A while ago, a good friend and person I would put in the 'successful' column of the parenting chart said that she believed children want to do the right thing and it's our job as parents to let them know what that is. It feels like a clear statement, but the devil is in the details. When do you teach discipline and when do you teach mercy? How do you convey what's appropriate without nagging or yelling because, let's face it, there's a lot of corrective action that needs to happen wherever children are involved. Recently we've gone back to a strategy we used very early on and kind of got away from.
We often give the kids choices and affirm when they make a good choice, but now we've started telling them the right answers. When things heat up, they really have the capacity to be weighing their options.
We used to give answers when the language barrier was more of an issue, as a "Repeat after me and you'll be rewarded" kind of game. This worked really well for hammering down the "Please" and "ThankYou's " and now it's coming in really handy for discipline. First of all, if you state the right answer in as part of the 'escalation dance' (You know what I'm talking about... when your button gets pushed so you push back, etc, etc...) it adds one more non-combative layer that allows the opportunity for things to simmer down. You give them a cheat sheet when you stop and say, "The right answer here is 'Yes Dad' and then don't wander off again." They no longer have to read your mind, or feel like they're in a lose-lose situation. You've already told them how to win, now they just have to follow through. We've averted a couple meltdowns by stepping back and just stating, "The right answer here is 'I'm sorry mom' and then we can all move on." Good cop- bad cop can play into this too. Chris has had to step in and say, "The answer daddy wants to hear is 'No Thank you.' Nobody will be angry or sad if you say that." It's worked well for us and we haven't had to add the OR ELSE at the end of it, even though sometimes I really really want to.
What seems to be crumbling is our sleep routine. Yordi has begun being 'scaried' in the night again. After several months of relatively few incidents, she's gotten up multiple times in the past week. Actually, part of the problem is that she doesn't get up, and just lays in bed yelling for us which inevitably wakes up her brother. I knew it was going to be bad the other night because I hadn't even gotten down the hall when she started calling. Now, we live in an old house which makes old house noises. We also have four nocturnal, semi-domesticated animals prowling around all night, so it's not as if we don't understand getting wigged out by bumps in the night. But why now? It just seems a little too convenient and Chris and I have come to the conclusion that we're rewarding her 'scariedness' too much. Too much chitchat. Too much attention. It's an easy routine to fall into, because you want to be there to the reassuring voice, but it's come to the point where during bedtime she'll actually say things like, "Tonight maybe scaried, yes?" Which sounds like something that needs to be addressed, but I think she's actually just testing how we're going to respond.
The worst was two nights ago where we were already late getting to bed and then H got spooked twice. Y had already gotten the fear ball rolling, but this was the first time she successfully handed it off. Habtamu heard something scary (later revealed to be the downstairs toilet lid being raised) that was enough to get his imagination going. So we turned on all the lights and went through both their rooms and closets to show that everything was clear. Then after settling down again, Y decided to get up and creep downstairs as quietly as she could. He rolled over saw she wasn't in bed with a slowly shifting shadow in the hallway and immediately came screaming and crying downstairs. I'm talking the sleep deprived, pupils the size of hams, manhood clutching, pure fear, screaming and crying. The only good thing was that he was still consolable, and allowed me to hug him and stroke his hair, but frankly I was starting to get weirded out. I mean, even spotting the bat last summer didn't send them into this kind of panic. So, we decided to set up the airmattress downstairs and let them sleep together.
Oh and does anyone know how to break the martyrdom cycle? When our kids get grumpy they insist that the world collapse around them. We have the occasional conversation like this:
"I asked you once already to help me put the dishes away, do it now please."
"Ok Ok! Me only BAD! Take plate, break, cut my neck, ok! OK?!"
There are variations on that which involve wanting the dentist to pull all their teeth or breaking arms and legs but the 'I deserve decapitation' logic is my personal favorite. We try not to answer too harshly to that stuff, and sometimes we've deflected it with the, "The right answer is..." response, but yet it feels like underneath it all there's a legitimate feeling of worthlessness that should probably be addressed. Anybody else got martyr wanabees?