Posts Tagged ‘discipline’

This is a concept that I keep having to reinforce around here.

Not just in the sense that mothers get to go out once in a while with their own friends, or that mothers sometimes like a few minutes alone with the thoughts in their head, but in the sense that mothers aren’t somehow extra-special human beings endowed with super-human amounts of patience.

This afternoon knitting was cancelled, so I agreed to take the kids to the river to play baseball/soccer/frisbee. I asked them to wait the fifteen minutes it would take for me to clean up the lunch dishes, and off they went outside, but they kept coming in to complain about each other. ” He whacked me with the baseball bat on my hand ON PURPOSE!” and “She won’t do what I want!” accompanied by crying and door slamming and general carrying on. The imperious, “Are you finished the dishes YET?” finally did me in.

I called them in, sat them on the couch, and told them that I hadn’t to my knowledge signed a contract saying that I would take them places or do nice things with them no matter how dreadfully they acted, and that au contraire, I actually had lots of things that needed doing around the house, which I could now get around to because there was no way I would be taking either of them to any park any time soon.

Meek silence, followed by the noise of my vacuum cleaner.

Then a whispered conference, two apologies, and the promised afternoon outing. With two rather well-behaved children.


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Since my house burned down

I now own a better view

Of the rising moon

~ Japanese Zen Haiku written by Miszuta Masahide, a samurai disciple of Basho, in 1688, after his house burned to the ground.

I heard this poem when I was in the car, listening to a CBC Radio One interview with Pico Iyer, who has just published a book called The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Pretty timely topic, considering the highly public troubles between China and Tibet. I wonder how difficult it is for the Dalai Lama to maintain his unwavering dedication towards the moral high ground when he comes under constant criticism for the way his spiritual beliefs appear to some to have allowed the Chinese to gain ever increasing power in Tibet. He’s been a political leader for 56 years, been the spiritual leader of his country since the age of fifteen, and has never once deviated from his outspoken belief in non-violence. According to Iyer, the Dalai Lama is able to remain firm in his beliefs because his is a very long term outlook. The Dalai Lama says that he does not expect to see the results of his actions in his own lifetime, but that he will still do what he believes is right. That violence is never the answer, that violence only creates more of the same, and that the cycle must be broken.

I wholeheartedly agree, but I wonder what I would do if one of my children was being physically threatened. My guess is that I would jump right into action, non-violence be damned, anything to prevent harm from befalling one of my babies. So much for my high-minded ideals. Okay in the abstract, okay in the big picture, but definitely not okay when it comes to the pain or suffering of someone I love. I just don’t think I could sacrifice one of the kids to my firmly held ideals, even if it meant the end of violence for all human kind.

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I think I’ve stumbled across the best disciplinary tactic ever. It’s devilishly simple and tremedously effective. I’ve never read about it in any parenting book, so I thought I’d write about it in case it works for someone else.

When one of the kids does something he/she knows is against house rules (like hurting a sibling physically or emotionally) I tell them that they’re clearly having difficulty managing to control their behaviour and that I’ll need to help them with it, which means that for the next day (or more) they’ll have to stay with me every single minute. Which of course rules out playing with friends, or playing outside. It also means that they end up helping me with all of my work, because it’s either that or sit there watching me do it.

I’ve done this several times now since I first tried it back in February and it works a charm. By the end of the imposed time period, the grumpy, recalcitrant child in question is not only well-behaved, but also polite, gracious, affectionate, and happy to the point of being ebullient. It’s almost a magical transformation.

I think it’s all about attachment. Instead of being sent to his/her room, instead of being isolated, the child is drawn closer, being told that he/she is stilll loved, even if a mistake was made. On top of that, they get to atone for the misdeed by doing work, and get to hear praise for doing well. They end the day feeling like they’ve done retribution, and that the slate has been wiped clean. They also end up talking about why/how it all happened, how they were feeling at the time, and how to manage those feelings in the future. I genuinely feel good about that child again, the two of us feel close, feel like a team, plus I get help with housework AND that child gets a good dose of reality in terms of how much I do around here when they’re off playing, which just increases their sense of appreciation and improves their behaviour all around.

Yesterday one of the kids had an angry outburst that culminated in behaviour that shocked us all, so that particular child (I won’t name names) spent the day with me today.

Knowing that I had this misbehaver on my hands, I decided to tackle some jobs that have been on the list for a while so we:

  • did several loads of laundry
  • vacuumed the muddy front entrance
  • mopped the kitchen floor
  • organized the closet that was chest deep in winter coats
  • brought clean coats up to the attic
  • brought dirty coats to the laundry
  • cleaned out the very crumby utensil drawer
  • sorted a bookshelf
  • tidied the entrance closet
  • pumped up the bicycle tires
  • hacked ice off the walk

and the child in question came on a 5km bike ride while I did my run.

It was a productive, fun day and it sure beat sending the grumpy one to his/her room to feel like a victim and stew about the unfairness of it all.

