Thursday, October 4, 2012

Timeless Advice

I have been struggling with discipline lately.  It seems like every time I find something that works, it only works for a month or so.  I have used rewards for positive behavior (stickers on a chart) and punishments for bad behavior (sitting on a rug for time-out).  I have taken away toys and given him a chance to earn them back by doing specific things (staying in his room for bedtime, etc.).  But I still have been feeling like I am not  teaching him why it is important to listen.

I found this book on my bookshelf and decided to crack it open during nap time.  I have a love for vintage books that talk about family life.  Cookbooks, parenting books, decorating books...Anything from a bygone era that gives a glimpse into life before I was born.  I grabbed this particular book off of my grandmother's bookshelf right after she died.  She had an amazing collection of books and I wanted to have a piece of her with me.  Anyway, it was written in 1950 and was purchased by my mom in 1971 (I found her original receipt inside!).  Now this timeless advice is helping me.

In the chapter, Discipline and Obedience, it shares a quaint but insightful story:

"Mary Lou waited all week for Saturday morning.  Each Saturday meant a day with Aunt Ellen and one away from her mother.  Not for anything would she have admitted that home was not a happy place.  But try as she would she never could be certain which of her mother's rules were in force.  At Aunt Ellen's she never got into trouble.  There she was allowed to help with the dishes, sweep the floor, and walk about in her aunt's high-heeled shoes.  There no one shouted, 'You are going to do as I say.' Aunt Ellen's voice was always pleasant, never did she shout.  But that did not mean that one could disobey.  Far from it!

"Once the little girl had continued playing 'dress up' after Aunt Ellen had said, 'It's time for lunch, Mary Lou.' That day she was deprived of her favorite dessert.  Her aunt had not scolded, merely explained that there were just so many hours to do things on a busy Saturday.  She had reminded her that she was expected to conform to the rule that everyone be on schedule for meals."

My takeaway?  The consequence has to fit.  Putting him in time out helps us both cool down but it isn't necessarily a natural consequence.  I started thinking about all the times I try to get him out the door to get somewhere in time by saying, "C'mon, get your shoes on.  We have to go!  We're going to be late!"  Instead of saying, "You can choose to play instead of getting your shoes on, but that means that we won't have time for a donut at church.  You'll have to go right to Sunday school."  I thought through all the things that make me crazy: splashing water all over the bathroom during a bath, taking forever to clean up his toys, touching something that I've asked him not to touch, etc then I made a mental note of why it makes me crazy.  I don't want to clean up the water after a bath.  Guess who is going to clean up next time?  Yep, he is.  I hate that clean-up takes forever because that means bedtime takes longer and I have less time to relax.  Maybe he can't read as many books if it takes too long.  It made sense intellectually but I wasn't sure how it would work in practice.

I tried it this morning during his bath.  Water was everywhere so I said, "Wow, you're going to have a lot to clean up after your bath."  His face shot up and he said, "You mean this is my mess?  One that I have to clean up?"  I told him that yes, if he makes a mess, it's his job to clean it up.  He splashed one more time to see if he could get the normal response but I didn't bite.  He finished his bath then got out, wiped up the floor and went right into his room to get dressed.  There wasn't any cajoling or bad feelings between us.  We didn't have any power plays or resistance. It just worked.

My son, just like most kids, wants to be treated like a person rather than an insolent child.  I think we all want to be respected and we all need to learn to pick up the pieces when we screw up.  I'm really going to try to help him learn why these things are important.  I have told him plenty of times, now I need to let him fall a bit and understand the consequences.

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