Monday, June 13, 2011

Tell Me What To Do But Don't Tell Me What To Do

So today I bring you a semi-serious post in which I give you parenting advice. I have two small, sometimes well-behaved, other times obnoxious children and I have read a lot of books. These are my credentials. Let us begin.

The first year of your child's life is very simple. Your job is basically to keep them alive. To do this, you feed them and help them go to sleep and change their diapers and mainly try to figure out how to integrate their existence into your own. While this can be an exhausting endeavor, the truly hard part of the job does not begin until your child reaches the age of about a year. It is at this time when you think, "I am an excellent parent. I have kept this child alive and happy for a full year," and then your child whacks another child, or steals something from them, or starts chucking things about. And you realize, "Oh crap. Now I must begin to actually discipline this child. Now I must begin the job of raising them to be a decent human being. This will be harder than just keeping them alive."

 As I said, I've read a lot of books. I've even watched Super Nanny a few times. And I quickly observed in my little Gianna a tendency to do exactly that which I explicitly told her not to do. "Don't touch that!!!!" inevitably resulted in her looking at me, and fully, knowingly, touching the forbidden object. I swear she was thinking, "Oh this? This thing here that I am touching? You don't want me to touch this?? I will touch it now!" I know it's not just my kid, because I have consulted other parents on this one, and their kids to do it, too. When I realized the time had come to figure out our discipline plans, all I knew was that I wanted to find a way to communicate with our children that was respectful of their humanity and that invited charity into our home.

I have since read everything published by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and if you've spent any time with me at all, you know I like to quote them a lot. I'm sorry if it's annoying, but when you discover something wonderful, like if The Gap is having a 50% clearance sale, you HAVE to tell everyone about it. So, occasionally, on this blog, I would like to share with you some of the skills I attempt to put into practice.

The skill for improved communication we shall focus on today is called "giving information" or "describing the problem." Children often view a command as a challenge, which can explain why "Don't touch that!" often results in the child doing just that. In the same way, children hear a threat and are often interested to see if you will make good on that threat. "If you don't stop that, we'll leave the store and go home!" The child thinks, "Really? Let's see about that." I’m sure if every parent always and everywhere followed through on these threats they might be meaningful to a child, but let’s be honest, follow through doesn’t always happen, and a lot of the time it’s because I don’t want to go home, or turn the car around, or leave the party, or not go to the zoo.

Instead of commanding, give information:
“Chairs are for sitting.” Instead of, “Sit down!”
“Grandma’s glass clown is not for playing! It could break! Here is your train, this IS for playing!” instead of “Don’t touch that!”

Try describing the problem:
“You want to run, but the problem is that the sign says, “No running!” We need to use our walking feet,” instead of, “Stop running this instant!”

Instead of threatening, try replacing “If/then” with “As soon as..”
“If you don’t brush your teeth right now, then you won’t get to read a story before bed!” try, “As soon as you brush your teeth, I’ll know you’re ready to read a story.”

 I view discipline as the process of teaching children how to make themselves the locus of their control. I want my children to choose to do what is right because it is right, not because they are afraid of punishment or because “I said so.” I don’t believe in the idea of teaching a child a lesson “once and for all.” For one thing, I don’t think children learn that way. And for another, this is not the way that God parents us. Time after time I am in the confessional, ‘fessing up to the same old boring sins. If I, as an adult, have trouble learning “once and for all,” how can I expect it from my children? God is merciful with me, a sinner, letting me experience natural consequences to my actions while always encouraging me to improve, to grow in holiness and charity. It is my goal to discipline my children in the same manner.

There you are. I know you’ve all been dying to know some of my secrets to having such lovely children. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go describe the problem of a box of pasta being emptied all over the kitchen floor.

Look at me, being parented to perfection!

I'll have you know that bowls are, in fact, for throwing.


  1. Look at me, in a FANTASTIC car seat. :)

  2. She looks just like Brad. And great post!