tea, not icky water. You can use all caffeinated tea or all decaf, it’s up to you. I think the regular tea has a zip not found in decaf, but if I were to use all caffeinated tea, I’d be digging holes in my yard at midnight from the buzz, so I compromise.

And, Dr. Phil…

My 16-year-old daughter and I have gotten into the habit of watching Dr. Phil at 4 pm together. I like it because it’s a way to have issues brought up and opened for discussion without the emotional heat of any of it being personal. We’ve watched shows on runaway parents, Internet pedophiles, drug addicts, teen parents, and people who can’t keep their pants zipped. If she feels like talking or asking questions, she can, or we can both hoot at the TV screen and shake our heads together or learn something new or figure out viewpoints and personal positions on emotional issues. It works for us for now, and I think Dr. Phil could get behind that kind of sharing and communication.

Last week there was an episode about out of control children – those who throw constant temper tantrums, destroy the house in their fits, are heinously disobedient, and so forth. My daughter found it relevant because a few months ago she had charge of a 3 year old that was very busy, which surprised my daughter and wore her slam out. She turned to me and asked, “Mom, how DO you discipline children?”

I said, “Well, a lot of it depends on the age of the child. Little children need lots of physical attention; they need to be watched pretty closely and prevented from harming themselves, other people, pets, or household objects. Older children are less needy physically, but they’re more in need of emotional components of discipline. All of that requires the parent to think about what it is they’re really teaching or trying to discipline and to try to tailor what they do or say to meet the situation. I can tell you from what I see in this program that these families might benefit from sharing chores with their kids.”

My daughter looked at me quizzically and said, “What do you mean?”

I said, “Kids who can’t walk yet really can’t help out much around the house, but as soon as a child is old enough to walk, they can help. This means that they are spending time with the parent, doing something useful, feeling like an important part of the family, and learning a skill. All that is part of discipline, and part of parenting.”

I pointed out an example from her past. “Do you remember when we lived in [a different town] and you used to help me with the laundry?”

“Sort of,” she replied, “I helped you put the clothes in the washer.”

“That’s right,” I said, “you weren’t old enough to measure out the soap, but I could, and you poured it into the washing machine while I held you up, and I handed you the clothes, you dropped the clothes in, and we both watched as the machine filled with water and began to agitate. We were doing something together, which meant we were spending time with each other, you had my attention, you were learning the basics of doing laundry, and we got to giggle and observe and learn a little science and some domestic things together. We had fun, didn’t we?”

“Yeah,” she said, the light dawning, “I liked watching the washer fill up.”

She brought up another example on her own. “Celery and the letter ‘C’!” she exclaimed, “I remember helping you cut celery for chicken soup!”

“That’s right,” I answered, “You were a little older, I showed you how to use a paring knife carefully, and we put an apron on you and you stood on a little stepstool and cut celery at the cutting board. You told me it looked like the letter ‘C’ after it was cut.”

“That was fun, too,” she said. I smiled at her.

“I have always and still do enjoy spending time with you, honey,” I said, “and chores need to be done and meals need to be cooked. You needed to know how to do those things, too, and, while it may have taken longer to do it with the help of a child, it was important to me to help you learn and to share what time I could with you.”

She beamed at me and said, “thank you, Mom.” I smiled back. Then she said, “But, Mom, how do you discipline a kid like that one on TV who is kicking and screaming and crashing into things while his mom is doing dishes?”

“I don’t have all the answers,” I said, “but it strikes me that that kid is old enough to help do the dishes. What he’s really saying, with all his acting out and nonsense, is that he wants some attention. I’d hand him a dishtowel and have him dry and put the dishes away so that we could talk and get stuff that is mutually beneficial done at the same time. Kids need to feel useful, too, even if they don’t realize it; it makes them feel like a necessary part of the family. He might break a few plates, but he could sweep them up, too, and then decide if he wants to be eating off of paper plates for the rest of his natural life, or if he’d like to shape up and help out.”

“And what if that didn’t work,” she asked.

