Saturday, October 07, 2006

Practical reading

Although I have not dived into any pleasure-reading since my last experience (see previous post), I am reading two books in a series which I wish to recommend. I work as a nanny. I returned to work last year after having been away from childcare for a number of years. Infants and toddlers have made up the bulk of my young charges, and my current job gives me fulltime care of a boy who is just over one year old. However, he also has two schoolage siblings, and I shall care for them on occasion, as well. Realizing my skills needed sharpening, I turned to some tried-and-true sources.
The Gesell Institute of Human Development has a book series from the late 1970s-mid1980s that draws portraits of children one year at a time. They are written by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. assisted by one of several coauthors such as Frances L. Ilg, M.D. and Carol Chase Haber, M.A. The titles go according to year, so there is Your Three-Year-Old, Your Six-Year-Old and so on. Each book gives excellent sketches of children covering their physical, mental and emotional characteristics. It gives practical hints according to age, too. Arming myself with such information helps me to, say, brush off the comment of one of my charges in a recent episode. She learned that my car was being repaired, and asked, "Oh, did your car break down?" I knew I was being setup by a creature who fancies herself crafty but who is both transparent and obvious, and who is in an age when she delights in saying things that are inappropriate.
"Yes, it did," I said.
"Oh, good!"she crowed, "I'm so glad!"
As her nanny, I could ignore her and deprive her of the attention she hoped her rudeness would garner.
[But if I'd been her mother, I would have taken her aside for a quick and firm reminder that we don't celebrate other people's misfortunes.]
Arming myself with information from these books allows me to detach from situations better, to take things less personally, understanding that so much of behavior reflects development. It also allows me to handle things in ways that actually work. Lots of power struggles can be avoided this way, as can some of the daily melodrama of childrearing. I like knowing which events and behaviors are important and which just ways to get reactions from adults, attempts at manipulation, testing of boundaries and so on.
I have read complaints on that this series is dated. It is true that some of the information is out of date; do not believe the statistics cited, for example, because they are old. Some of the examples used are no longer as common as they were at the time. But the basic information about how a child functions is solid, useful and trustworthy.
Another book I like is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Marsh. It's full of practical ideas for doing just what it says. Then I can avoid falling into traps such as asking a child, "Is it okay if Nanny changes your diaper? Please, Sweetie, please?" It is much more effective, for another example, to say firmly to a two-year old, "No hit," and not (as one mother I knew did), "Please don't hit Mommy, okay, Honey, because it hurts Mommy's feelings a lot and then she gets very sad." Age-appropriate boundaries are useful; so is knowing what appeals to a child at which age.

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