Practice What You Teach

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I had a motherhood epiphany a few weeks ago. My background is in special education. In 2002, I began my official teaching career. I have worked with typically-developing children, children with autism, children with mild to severe cognitive delays, children with emotional-behavioral disorders, children with learning disabilities, children toddler-age through high school age. With the exception of a few in group homes, they all have one thing in common: Parents. One of the most challenging things about teaching special education is collaborating with families. For the most part, the children I taught had limited verbal skills, which meant that the parents relied on me heavily for all information regarding their children’s progress. I always placed a lot of emphasis on the parent-teacher relationship, and I was willing to work with parents before, during, and after school. I only worked with children about 30 hours a week – parents have their children the rest of the week. Successful  gains will only be made if the parents and teacher communicate openly, sharing not only what has happened, but how to tackle situations in the future.

The one thing I have always preached is consistency and being firm. I remember saying things like “When I have a child, I will ignore all the tantruming” and “These are all just attention-seeking behaviors. The child needs to get over it.” Well, what I have learned over the past few years, is that it is much easier to ignore someone else’s child’s behaviors than it is to ignore your own. It is much easier to be consistent as an educator than as a parent. Add a second child into the mix, and it’s even more challenging.

So a few weeks ago, I had to evaluate a toddler-age child at work. The mother had many questions for me, and all I could think the whole time was “Wow, I would have answered these so differently before becoming a mother.” I was always certain being an educator would shape who I am as a parent…but parenting has changed who I am as an educator. I may tell parents that they need to be consistent or they need to handle behaviors a certain way, but I also preface it by saying “As a mother, I understand that this is really challenging.” It’s a completely different voice from what I used to have, which, in retrospect, may have sometimes come off as critical rather than helpful.

So after attempting to say the right things to this parent, I went home and realized that I needed to give myself a tough love speech. As a work-at-home mother, I am with both my kids 24/7.  At 2 1/2 years old, my daughter has been seriously testing me recently, particularly during mealtime. She went from a great eater just a year ago to a very difficult eater recently. I know that I have allowed her to get away with not eating well. Sometimes I am with Bryce, and I’m not able to be as consistent as I’d like. Sometimes I tell her she needs to eat, but I cannot always follow through. I used to tell parents not to place a demand on their child unless they could follow through. That is definitely more challenging than I realized, but I still try to stick with this. 

So the past week, I have had to literally force-feed my daughter to eat several meals (or at least the first few bites of a meal). I ask her “Do you want to eat the nice way, or do I have to feed you the mean way?” and there have been times that I had to feed her the mean way. I have to remind myself that I cook healthy, delicious food, and it’s very important for her to eat it. I have to remind myself that she needs to learn to comply with directions at an early age. I have to remind myself of what I used to tell all my students’ parents: if you do the work upfront, it’s much easier long-term. I also need to forgive myself for the times that I just cannot do it all. Every day as a parent is a new challenge, and it may take some time for me to learn what is best…but I always try to ‘practice what I teach.’

 

About Carrie Wells, Ed.D.

Dr. Carrie Wells is a college instructor, blogger, wife, and work-at-home mother to two children, Lydia (age 7) and Bryce (age 5). Carrie earned her doctorate in Special Education in 2008. After becoming a mother in 2009, Carrie began blogging as Huppie Mama to share her passions for cooking, crafting, beautifying, and her family. In 2016, she rebranded as Our Potluck Family, and her husband Richard became a regular contributor.
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6 Responses to Practice What You Teach

  1. Carrie Wells, Ed.D. says:

    Just a follow-up to what I wrote above, here’s what I wrote on Facebook: We used to just say something like “eat another bite” when she would eat part of her meal, but then it got to the point where she wouldn’t eat any of it. I often let her choose what she wants to eat, especially for breakfast and lunch. Then she stopped eating the things she chose. Then I started letting her choose when she wanted to eat. She stopped eating ven then. It’s gotten to the point that unless she is 100% starving or 100% craving the specific food that I prepared, she will not eat it. This means she’d basically go an entire day maybe eating 2 bites of food. She is off the weight charts (like, way below). I know what foods she does and doesn’t like, but it’s gotten to where it’s a behavior. It’s not about the food – it’s about being a controlling toddler. I didn’t want to believe it, but I can no longer deny it. She asks for food frequently, and I gladly prepare her whatever she wants, but she can’t ask for it then go “IEW! I don’t want food!!” and run away tantruming at every meal. She needs to understand that when it is mealtime, she needs to eat. And if/when she eats, she can have the things she wants – like cuddles with us, dance time, her favorite music, movie/TV show, etc. At some point, I have to be consistent/firm and follow through with the rules of our house. And she has to learn that in order to have all the things she enjoys, she needs to follow these simple rules. Here’s one more quick example. Last night, I made a dinner I didn’t think she would like. She flat-out refused to eat. Clamped her jaw, screamed and cried. I asked her instead what else she wanted to eat, but whatever she chose, she had to finish. So, she asked for half a bagel with cream cheese and an egg. I quickly made it, only for her to scream and cry for 2 hours before finishing it all. At that time, she didn’t even get to play, because she had to go to bed. I think with all of this, what is most important, is that Richard and I are on the same page. He’s really good about being consistent with the follow-through, and even though it totally breaks my heart to be anything but kind to her all of the time, I have to do what we feel is best.

    Oh, and when she does eat well on her own, she is showered with tons of positive reinforcement: praise, hugs, kisses, high-fives, whatever else to make her feel proud of what she has done! 🙂 Which is also exactly what I would tell other parents to do with their children.

  2. Dina Montgomery says:

    Very well written Carrie 🙂 During her difficult times…just remember, this will pass… and as soon as it does, she will find something else to challenge you with! Keep smiling 🙂

  3. Carrie Wells, Ed.D. says:

    Thank you so much, Dina! That really means a lot to me, especially coming from you 🙂 Like I said above, every day is a challenge, but I am so grateful to have two awesome kids who do challenge me every day. Richard asked me last night “Do you still love being a mom every second of every day?” and I said, as honestly and straight-faced as I could, “Absolutely!”

  4. Dana Peller says:

    I agree with Dina that this is very well written. My 4 1/2 year old tests the limits all day, every day. I am constantly told that I need to be firm and follow through, but when my husband doesn’t do the same – it negates all of my past efforts. I completely understand your frustration. My little guy is sick now and needs medicine (ear infection – the usual) and I have to fight with him to get him to take his medicine. Being a terrible eater to begin with, I am giving in to cheese doodles after he takes his medicine…bribery OY.

  5. Carrie Wells, Ed.D. says:

    I’m fortunate that my husband is really good at following through with every demand. I understand that everyone has food likes and dislikes. I was a picky eater as a child, and now I eat pretty much everything. I think the greater issue for me is compliance. She has to know that we mean business. I will love on her and play with her and have the greatest time ever — but every so often, I mean business, and she has to learn to respect me. I can be her best friend forever, but it’s also my responsibility to be her mother and guide her in doing the ‘right’ thing. 🙂 At the end of the day, when it comes to any parenting issues, there’s no right answer. We’re all just trying our best to pick a pretty good solution to things…and if it doesn’t work, we re-evaluate and try again.

  6. Pingback: Help Your Picky Eater "Get Over It!" Huppie Mama

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