Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Influence or Control...What is our goal?

Today, I had to discipline my sweet Ernie.  It was a mild infraction.
You see, baby Bert was in the flower bed chucking dirt onto the porch and the driveway.   Ernie  suggested we clean up the dirt with his new cleaning cart.  "We clean up when the mess is finished so we only have to do it once", I told him.  He looked forward to helping me after Bert went down for a nap.....Aaaaw, my little helper.

In the interim, he  joined Bert in the flower bed.  I reminded him:  "Bert is still a baby and does not know how to not make a mess but you are big and know how to play in other ways."  Sensing his urge I aptly warned him, "If you throw dirt on the porch or driveway, you will  have to wait  to play with your brown thing".  Staring into my eyes, he heaved his load onto the driveway.

Now, I don't mind activity  that results in mess.  What I object to is activity intended to make mess.  I was pained by his angst over hearing my broken record voice recite,  "Uh-oh, now we have to wait to play with the brown thing. "  (I don't know what its called so we call this gourd/ rain stick thing the brown thing.)

I think I heard his heart break as I explained  that the brown thing would have to wait until after he showed me good listening and that he no longer needed  reminders. Oh, those tears, the booboo lip and the pleading.  I  reminded myself to stay the course and not negotiate or explain too much.   He learns something valuable each time I follow through;  not only about rules and respect but about love.

I was thankful that moments later he pooped and needed my help and I was able to offer the unspoken assurance that I am still crazy for him.  I was probably more excited than he  when after  his nap he was able to have his brown thing.

When I deliver a consequence, it is only and exactly what he knows it will be.   After the initial drama, we resume playing or talking or whatever we are doing, unless he chooses otherwise. Even when I still feel agitated I avoid cross tones and suggestions of further admonishment.  Consequences can be  simple and predictable and finite when we make bad choices  (when under the age of 8).

It is troubling to me when parents use emotional banishment to alienate their children and make them afraid and uncertain of how long punishment lasts and if they are still loved.  Why not follow through with a natural consequence and some redirection and MOVE ON.  I guess the difference stems from what you want them to learn from the experience.  My intent is to influence my children rather than control them.  My hope is that from this, they learn to control themselves because I can't always be there.

I enjoyed this article in the New Yorker regarding discipline.  The article lists and details some terrific books that are fun for children and subtly teach morality.  "The language of a good children’s story is precise and consistent, offering a genial way for parents to address misbehavior."  Click here to read the article with suggested titles.


  1. You know, I will hurt and disappoint them. But, I will be aware and sensitive and honest when I do. I believe they are the most important thing I will ever do. I used to wonder how I could leave a positive mark on the world. This is how.


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