June 4, 2009
Last week Dave and I scheduled an official meeting after the children were tucked in to discuss: discipline.
We’ve had the sense (me more than Dave since I’m here with the kids most of the time) that we needed to put in place some consequences for the increasing bouts of attitude, sassiness, and unwillingness to do what they are told. I realized that I’ve been tip-toeing around, trying not to upset the children by telling them what they don’t want to hear. Examples: “Wake up! It’s time to get ready for school.” “Okay, time to put your clothes away.” “Clear the table please!” Simple requests like this have been met recently with resentment and bad attitudes. What is wrong with these children?!
I know it sounds like normal mothering woes, but I think discipling children is one of those insidious things that creeps up when you’re not looking and you let the children get away with way too much, because really, they are good, thoughtful kids for the most part. But things were getting out of control. As I was re-skimming a book by some of my favorite gurus of parenting and emotional development, Henry Cloud and John Townsend, I found this idea:
Your child has to give up an entire way of looking at life. His philosophy of “Don’t worry, let them do it” is being replaced by “Worry, it’s going to cost you!” This is distressing for him. (from Raising Great Kids).
I’ve been realizing: I cannot control my children. At least, once they pass about the first 18 months of life. After that, I can only make their existence pleasant and comfortable when they do what’s right, or I can make it uncomfortable and miserable when they don’t. And I’ve been shirking on the latter.
During our meeting, I jotted down our ideas for things to take away from the children when they are acting entitled and spoiled, or when they blatantly disrespect us. After our talk, I left the index card I’d been writing on sitting on top of the piano. I felt armed and dangerous, and was determined to make their transgressions the problem and the consequences the enemy, not myself. I didn’t really think much of the card there, I just am not a neat and tidy person who puts things away.
My first real follow-through moment came with Phoebe the next day. I asked her to clean up a craft mess she’d made in her room before starting on the new craft idea that she’d thought of (a mobile!). She protested and whined. I said, “Okay, you can also empty all the trashcans upstairs for showing me disrespect. And…I can think of some other chores if that isn’t enough for you to get the point.” She glared at me, and, I am not kidding, sobbed and screamed throughout the whole cleanup – of the original mess, and the trashcans. Honestly, the thought that came to mind was “Howler monkey.” But she was doing it, so I figured, fine, let her protest.
This is the strange part: as soon as she finished I said, “Thanks, Phoebes, good job! Can I help you find the supplies you need for that next project?” she hit the “off” button of the tears and screams, and began eagerly chatting with me about her idea for the mobile. This is the truth. The rest of the afternoon passed in peace and harmony.
It’s been a few days. Things are going well. Phoebe has even been picking up her clothes from the bathroom floor and putting them in the hamper without being reminded to do so. When I commended her on that last night, she replied, “Well, I’ve just been remembering because I don’t want you yelling at me.” (I really am not a yeller, but okay.) “And,” she continued, “I saw that card on the piano and read it.”
Lucy overheard this conversation and chimed in, “Ooohh! I saw that thing too. Scary!”
I love it.