Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Living Beyond Tyrant/Victim Control: An Interview with Sherrie Loertscher

This is part one of an interview with Sherrie Loertscher, a woman who is known in my community as one of the fairest and kindest people on the planet. She, her husband and their two grown sons may fairly be described with old-fashioned words - righteous, impeccable, sovereign and noble. My interview with Sherrie is about a book called Children, the Challenge, by Rudolf Driekurs, M.D. and Vicki Stoltz, R.N. available here: http://acornandrose.com/Shop.aspx

Sherrie: When I had my babies in the late sixties, I felt that a family should be all about love, and was very fortunate because I loved the entities who came to me. But in those days the old maxim, “The child should be seen and not heard,” was changing to the other extreme, where kids were in total control, with the parents not knowing what to do.

I had been taught that the way to raise children was either to yell or spank them, which of course I did not like; and often, I didn’t have a clue how to understand things they would do. One day, when my older boy was three or four, I brought him to the post office. Our usual routine of his putting letters into the mail slot suddenly changed, so he laid down and threw a screaming fit. I didn’t know what to do!

Soon after that, a friend told me to read Children, the Challenge.

This book helped me to raise my two sons. Whenever I felt lost I opened it up, because it guided me to my own answers - solutions that brought understanding and peace to my household. I’m just so grateful to this doctor and nurse for their observations of children - and for figuring out simple techniques. Their idea is that each child is an individual with individual things to learn – but as a family member also needs to learn how to function as part of a whole unit.

Children, the Challenge is filled with timeless stories and examples that help you identify what your children are thinking and doing, and how to guide them in making choices that work for themselves as members of a group. It was published in 1963, but you don’t read it and think, “This is old-fashioned, this would never work.” It makes eternal good sense (and it also teaches you how to recognize a truly troubled child). The book is not something to get rigid with, but it shows a way to have a group come together with tiny individuals that will grow and later go out and make their group.

It is a parent’s job to give children boundaries and give them the tools they will need to go out into the world. You have a responsibility to your children to not lose yourself in their lives – each age of their lives brings a different shift.

How early can they start to manipulate the parent?
Sherrie: From birth – I really think so! An example that shows this is that babies born to deaf parents learn right away that sound doesn’t have an impact.

So when you give your child boundaries, you also give them options? “It’s bedtime, do you want these pajamas or this . . . ?”

Sherrie: That’s right, “Do you want to walk up to your room yourself, or do you want me to carry you?” It’s still giving them some kind of choice but the result is they are going to go to bed.

I learned from the book about a wonderful concept called logical consequences – simple example: your child isn’t potty trained, so you set up a little gate and you explain to them, “Here’s the potty; if you don’t want to be potty trained that’s fine. But then there’s parts of the house you can’t go into. Like you can’t go into the front room where there’s carpeting on the floor and nice furniture. You stay here because if you wet on the floor, it’s easy to clean up in the kitchen. Not so in the other room.” That kind of thing – let it make sense to them.

Are you saying you created a forum in your family where everyone is accountable for his behavior?

Sherrie: Yes.

So we have communication, accountability, and responsibility?

Sherrie: Yes. And if we’re very fortunate, all three of those will build respect. A perfect example – I walked into a room and Freddie had this broom in his hand and he was standing over Kurt just scowling. Kurt was crumpled up on the floor, crying his heart out. I had just read a section in the book on something similar. And so I stopped myself from doing what I normally would have done.

Your knee-jerk reaction?

Sherrie: My knee-jerk. I went over to Freddie and put my arms around him and said, “Freddie, I know you didn’t mean to hurt your brother.” And it was so cute, he dissolved, his anger disappeared. He just wrinkled up and said, “Oh Mama, I didn’t, I was trying to sweep the floor to help you! He came up behind me and I didn’t see him and I turned and I bonked him.”

You are talking about understanding your children’s actions rather than criticizing their behavior?

Sherrie: Yes. The important thing, part of the learning, is not to react to your children in anger . . . they know in a split second when you are frustrated or angry, and they will react to that in turn. The book is very skillful in giving you the tools, and learning that children respond quickly to praise, to being encouraged, and to being listened to. I realized that if I could stay quiet long enough and listen to them, I would discover a whole new thought process I hadn’t even given them credit for.

They understand English in a different way than we do, as well as emotions and responsibility – so you learned to put yourself in their little shoes?

Sherrie: Exactly. And there’s the genetic connection that the mother and child have, so there’s a tendency to think you know what they’re thinking, but the child can go beyond that way of thinking.

Which brings us back to "logical consequences?"

Sherrie: Yes. A situation has to make sense to a child. To just suddenly take away privileges – if a parent didn’t like what the kid was doing, “Okay you don’t get TV for a week, you don’t get video games,” whatever – to withhold something without its making sense to the child does no good.

Then it is just control without understanding? Which undermines self-confidence?

Sherrie: Exactly. Self-confidence is so important, and that’s what you are giving your children when you teach them logical consequences. Then it doesn’t look like the world’s out to get them.

And people controlling each other is a form of war?

Sherrie: Yes, control is not love, control is warring.

Then we are reacting and feeding off one another, rather than learning to be self-determined?

Sherrie: That’s right. Another teaching in Children, the Challenge that I absolutely loved was about going out with your children. I understood that people without children didn’t like raucous behavior in a public place. So the book explains how to train your children so that you can take them to nice places. You start by knowing you can’t expect them to do in public what you don’t expect them to do in your own home. If you let them run roughshod, sit on the table, yell, run around, stand up with food in their hands and walk around, don’t expect them to be able to go into a restaurant, sit down, and behave!

You may have to arrange a trip to a restaurant knowing you may not get a bite to eat. You tell them you’re going to take them to lunch, and have everything paid for ahead of time and let the restaurant know you are there to teach your kids and you may just get up and leave. If they start acting up you explain to them, there are other people here, we’re not alone, they don’t like it loud and if you keep being loud we’re going to have to leave. Well of course, they’re going to be loud, of course they’re going to be rambunctious. Again, not being angry or mad about it because you’re not getting your lunch out. You just say, “Fine. If you don’t want to sit quietly and have a nice lunch, we’ll go home.” You pick them up, put them in the car, again without anger. That’s a consequence that they can understand.

The book was just so helpful, it showed me how to consider the needs of everyone in a group. I was from a large family, five kids in my family, so there was a lot of chaos in how I grew up too. But still, the group finds its own way of acting. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way once you get out in the world.

I thought it was a disservice if I didn’t show my children what was waiting in the real world.

Part two of this talk with Sherrie will be posted in a few days. If you want to receive it by email or RSS feed, please sign in one of the forms at the upper left part of this page.

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