December 14, 2010

Re-Visiting Jill

I’ve previously written about “Jill,” one of the girls for whom I babysit. Jill is now four years old, and I’ve known her since she was a newborn.

I love Jill nearly as if she were my own; in fact, when she leaves for kindergarten a year and a half from now, I fully expect to experience real grief. However, because she is – as I said in one of my previous pieces – a “poster child” for the strong-willed, I haven’t always enjoyed her behavior.

When I first wrote about her, she was about a year old; the second time, she was two and a half. Each time, I addressed her strong-willed nature and talked about how I’d seen success in dealing with it by utilizing Dr. Kathy’s techniques for the strong-willed child. And it seemed appropriate to take a look at how she’s doing now as we think about the idea of frequent and objective feedback.

Of course, it isn’t merely the strong-willed who benefit from such feedback. We all need it – to help us curtail harmful habits and to facilitate continued growth in already-positive aspects of our lives. But strong-willed kids serve as good examples of the power of feedback because – just as everything about them is “intense” – the result of employing regular, objective feedback is dramatic.

Jill still has her “moments.” The hardest part of her day is when her mom comes to pick her up – not because she doesn’t want to go home, but because transitions are hard for her. So she pitches a fit when her mom arrives – sometimes every few days and sometimes every day for a week.

However, if you were to meet her at just about any other time, you would never guess she was a very “difficult” (albeit, still loveable) baby and toddler. She joyfully participates in K4 learning activities, plays well with all the other children in my care, and has given up tossing her meals across the room in favor of willingly trying “no thank you helpings.” Her timeouts have dwindled from several each week to, perhaps, one a month. And the length of each tantrum has diminished from an hour or more to about five minutes apiece.

Her parents and I aren’t miracle workers. To be sure, we’ve all prayed a lot and credit God with giving us strength and wisdom and with working on Jill’s heart. But, practically speaking, we’ve merely utilized the powerful tool of objective feedback (i.e., delivering natural consequences in a calm, dispassionate way) whenever it’s necessary and as consistently as possible for repeat offenses.
That’s a long, exhausting task. But I’ve seen the other side of the coin – children who clearly receive little such feedback and are consequently out of control – as well as the fruits of our labor with Jill. We’ve still got a ways to go – starting with her afternoon transition time – but I don’t for a moment regret the investment.


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