Littlest doesn’t like change. I’m not even talking about the Big Stuff, like moving to a new house or watching his friends head to kindergarten the year before him. Littlest doesn’t even like changing where he’s currently standing. We usher him out every morning for school like we’re coaxing a tiger into a cage. Sometimes we cajole; sometimes we break out the verbal whip.
It’s no better when I pick him up from school after lunch. He continues to read his book, crawl around on the floor, hide, or show his friends just one more thing. I’ve tried bribing him with lollipops from the bank. I’ve encouraged each foot into each shoe and each arm into a jacket sleeve with promises, threats, and games.
I long for those days when I can just throw on my coat and shoes and walk out of the house. Bam!
Finally, the other day, a recent interview for Chronogram on my mind, I took a breath and simply told Littlest, “I’m getting frustrated that it’s taking so long for us to get ready to go.”
The interview was with Joanna Faber, who recently co-authored a book which dares parents to do away with punishment altogether. When we chatted for this month’s story in Chronogram, she told me, “You can't punish a person into good behavior. It just doesn't work.” As a second-generation parenting expert, she admitted to me that she herself was taken off guard by the sheer relentlessness of parenting. “There’s so much energy there. There’s the energy of a tornado, and the rational analytic skills of… a tornado, basically.”
Her humor and compassion belie a truth: Joanna Faber just gets it. I couldn’t help but ask her for advice.
A common scenario at my house happens after dinner. Middlest and Littlest get a burst of energy, and start to run around the table. So we tell them, “Ok, you’re done. You can go to another room and pick an activity.” But inevitably, they pick wrestling or tearing apart the couch. They egg each other on until someone is in tears. When I leave my dinner to intervene, I have to shout to be heard over their ruckus. The shouting makes me feel angry, even though I might not have been upon my approach.
Joanna suggested keeping the focus of that approach on creating a feeling of cooperation. Instead of busting in and yelling about what "you" Littles are doing, I might use “I” statements: “I see children jumping up and down on the couch. I don’t like it.” “I see children with a lot of energy. What can we do?” Just starting out my sentence with “I” instead of “you” enlists the help of the kids, empowering them to develop compassion for others, make amends, and correct their behavior for the long-term. Who knew sentence structure could do all that?!
For parents, discipline is a topic that never loses its appeal, and many styles focus on using misbehavior as a teachable moment. Like this blog post at Aha! Parenting Blog, which delves into discipline versus punishment.
Just like everyone else, parents can’t choose our emotions, but we can choose our reactions. That's an option kids don't have, until they learn it.
In the grand scheme of a day, I spend just a handful of hours with Littlest. I don’t want to spend it being angry. But I also don’t want to spend my time with him trying to keep the peace with manipulation and constant catering. In our various little battles of wills, where his developing mind is pushing the boundaries (and my buttons), there's a challenge: how patient can I possibly be?
Can I stand there while he hems and haws with his shoes or coat and not get angry? Can I step back inside myself, and watch his shenanigans with a little bit of detachment about the outcome, turn off the spinning wheels of my mind and all those stories about why we need to go right now? Can I just give in to his pace and radiate love, until he gets it done?
If we’re late a lot, you’ll know why. But hopefully, we’ll show up smiling.