Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Line in the Sand

Would any of you with younger children like to trade for the more advanced model? Say, a nine year-old girl who thinks she's Perfect? Yeeaaagghhhh!

Here's my dilemma: how old should a child be before you take a hands-off approach with them insofar as personal hygiene and homework go?

Her Highness Josie is nine and a half, and does not like to take showers, brush her teeth appropriately, or brush her hair. In fact, with the teeth, I have ridden her, her father has gotten on her about doing better, and the dentist has spoken to her TWICE. We have the 'fun' cavity mouth rinse that shows where you need to brush and everything. The problem is, she's just Lazy. The last time I took her to get her hair cut, a few weeks ago, her hair was almost waist-length, and the woman who was trimming it had to spend about ten minutes working out a bunch of knots underneath! She had been brushing the top of her hair, but not underneath, and since she hadn't been wanting braids or anything recently, I hadn't really been involved in brushing her hair. It looked OK from the top, so I assumed she could be trusted to do it on her own.

With her homework, I am about at the end of my rope. She does it without complaint, but the problem is that when she brings it to me for me to check it over, she turns into a nasty, sulky, angry bullfrog if I DARE to find a mistake. Yesterday, I was reading over her book report on Superfudge, and noticed that she had spelled every single character's name wrong, plus a host of other words. Also, there were some sentences that obviously made sense to *her*, but weren't clear to anyone who hadn't also just finished reading the book, such as 'Peter had to figure out how to live with his brother for a year and his friend Totsie.' Huh? I read this aloud to her, and she got mad at ME! Honest-to-God, I wasn't being nasty, I was just reading it aloud in a normal tone, and then I asked her if she really meant that Peter was only going to be living with 'Fouge' for a year, or whether they were somewhere together that they were going to be living for a year and then would be returning somewhere else together after that time, since she was making it sound like 'Fouge' was going to be put in a box and mailed somewhere after the year was over. After initially giggling, she was *furious* with me for not understanding, and poked her finger at the paper where she had previously written in another paragraph,'The book takes place in Maen in and out side.' Apparently, they moved to Maine for a year, but she just hadn't drawn the line for the reader. Not a big deal, but she was so angry with me for not getting it! When she gets like that, she pulls in her neck, purses her lips, and literally pouts, pokes out her belly, and drums her fingers on the table.

It makes me SO MAD.

The reason I know I wasn't being nasty to her is because I had to try SO HARD not to grab the paper and tear it up into little pieces, or ball it up and throw it away. The only thing that stopped me was the knowledge that my mother would have done that exact thing, had I ever behaved that way towards her. Nothing will stop a woman in her tracks like the fear of being like her mother, especially mine!

Since this is not the first time this has happened, and not the first time I've tried to talk to her about it afterwards, I quietly asked her if she would rather not have me look at her work, but just take her chances with her teacher and let her final grade reflect anything Ms. Miller finds. She said no, but kept acting the same way, until I finally told her that I would no longer be helping her, because it was obvious that the only thing she wants me to do is pat her on the head and tell her that it's perfect and she's a genius. So, the next time there is a book report, she is not to ask for help from either of us, and will be going it on her own. Now, obviously, if she comes to me and asks politely for help with one thing or another, and acts like a normal person while she does it, I will probably help her. I doubt that will happen, however.

So, am I doing the right thing? Is this how she will have to learn from now on - trial by fire? It's her book report, and her body, and she is ultimately going to have to be responsible for herself, it's true. Maybe it's better for her to realize *now* that she can't do everything perfectly on her own yet, no matter how smart she is, before her grades become a matter of serious importance. Luckily for her, this book report is an oral presentation, so the spelling isn't a matter of life or death, although I did tell her that there's no reason on earth she should have spelled the character's names wrong, at least. Do I let her just not shower, and see how long it takes before she does it herself? Do I let her get a bad grade on her next report, to let her learn the lesson? Nothing I do seems to be helping to change her attitude, not the talking, the punishing, her promises to be more polite in the future, nothing. I am at wit's end. There's apparently a line in the sand in fourth grade, and I don't know if I should let her cross it alone, or if I should hold her hand and make sure she looks both ways?


AndreAnna said...

Can I ship my toddler to you in 7 years?

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh my god. OH MY GOD. I keep wishing Zoe were older when "everything will be easier" and now I'm TERRIFIED. Not because it sounds so terrible (Frankly it sounds easier and more pleasant than trying to convince my toddler that she CANNOT stick her finger in her behind and then REFUSE to wash her hands. Oh, sorry, you were probably eating lunch....) but because I HAVE NO IDEA what I would do.

Is there someone else that she might take some info from better? Like her teacher (for the homework) or a friend (for the hygiene) or something? Maybe you could ask her teacher to say something to her about asking her mother for help with her homework. Oh jeez, I have NO IDEA.

Am now TERRIFIED by the obvious continuation of my ineptitude.

LoriD said...

I just read this good article about showering your child with undeserved praise.

My daughter (grade 3) will get that way about homework too. It almost always happens when she's overtired, but it's still frustrating. When it gets to the point where I want to just throw up my hands, I tell her that she can do it herself, but that I'll be sending her teacher a note to let her know that I tried to help. She eventually comes around and asks nicely for help. If it ever came to it though, I would write that note. Sometimes a teacher can get the message through better than the mom.

