Monday, May 11, 2009
Discipline - It's Not About the Cookies!
We've probably all seen it in shopping centers and supermarkets. The bedraggled mother with a whining, demanding child that won't stop complaining. She pushes her cart through the store with a glazed look in her eyes, staring at something in the distance as her tear-stained, candy-stained, booger-stained screaming bundle of joy lets everyone know how miserable/mad/tired/hungry/unloved he or she feels. Most of us walk by and try to pretend we don't notice, but I for one wish she would just do something!
Disciplining a child can be tricky if you don't know what you're trying to accomplish. Basically what you want is a child who knows how to control his emotions and behave in a courteous and respectful manner, while at the same time enjoying the fun of being a child. What many mothers get confused with is trying to discipline their child for their actions more than for their attitudes.
"Don't eat those cookies, they're for dessert!" Meanwhile his little mouth waters as you walk out the kitchen door to answer the phone. You know of course what happens. When you walk back in and see the trail of chocolate chips and cookie crumbs on the counter and a guilty look on his face, what do you do?
A. Scold him, maybe smack his hand for disobeying you, and make him sit on the sofa alone with no TV for a few minutes
B. Ask him, "Why did you do that? I told you not to do that!" and then clean up his mess as he runs off to hide
C. Laugh at how cute he looks with his guilty expression and crumbs all over his face, which makes him laugh too
As much as I wanted to do C, I always stuck to A. I know, I know it sounds so mean, just for a few cookies, and after all they're just precious little children...
But I had a reason to be tough on cookie offenders. Behind the simple act of eating the forbidden food, was also a test of how far can I push Mommy? Does she really mean what she says? Do I have to obey her ALL of the time? Can I use my adorableness to get away with minor crimes and manipulate her in the future? Of course they're not all thinking these deep thoughts, but they are feeling them without a doubt. Your children will draw conclusions about you and about your dependability as the authority over them based on how you enforce your boundaries.
The whole reason for the quick and forceful reaction on my part was to get his attention that Mommy's authority is not to be messed with. It really had nothing to do with the cookies themselves, it had to do with making sure that an attitude of Me vs. Mom wouldn't begin. It's either I stay within Mommy's boundaries where it's safe, or I get hurt. To ensure that they want to please you and stay close to you, the next step after discipline, is absolutely essential:
Once you know they're sorry for what they've done, they're not angry that you disciplined them (if they are, they'll need another dose of discipline - but that's for another blog post), they're feeling humbled and repentant and vulnerable, that's when you hold them close, give them plenty of kisses and kind words and tell them that you love them, BUT, you do this because you want them to grow up right. Make sure they say they're sorry, then make sure you tell them you forgive them. And then it's all forgotten, just like God treats us! It's back to normal, playing, working laughing and getting ready for Daddy to come home.
It doesn't hurt to make sure they get an extra big cookie once it's time for dessert - after all, it's not about the cookies!