It’s a threat, not an offer

Amy’s toys were strewn all through the house. It was time to make lunch. I told her to clean up her stuff, and be sure to put things back where they go. (She really does know where things go.)

She balked, threw something, and had a time out. After the time out, I told her again. She threw something again and got spanked — I really try not to spank because usually for me it’s from anger and frustration instead of loving and appropriate discipline, but sometimes I fail. I told her again, adding that if she did not put things back where they go I would take them away.

She brightened and said “Mama take them?” in a cheerful voice.

That’s almost as infuriating as being laughed at when you’re trying to discipline the high school class you’re subbing for.

What I should have done is followed through on my threat, but because she was taking it as a pleasant offer instead, it provoked me to dig in my heels and insist yet again that she clean up — with a rather raised voice, I’m afraid. (Oh, come off it — you yelled in her face.)

She was dilly-dallying so much I finally did grab a laundry basket and start piling strewn toys in it, which only fazed her a little bit.

A few times since then she’s looked at the basket, which I put up out of reach but readily visible, and asked for something in it or talked about what happened. Sometimes she seems cheerful about it, sometimes wistful. I suppose she doesn’t quite get it yet.

I still think it’s a good strategy — I think one of the keys to relatively discipline is to have clear consequences and apply them consistently and quickly. I need something beyond a timeout that’s not quite spanking, and taking the toys away seems appropriate and suitable to the situation.

I think I will try having her earn them back when she cooperates with bedtime stuff tonight — one toy for cleaning up, one for cooperating with getting diaper and pjs on, etc.

I remind myself:

Rebellion is part of necessary development, to discover the boundaries and test their strength.

To those who scoff at such “psychobabble,” saying rebellion is sin, pure and simple: Even though rebellion and waywardness is sin, sin is not really well dealt with by punishment or opposition alone — the best cure for waywardness is firmness with love, a sense of coming-alongside-to-help along with a strong commitment to righteousness and other values.

A little rebellion now, about cleaning up or cooperating with getting dressed, is a very good opportunity — to demonstrate that the boundaries do hold firm, to demonstrate that love persists despite bad behavior and anger (on both sides), perhaps even to demonstrate that boundaries are protections and provisions and not arbitrary or hateful.

At this stage, dealing with little rebellions well can help establish a firm foundation for better decisions later in life, and security and trust in relationships.

I need to be careful lest I teach opposite lessons — lest I demonstrate that performance earns love or hatred, can make or break a relationship, that boundaries and discipline are capricious, that her will is never allowed to exist, much less be expressed or prevail.

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3 thoughts on “It’s a threat, not an offer

  1. woah, sounds like an episode out of our household! And what the heck do you do when she asks for a timeout instead of wanting to do what is asked…then there are times where she puts herself in timeout, like she enjoys it! makes me crazy! Yep, I took away some puzzles the other night and finally she got it, that she had to pick them up or she wouldn’t get them back. So I scattered them around and had her pick them up and she got them back.
    I like how you talk about the lessons learned from discipline…so much to learn through parenthood!

  2. Kids love to do this stuff at her age. Just be consistent and it will eventually pass. One time when my daughter was young, I had repeatedly asked her to pick up the toys in her room. She repeatedly refused. I gave her a two day deadline, complete with multiple reminders. And, I told her that if she didn’t do it I would take all of her toys away. So, when D-Day came, I came into her room with some big green shopping bags and left with every toy, book and stuffed animal. Her room was bare. And, she acted like it didn’t bother her. Five days later (!) she came and talked to me about it. It took her that long to come around. She was beginning to read at that time, so I made her read one cardboard book with me for each toy she got back. It took her a while. And today, at 17, she is just about as rebellious as she was then. And, I’m still being consistent and sometimes taking things away (now it is her laptop and iPod). Seems like these battles never end. 🙂 Hang in there and love her through it.

  3. Jessica, most of the time, when I’m not in the midst of an angry reaction, I can understand that the whole idea of discipline is a little fascinating to a kid — and that playing “Time out” can be a way of making sense of it. And I try to remember that one reason I like time outs better than spanking is that there’s potential for it to be positive — time out to take a break, take a breath, reflect, calm down.

    I used to work with a youth group, middle school kids, and the leader really modeled this well — if a kid was giggly or fidgety or otherwise distracted, he offered them the opportunity to step outside the room and get the giggles out or whatever — and he really said it as an offer, with dignity, compassion, and respect, not as a sort of passive aggressive insult or shaming device.

    That said, as I wrote in my post, I totally understand how infuriating it is when you ARE threatening a punishment and the kid acts like it’s a great idea.

    Larry — five days! Wow.

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