“Restrictive time-out,” I said, “but time-outs can be tricky. Kids will not voluntarily sit like stumps; they need to be proctored. And, if you’re staring at them or engaging with them while they’re supposed to be in time out, then they’re getting attention, negative attention, which is kind of a reward, too, so you have to be careful not to make the time-out a kind of reward in and of itself.”

“Oooh,” she said, “how would I do that?”

“First, tell the child why they’re being put in time-out and how long it will last. Then tell them when they are done sitting there quietly for 2 minutes or however long the time-out is, they will need to apologize for the act and then they can have a minute or two to cool down if they want. Afterwards, you will play with them with play dough for 5 minutes or so because you know sitting in time-out can be hard and you’d like to recognize that they paid their ‘dues’ or they can go back to doing what it was they were doing before, or they can come and help you do some chore. But you’ll need to stand over them or be nearby to make sure the time-out is adhered to,” I said.

“So, THAT’S why you used to sit in a chair nearby and read or knit after you’d sit us on the stairs, or have us sit against the wall while you were washing dishes or doing laundry,” she said, “I didn’t realize it until now!”

“I also did not converse with you or smile at you or feel sorry for you and let it show,” I said, “it was kind of a short version of Amish shunning, so that you wouldn’t keep wiggling or whining or other nonsense while you were sitting there.”

“Did we spend a lot of time in time-out,” she asked.

“Nope,” I said, “y’all got the idea that it wasn’t much darned fun to sit there like wet socks and quit misbehaving.”

“But,” she said, “That kid on TV is screaming that his mother is beating him, even though she’s across the room, and she’s afraid the neighbors will call Protective Services.”

I grinned at her. “Do you remember ‘go stand by the tree’ from when you all got a little older?” I asked.

“Oh, my God,” she said, “did you have us stand by the tree so the neighbors wouldn’t think you were beating us?”

I laughed, “Not really, none of you ever accused me of that. But the yelling and the screaming and the stomping around needed to stop, and you were all too old for me to stand over you. I figured that if you had to stand in public, you were a lot less likely to make a scene, and it worked. It might not have.”

“Holy cow,” she said, “I never realized. So, you’re saying that if that mom took her kid out in the yard and had him stand by a tree, he could do all the screaming and flailing around he wanted, and all the neighbors would have to do is look out their windows to see that nothing awful was happening to him, so he couldn’t threaten his mom with Protective Services anymore?”

“Pretty much,” I said, “but it’s probably too far gone with them for that to work. He might run off down the street. I’d vote for getting him to help with the chores and then spending time with him playing a game or reading books or watching TV together afterwards.”

“Wow,” she said. “You’re good.”

“I had a good book,” I answered, “it helped a lot. You all were pretty good kids, too, and quick learners and willing helpers. That’s important, too.”

“Cool,” she said, and went off to fix dinner, as that’s been a chore I’ve been sharing with the kids for over 6 years now. They each have to make a full dinner for 5 once a week, including main course, vegetable, starch, and dessert if they choose to do so. It was a lot of work on all our parts and some compromise in taste at the beginning, but they are all competent cooks with a good fix on ordinary nutrition now. My daughter excels at casseroles, Doodle is an amazing dessert baker, and Spawn likes to make bread from scratch.

Who says kids won’t help out? Just expect it of them and teach them how to do it well. It makes everyone’s life a little easier, I think, and they learn a necessary skill, too. Plus, we get to play cards or watch TV together while the dishes soak and no one feels like a martyr or a slave. I think that makes the fun times together even more fun, and I’m so proud of them, I could spit.

They’re proud of themselves, too, and that’s what really counts.


Javajem said...

I could already tell you were a great mom just by reading some of your other posts :)

I'm glad you and your daughter have that tradition of watching Dr Phil together! It will definitely help you two to open up about issues - great idea!


jaime said...

Okay, so what book were you using?

BoS said...

Javajem - My kids make me look good! They're great.

Jaime: I *really* like "A Very Practical Guide to Discipline with Young Children " by Grace Mitchell. It's still available on Amazon, but it really set the tone for my when my kids were very tiny, which was quite some time ago. I did a Friday post where I talked a little about this book and how much help it's been to me.