The other night my daughter (just 4) was playing with pinecones in our family room. She had them flying through the air, one in each hand. We were working on various projects in the room, my husband, daughter, and I. And as usual, I was barefoot. So was she.
After playing for a few moments, one of the pinecones came crashing to the floor, spraying splintering pieces of wood in its wake. So, I spoke to my daughter in a command to not throw the pinecones onto the floor. I did not ask, did not explain, did not expound. I was busy and annoyed. She knew it.
…Not one of my better moments.
Three or so minutes later, another pinecone hit the floor and I initially snapped at her. This, however, not only demonstrates a complete lack of respect on my part, but it elicits a similarly disrespectful and rather dismissive response from my daughter. Thankfully, I caught myself mid sentence, stopped my mouth, took a deep breath and walked over to her and took her into my arms. We then had a conversation.
This time, I decided to remember how to be decent to her, remember to see the world through her eyes and mine, and remember that she is equally valued and equally considered in our home. In other words, instead of being controlling and speaking down to her (or what some might consider a proper authoritative tone), I spoke evenly and with respect.
I explained that I was upset that after I’d just asked her to not throw another pinecone on the floor, one hit dead center and left pieces everywhere. Then I corrected myself, and recalled that actually I had not asked anything but “told” her not to “throw pinecones”, when I should have said, “Please do not allow any more pinecones to hit the floor BECAUSE when they do, they split apart and send sharp pieces of wood flying all over the floor that one of us is then going to either step or sit on and end up with a pokey sticking out of our skin.” This she would have comprehended… This she would have heard. My demand and annoyance instead immediately caused her to shut off her hearing.
When I restated what would have been a better comment to have made to her initially, her defensiveness dropped and she made eye contact. I could see her shoulders raise, her chin relax (from being rather set just a moment before), and the stress reaction to fear of the big person (who was not behaving very well) disappear from her face.
A moment later, I set her down, knelt next to her, and asked (yes, asked) her to clean up the pieces. My words were, “Bugz, so that no one gets hurt with all these pieces on the floor, will you please pick up every single piece you can find and put them in the trash?”
She began, and, handing them to me (instead of the trash), we both cleaned up the floor together.
I could have thrown her into time out. I could have spanked her for what so many would consider deliberate defiance. I could have ridiculed her, demeaned her, squashed her for not doing what I wanted. I could have lorded over her, assumed my role as parent and thereby big person who is so much bigger that I can MAKE her do what I want, one way or another… Instead I chose to remember the value of not resorting to threat or condescension.
I chose to take a breath and pause. I chose to change my attitude and treat her with the same amount and sort of respect I would an adult who had my admiration. I guided by explanation, encouraged by example (I got down on the floor and picked up the pieces with her), and completed by helping to renew and strengthen her sense of self, value, and ability.
Three days later, I have seen a pinecone on the floor (where it doesn’t belong) exactly once. I asked her to relocate it to where she’d like, but where it wouldn’t get stepped on and where we wouldn’t have to worry about the sharp pokey ends breaking off and getting left for our feet to find. She picked it up, took it to the tree, placed it where she wished, with no fuss, no hesitation, and instead of dread or annoyance (having to do a chore), she exhibited interest and delight because she was in control of where it should go.
End result desired – achieved by the mama.
Education and empowerment – gained by the kiddo.
In our house, my daughter does not comply out of fear of punishment. In fact, she doesn’t know what punishment is. She chooses to comply when she does out of her own sense of purpose. She knows she can choose to refuse our requests, and she knows we can choose to refuse hers. This works because, in our home (unlike so many I have seen), we do not choose to control her and do not fear being unable to retain control because control is not what makes our home function. In our home, we live together, support each other, and collaborate on life. All of us. We work together, we work independently, we share and cooperate, we value each other equally and we each know that it takes all of us. If today one of us is too tired, then we make up for it tomorrow. Is everything always even and fair? No. Does the Mama (or Papa) screw it all up sometimes? Yes. But humility, grace, and compassion fill in the gaps and keep things going.
Grace and compassion – not permissiveness. Our daughter knows when compliance is mandatory. In her 4 years here, she has demonstrated only a few times her reluctance when it’s clear to her that she “must”. At her young age, we have had to step in a few times and physically cause compliance, but as she’s grown, these instances have become fewer and fewer. In fact, at this point, about the only time I have to actually force compliance is when I am being impatient, demanding (as in no longer requesting her cooperation) or unwilling to see through her worldview. To date she has not once refused instant compliance when she hears threat of danger (or fear) in my voice (i.e., stop! – car coming!). It is rare that I must speak this way anyway, as she has been educated well enough and makes wise decisions appropriate for her age most of the time. But every once in while, a situation arises, and it is during these that the most compelling positive evidence for grace and compassion based parenting, instead of punitive and trained/controlled governing of little ones becomes so easily observed.
On another thought – the term discipline and how our society as a rule uses it, is about to drive me batty. Discipline, the way it’s used, means punishment. To me, discipline is a quality of inner self, of integrity.
Punishment is something that happens to someone.It’s a quality. Something that has been fostered and developed. When a person has discipline they have the inner fortitude to make right choices, to do what needs to be done. – Source -
What about you? What experiences have you had where you either caught yourself mid stream and changed your approach to a more respectful and considerate one, or where from the very beginning your way of existing with your little ones caused a successful outcome of an event that would result in punishment in a typical home? Share your experiences please, we can learn so much from each other.