She has long hair too and when she gets lazy about taking care of it, I show her all the short styles I'm considering for her.

Kristin.... said...

Oh I'm sorry, were you writing about my child? Because holy crap it sure sounded like it!

I have actually refused to help Meg with homework because of her rotten attitude.

And the health issues? Yep, same here. Could care less about her teeth and I'm constantly at her about them.

It's so frustrating. And quite frankly, I have no idea what to tell you.

Kristi said...

Well this sounds frustrating.

I have no idea what to even say. I really like the note idea from Lorid, but you've mentioned the incompetence of Josie's teacher before soI don't know if that would help.

I remember being 9 and not really caring about hygiene issues, but at 10 taking care of myself was suddenly very important. That's when things like deodorant and the all mighty powers of Noxema took over my life. Hopefully, this is just a phase that will end very very very soon!

Cherish said...

I remember being the exact same growing up and I have been so pissed off with myself ever since I became an adult and had to deal with the horrible teeth. Frankly I didnt learn to actually take care of myself or take responsibility until my late teens.

I really have no idea what to tell you because I very often walk that same line between trying to instill personal responsibility and not wanting my kids to look/smell/act like no one owns them.

Swistle said...

As the mother of another 4th grader, I am SO INTERESTED in this topic. Rob is acting a lot like that, and he's doing a lot of sighing, storming off, door-slamming, and acting as if things are SO UNFAIR when they're PERFECTLY REASONABLE. And he gets mad at US when we remind him of stuff he'd forgotten and would have gotten in trouble for at school!

For teeth and showers: I brush his teeth for him once a day to make sure it gets done right, because he was totally ruining his teeth, and then he can do it himself (probably just wetting down the toothbrush while looking at himself in the mirror) the other time(s). For showers, I make him take one every other day, or any day he needs it. He sighs and groans, and I don't know how to tell if he's actually washing in there or if he's just standing under the water sulkily.

One thing that helps me is that the teachers at his school have so far given at least general guidelines about how much help to give with homework. Until last year, they were still asking parents to sit with the kids during homework time, but as of fourth grade the letter home said we should be encouraging them to work independently. And Rob is getting so CARELESS, his grades are dropping without me to say, "Hey, pay attention!" But I'm trying to see it as a first-level sink-or-swim moment for him: he needs to start taking responsibility for his own work, because I can't room with him at college.

It's driving me crazy, the whole thing! How on earth are we going to make it through their teen years??

creative kerfuffle said...

i went through this w/ the girl (she's now in 6th grade, things get better) and go through this w/ the boy (3rd grade).
the girl was ALL about the attitude if we found errors in homework or when i nagged her about projects. the times that i did throw up my hands and say fine, finish it on your own and take your chances on a good grade, she still got a good grade. same thing w/ the boy. i figured maybe i didn't really know what level of done-ness or neatness or clarity i should be basing my judgement on (i write/edit for a living so it's especially hard for me to not fix everything they write). but i've learned to let it go on things like that. if it's concepts (like the boy w/ math) the hubs just keeps working w/ him on it.
as for hygiene...that too gets better around 5th grade (at least it did for the girl). i still remind both of them, hair and teeth, hair and teeth. the boy would go weeks on end w/out doing anything. i do also have to say, ok, bathtime, and they both fuss about who has to go first. but, i guess my point is, on the homework, let her go it alone once and see what happens. on the hygiene, it depends. in my head i think yeah, go to school w/ bad breath, natty hair and no shower and see what happens, but, realistically i can't let them walk out the door like that.
(Sorry, didn't mean to be so long-winded!)

Sherendipity said...

I now have a 14 year old Son, and a 16 year old Daughter. And yes, my dearheart, I went through this with both of them.

I nagged on the hygiene as much as I could possibly keep track of it. You just have to. You don't want the grubby little kid in the the class to be your grubby little kid, for a number of reasons. And then all of a sudden POOF!! hygiene became very important, to both of them. They got older, they smelled other kids, saw other kid's hair mishaps, started seeing their bodies change and realized that they were at the point where it wasn't only important to me, but it was important to them as well.

As for the school work, yes, you need to give them a tiny bit of rope to hang themselves, as sad as that sounds. Just a tiny little, though. Some kids will learn from it, others never will.
No one can give you advice about your child, because all children are different. Keep open communication with the teachers at the school. Keep checking that homework, point out the errors, keep asking her opinions about the subject. Communication will take over, and eventually repetition will take away some of the attitude.
Only some of it though. She is a girl, after all.
Good luck sweetie.

Kelsey said...

I have a teacher friend (she teaches 3rd grade) who says into every life a few "Ds" must fall. . . I don't know what to tell you about the hygiene thing, but I would give her a little sink or swim space on the homework. Especially since it sounds like she's so bright and missing a beat or two on her homework is unlikely to mean she's totally missing important concepts. Will she like it if her grades slip? Sometimes kids turn it around when they actually get a few grades lower than the ones their used to.

The nice thing, for you, is that her fourth grade report card will mean nothing in the long run. I think it is fine to step back a bit and see how she handles things. It's more difficult to let grades fall where they may in high school, when they become so darn important for applying to colleges. Thank goodness grade school GPAs don't generally come back to haunt anyone!