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DSCN0917T had a really fun morning today, sewing clothes for his teddy, and a really fun afternoon, having an extended Pokemon battle with a friend, but for an hour or so in the middle of the day, things just weren’t looking so good.

He was upset about something, frustrated that he couldn’t have/do/get/ something or maybe one of us wouldn’t play something he wanted to play, I can’t remember the details, but he got into a mood, and then got kind of stuck, which is typical for him. No amount of empathetic listening or jolly distractions changed the course of his increasingly foul outlook, and he spent the car-ride to diving in miserable attempts to blame me/his sister/the world for how he felt. He kicked the back of the seat in front, he made rude and annoying noises, he humphed and garumphed, and said antagonistic things. He told J that she was being too loud, and he growled at me when L didn’t pop out of the pool doors right at the moment we arrived. I finally turned around and told him to get out of the van and wait outside, which he did, his body language providing clear evidence of his satisfaction in proving how horrible his mother actually was. I had reached the end of my patience by that point, and simmered quietly inside the van, making little scratching noises on the steering wheel with my finger nails. I’m glad that I separated the two of us, because by the time we were all back on the road for our lunch at the deli, the tension had diminished, and after an astonishing amount of food was consumed, T clearly felt a lot better. (I made a mental note to remember that I have known since he was a baby that he needs to eat frequently, and that he gets grumpy when he’s hungry, which you’d think I’d know by now, seeing that he’s nine.)

Just before bed, he and I got a chance to chat. We talked about the events of the day, and I asked him what he thought about how he had acted in the van. He said that he felt badly about it, but that he had been grumpy, and that everyone gets grumpy sometimes. I agreed, but said that it was very important to try not to take our anger out on other people. That our most basic rule was not to intentionally hurt other people, and by infecting them with our negative mood, we would be hurting them. I told him that his anger would not be made less if another person was angry too. That he could try to feel the feeling and not DO anything.

He sighed, and said that he thought it would be very hard. Then he brightened, looked up at me, and said, I guess you’re kind of like my life coach. Like in basketball I have a basketball coach. Except that you and I never know which thing we’ll be working on, I just live my life and you help me practice what I need to know.

Then off he went to bed.

I felt profoundly good, knowing that he thinks of me that way. That he didn’t see me as punishing him. That he’s willing to hear what I say, and willing to trust that what I say might be right. That he’s nine years old, and he can go to bed secure in the knowledge that he can feel his feelings, make mistakes, and it’ll be okay, because he’s just learning, and he’s got a coach.

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I don’t know if it’s the cold weather or what, but the two littles have been bickering a lot more lately than usual. It was getting to the point that every time I was in the kitchen, which is a lot, I could hear them sniping at each other in the living room. Usually I ignore stuff like that, and usually they know better than to bring their minor disagreements to me, but they started the whole M-o-o-o-o-m! He/She’s bugging me! and there was a lot of crying and storming off. It was beginning to get on my nerves. My usual stay-out-of-it technique wasn’t working, nor was the come-here-tell-me-all-about-it-and-I’ll-help-you-work-it-out one. THAT technique never works, and I should know from experience, but I thought that maybe they needed my help in “fighting fairly” and that I could show them them how to listen to each other. HA! I’ll leave that one to the parenting books. All it accomplished was to teach them to come running to me with every little thing. It quickly became frustrating.

After a little brain racking, I came up with a much more effective solution.

When I came across Tee taunting Jay for the umpteenth time that day, I took him aside and told him that he wasn’t making wise decisions, and that he clearly needed my help with that. Which meant that he would need to stay by my side ALL DAY so that I could watch him. So that whole day, he followed me everywhere, and helped me with all of the little jobs I do. He cleared the dishwasher, swept the kitchen floor, folded laundry, put clothes away, and helped prepare food. He accompanied me in the car when I dropped L off at diving, instead of staying home with R. It was actually quite a nice time. I enjoyed his company, I got a lot of help, and we did a lot of chatting. Once he resigned himself to his “punishment”, Tee seemed to enjoy himself too, but by the end of the day, he was very happy to hear that he could have his freedom back the next day. I told him that free time to play was a privilege, that I allowed it to him on the understanding that he was mature enough to make responsible decisions, and that he now had another opportunity to show me that he could do so.

It worked a charm! Broke the cycle!

I think it worked so well because

  • it separated the bickerers
  • the main instigator got some undivided parental attention, which is what he must have been craving
  • it was warm and positive, not punitive
  • it renewed appreciaton for mom’s work around the house, thereby instilling appropriate feelings of guilt

As soon as Tee took on the responsiblity for managing his behaviour again, so did Jay. She told me that his “punishment” was punishment for her too, because when he was with me all day, she had no one to play with.Now all I have to do if one of them starts up is look at them, mention the dirty toilets that need cleaning, and they stop in their tracks.

I feel good, because I managed the situation without losing my temper, and actually INCREASED the love around here.

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