When I first began my journey into gentle discipline, I was familiar with the Goldilocks-model of discipline: Papa Bear discipline, which was too harsh; Mama Bear discipline which was too lenient; leaving Baby Bear discipline which, of course, was just right. Most approaches that I heard were all variations of that theme (naturally, each book claimed the Baby Bear version) and many linked gender that way, too.
We threw those models away, preferring a more unconditional parenting approach. We don't use punishment, at least by the way I define punishment: intentionally making my children miserable in retaliation for misbehavior. And I admit, I am wary of the term "consequences" because so often it is simply a euphemism for punishment.
I imagine that some of my blog readers, especially those who are not around us often in real life, assume that we just don't use spankings as punishment but still use time outs and other negative reinforcement, or that we simply let the kids run wild and shield them from any consequence whatsover to their actions. In reality, we do allow some natural consequences, when we feel like the children can actually learn from them.
I don't usually blog about it for several reasons, among them: I wouldn't necessarily appreciate my own mistakes being blog fodder, so it seems a bit unfair to focus on my children's; they generally behave pretty well, so major issues are pretty rare; and 99% of the time, dealing with my own attitude is the key.
Still, we had some growing times recently, including the Most Famous Discipline Example of All, and I thought I'd share about them. Our responses are not perfect, nor are they necessarily my advice to others on how to handle similar instances. This is just a window into how it happened here.
I was chuckling with a friend recently how in any GD forum, if a mom starts to talk about how she cannot handle her child, and her fears for his future, veteran posters know before the mom mentions age that the kid is probably three. Terrible Twos? Not so much, in my experience. Threes, however, are two with a year of practice. Intense for everyone involved. Add some lapses with food allergies, and my dear son has had a rough couple of weeks. This cycle expanded as my darling and uber-sensitive five year old saw our attention directed towards her siblings and little left over for her.
Scenario Number 1--Yesterday, I planned to take them to Borders to celebrate the 30% discount for educators. They've been extraordinarily cooperative and well-behaved on our outings the last few months. This time, however, they were dawdling and not particularly interested in going. I pushed it because I thought it would be fun. Once we got inside the store, they quickly began a noisy game of chase. I told them to stop and was not heeded. So we immediately left.
What I did do: leave the store after the first request was not obeyed. I told them clearly exactly why we were leaving. Was it punishment? Eh, in the eye of the beholder. Certainly, they were not pleased. Ariana informed me that I was "very, very boring". I agreed that when they were not respectful of other people and we had to leave it was very boring. What I did not do: add on any punishment beyond returning to the house, or attempt to shame them. It is a tricky line, in my opinion, between letting them know how their actions affect others and deliberately trying to convict them of their wrongdoing. I believe that the Holy Spirit has a role there that is not mine to usurp. At the same time, as a loving teacher, I want to be honest about the results of their choices.
Scenario Number 2--Today, we went to the playground for lunch. The morning had been great, the time at the playground was fun for all of us, and they cheerfully agreed to leave as soon as I asked. Then came the dreadful playing-in-the-street-example. As we left, I was carrying the baby and my three year old saw a flock of birds. He darted away before I could grab him. He was across the parking lot before I could catch him. I was terrified, furious and all of the other emotions that you would imagine in that case.
What I did: grab him and hold his hand until we got to the van. Remind myself that his impulse control is still in the early stages of development, and that to a three year old excited about chasing birds, there is no thought of safety. I also, in my haste to reach him, dropped his sister's stuffed dog. A lady passing by gave us one of those looks and said loudly, "That kid needs a good spanking!" Apparently, she also picked up the stuffed dog and took it with her. :( As soon as the kids were in the van, I turned back to pick up the dog and it had disappeared. Ariana was heartbroken and began to cry.
As I looked for the toy dog, I saw a bird that had been run over. I brought Joel and Ariana over and let them see it. I explained that it had been hit by a car, and why I was so scared when Joel ran in the parking lot. I told him that I loved him and wanted him to be safe and not get hurt.
What I did not do: follow the busybody-dog-napper's advice (maybe she thought that the dog was Joel's and that she was teaching him a lesson?). Seeing how sad Ariana was made a pretty deep impression on him. The squashed bird was also a powerful object lesson. I didn't berate him or harp on it over and over after the first discussion. I didn't punish him (or the rest of us!) by trying to add anything more.
What we did do: find a replacement doggy for Ariana (though "it isn't the same one"), hold hands everywhere we went afterwards, and have a lovely time at Borders.
I also listened to him and Ariana talk on the ride home about the whole thing. They seemed to have retained the lesson, but in the future, I will still hold onto his hand in parking lots. And you know what? Even if I had spanked or punished in other ways, that wouldn't change. I would still hold hands and not expect a three year old to be responsible for his own safety.
The rest of the day has been good, unmarred by unnecessary drama. We rode bikes outside for awhile, and we're going to make a quick batch of pumpkin cupcakes before bed. We've had repentance and forgiveness and grace. Sure, there is a place for consequences, but I am glad that God removes our sin as far as the East from the West and that His mercies are new every morning.