I decided to take a break from Grace on a Thursday this week so I can continue with my thoughts on discipline. Fortunately, my regular life provides me with ample material to write about with respect to this topic!
A couple days ago, we had a situation. And as I said I would in my last post, I observed myself, my reactions and my feelings without trying to force them any which way.
My daughter and I had a mom and big girl double date with friends, and we went to an outdoor mall area in the afternoon. We strolled around for a couple of hours, and my plan was to then hit the grocery store and then go home to start dinner. We planned to leave at 4 p.m., which turned into 5 p.m. When we got back in the car, my daughter asked, "Mom! Do you have my purse?" I answered, "No, why would I have your purse? You don't have it?" Um, no. She didn't. It was lost.
Knowing her newish purse contained her newish wallet with ten bucks in it, as well as some other trinkets, first, I reacted. I heard myself say her name in that exasperated tone. You know the one. If I typed it, it would have an exclamation mark at the end. And then my lack of words said the rest. With a big sigh, I got out of the car and trudged back to the mall. She was expected to follow. I acted so inconvenienced, so pouty. And so much of that reaction was simply because I was tired and knew we'd now be ditching the dinner plan and resorting to take out. My plans had to give way, and I was annoyed.
Notice NONE of those reasons had to do with my daughter. She did not do anything defiant or naughty. She did something childish. Because she is a child. And incidentally, we've all left our purses somewhere before, even as adults. Common mistake, right? Yet look at how my emotion and my circumstances totally interfered with my parenting. So far in the story, I've done ZERO parenting. I've just pouted for being inconvenienced. Not my best work, people.
She remembered putting her purse down in a certain store, but they did not have it. It wasn't in the same spot, and it hadn't been turned in. The store manager and I exchanged phone numbers, and we headed back to the car. When the reality of her lost things started to set in, she began to cry. I then realized I'd contributed to the problem, and needed to turn this ship around.
But I'm going to tell you what I did right tomorrow. For now, I want to look at just this:
At the beginning of any "situation" with our child, first asses if what they've done is actually defiant, or simply childish.
Sometimes, the thing that drives me the most crazy is just childishness going on around me. Sometimes, my grown-up brain can only take so much. Here's a text I sent to a friend the other day when I was over it.
The kids were playing sorta loudly, marbles followed by little hands and feet scrambling after them kept rolling into the kitchen where I was cooking dinner, Legos were on all my counter tops, and they were both singing crazy, made-up songs. So yeah, at the moment, I would have preferred quiet, and was getting irritated. But I pushed down my negativity and distracted myself with eating gummy colas (which are so yummy, btw). I knew I was the problem, not them, and knew they were not doing anything worthy of discipline. So I texted my friend to let out my frustration, and silently ate my candy.
Now, there are times that innocent childishness can cross the line, or break a rule, if you have one in place. And that would be grounds for discipline. For instance, let's say your three year old is just being silly and screaming his head off inside your house because he likes to hear his own voice. Instead of just reacting negatively (since no one enjoys hearing screaming indoors, really), here are some things to ask yourself:
1. Do I have a rule in place about screaming indoors? If not, do I want to have one? In other words, is this a big enough deal to me that I want to consistently curb the problem? Or is this rare behavior and I can just ask him nicely to pipe down?
2. Have I ever made it clear that there was such a rule? Have I done a decent job communicating what I expect?
3. Has it been a really long time since we talked about it, or yesterday? (The older the child, the more likely they may remember such a rule) Here, you're deciding if it's reasonable to expect them, based on their age and maturity, to recall and obey the rules. A toddler may need daily repetition of a rule, whereas a ten year old should know certain things are not okay.
4. Have I made the consequence for breaking the rule also clear? (This is where I get myself in trouble!) If not, then a warning with a clear consequence for breaking the rule again is necessary.
In my best parenting voice, for young offenders, I would get eye-to-eye with my child and firmly say something like this:
"The rule is, 'Inside the house, we use talking voices, not screaming ones.' If you want to use a really loud voice, you can go outside. If I hear you use a screaming voice in my house, then you will have to stop playing and sit quietly in this chair for five minutes."
Stated rule. Stated "If-Then" statement about what happens if you break it.
In our house, I often use a warning - just one - or I give what we call "second chances." I know that God is a god of second chances, and so I want to model that. Sometimes I say, "Try again," if something was not quite right the first time. The backpack thrown on the garage floor, or a rude demand for milk gets that reply. At times, my six year old will appeal for a second chance when I don't offer it, and most of the time, I concede, because I can see he is not trying to get out of something. He sincerely wants to make the better choice.
The later in the day, the less childishness I seem to be able to tolerate. That's okay, as long as I'm not being punitive to my kids for being kids. Sometimes, I tell them to take the playing upstairs. Or if the singing of the songs from the school play is making me nuts, I suggest we put on a Pandora station that they like. If childishness becomes dangerous, like throwing things up to the front of the car while I'm driving, I take a much stronger stance on the rules and consequences than if we're talking about something that I just don't prefer, like screaming indoors. The big thing, for me, and maybe for you, is to just stop myself from having a negative reaction to childishness when I haven't laid out my expectations first. That's not fair.
Okay. Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I tried as my weepy daughter and I walked to the car, purseless.