Monday, November 17, 2014

How do you teach self-motivation?

I remember a number of years ago I was watching Dr. Phil on TV (I swear this is not a confession post!), and he was talking to a mother about how her constant hovering over her children, telling them what to do, being the overzealous soccer mom, was a disservice to them.  One of his points was that she was constantly providing external motivation, so much so that her kids would have a difficult time finding their own internal motivation.  I had never heard of this before, but it certainly gave me pause.

I look around at the people in my life, some of whom seem to have tremendous drive, others of whom are very stuck or unmotivated.  How much of it is personality?  How much of it is in reaction to trauma?  How much was ingrained at an early age?  Truth be told, I don't know, but I do know that - to the best of my ability - I want to create the possibility of self-motivation for my son if that even can be done.  I mean, can you actually teach someone self-motivation?  

On the one hand, no.  I don't think you can.  But on the other hand, I think you can create a space where someone can step up, motivated, curious, and excited to take on the world.  Here are some things I do.

1.  I don't cram my opinion down my son's throat.  Sure, there are times when we talk about things like safety.  At the end of the day, my opinion is the one that holds the most weight in this category; however, there's still room to listen to his thoughts and hold space for his upset. 

2.  Listening to my son's opinion.  I hear what he has to say and ask questions. I model active listening to him, and also sit or crouch to his level.  I want to feel as connected as possible.  I want him to know I heard what he said, and I understood him.  I also want him to think about different facets of what he's come up with.   Now, I don't grill him, but I am truly interested in hearing what he has to say. 

3.  Create free time throughout the day.  We aren't rushing from one activity to another. This means he has space to actually discover activities on his own.  I've been amazed by how some cut up 2x4's have been turned into a train, planes, a carwash, cars, a road, etc.  My son comes up with these on his own.  

4.   Necessity might be the mother of invention, but so is boredom.  From the "I don't know what to do" comes an inkling of an idea. I strongly believe if we are constantly telling our kids what to do, when to do it, then they never get to discover, internally, that resource of creativity.  And here's the thing: all kids are creative.  They are born with it.  It might manifest in different ways, but they have it.

5.  Don't squelch self-motivation with too much screen time.  Certainly my son has watched videos on YouTube and played Endless Alphabet (cool app!) on my iPhone, but at the same time, I monitor what he's doing and have to admit, it's a bit scary to see how glazed over his eyes become when he's engaging in screen time, even with an active engaging app, even with a snake video where he's asking questions about whether snakes eat each other (the answer is - for some snakes - yes!)

I love seeing what my son comes up with, having him talk about what he's doing and thinking, finding a delicate balance between asking questions to expand his ideas and simply letting his ideas free float and evolve at their own time and pace.  Parenting.  Sometimes it seems so effortless and other times, it feels like some delicate dance in the dark. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Can I Touch Your . . . ? Teaching my 3 year old son about consent.

Re-published by The Good Men Project here

I've been extremely dismayed to read so much about rape culture, how women and girls are treated, how men and boys are raised.  I read so much about how to teach our boys what NOT to do vis-a-vis girls and women (which I usually agree with), yet I read so little about how to simply raise them to be emotionally evolved/aware, conscious and respectful of themselves and others, well-versed in consent (for themselves and others) that I sometimes feel left in the dark.  In the face of that, I am absolutely determined to do my part around raising a boy who is proud of who is he, aware of his and others' boundaries, curious and questioning about himself and the world.  I think it begins here. Now.  One child at a time. Sometimes one bath at a time.

In the bath the other day, my three year old said, “Mama, if I stretch out, I”ll touch your vulva.”  

Me: I don’t really want you to touch my vulva.  Besides, you need to ask.  Like, if someone wanted to touch your penis, they should ask, Can I touch your penis?

Three year old: Do it!  

Me: Do what?  

Three year old: Say, Can I touch your penis?

Me: You want me to ask if I can touch your penis? (I was slightly slow on the uptake.)

Three year old: Yes.

Me: Can I touch your penis?

Three year old: YES!  (I reach over and touch him for about one second.)  

He pauses.

Three year old: Mama, my penis is very sensitive.  

Me: Yeah. My vulva is sensitive, too.  Sometimes breasts and nipples are also sensitive.  

Three year old: Do you want to touch my boobies?  (He places his fingers on his little nipples.)

Me: Okay.  Actually, that’s your nipple.  

Three year old: Do you want to touch my nipple?  

Me: Okay.  (I touch it lightly.)  

Three year old: Do you want to touch the other one?  

Me: Okay.

He smiles.  I smile.  And then he wanted to play wrong-way whale, and I got out of the tub.

It seemed so simple.  He wanted to touch a part of me that I didn't want him to touch. I set the boundary - and actually had a history of setting a boundary when we were breastfeeding. (There was a certain point where I knew he could ask to nurse through gesture or word, so I insisted that he did.  I never let him simply grab my breasts or lift my shirt.  This felt important to me.)  

I have also set a boundary around other people touching him.  When he doesn't want to kiss or hug or even high five, I reinforce our family rule that no one is pushed to be affectionate when they don't want to be.  This extends to everyone.  At one point, my mom questioned this (as others have done), along the lines of: Shouldn't he *have* to hug and kiss family?  To which I've responded with a resounding No.  In face of the fact that over 90% of children are abused by someone they know and 30 - 40% are abused by a family member, I think it's absolutely critical that he be 100% at choice around how he gives and receives affection.  I want him to listen to his body, his desires, even his whims when it comes to consent around his body.  I want him to notice when he wants to be affectionate and not.  I want him to honor others when they don't want him to touch them, and to learn not to take it personally.  I want his desire to be affectionate to come from a place of a genuine yes, not a "no, but I have to, so . . . "

So when my three year old asked me to touch him, I also had to check in with myself.  Was this an "okay" thing to do?  And I realized that it was, for two reasons.  One, he had made the request.  Two, I knew that while I was touching his penis, I wasn't bringing my adult sexuality to play.  This makes a world of difference from where I'm coming from.  Children are very sensual and sexual creatures, but their sexuality is not an adult sexuality.  They don't have the same hormonal drive, the same desires, the same needs.  Sure, children do masturbate and feel pleasure  (why shouldn't they?) AND I know I want my son to be able to choose when he wants to receive and give pleasure. 

Another important pieces is I had to ask myself if I wanted to touch his penis. I was a yes out of pure curiosity.  I wanted to see where the thread of inquiry went and how the conversation around consent would unfold. I love seeing how his mind works, and how the lightbulbs go on.  

For me, this is the beginning of planting the seeds of consent.  It is about empowering my son with knowledge about his body and my body as well - and truly whatever body he comes into contact with.  It is about teaching him to ask for what he wants.  And of equal importance, it is about never shaming him for his desires.  He can want what he wants, and express what he wants. It doesn't mean he's going to get it, and it doesn't mean there's any shame in simply asking.

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