One of the consequences of my less than happy state of mind while I was pregnant is that my patience for discipline went totally out the window. I had some of my lowest ever parenting moments: screaming profanity at my son at the top of my lungs. A behaviour he has lately been mimicking, stomping around saying “goddammit”. Talk about a wake-up call.
Now, my idea of gentle discipline has generally been anything less than hitting. I haven’t, and won’t, ever hit my kids. Assault is assault. Assaulting a person who is already at your mercy physically, economically and socially is despicable. But that’s another post. Time-outs I’m not opposed to per se, so that has featured prominently in our interactions with Little Man. But dang-it-all if they haven’t turned out to be both time-consuming and (for my kid, anyway) completely ineffective. So it’s time for a new strategy.
I’ve always loved natural consequences. Why waste my time chasing Little Man around to make sure he doesn’t eat dirt from the garden when I can sit on my bum and laugh at the face he makes as he decides for himself that it doesn’t have the most appealing texture after all? But, as I’m discovering, when the natural consequence of one action is having to perform another, teaching it is not nearly that easy.
Thus it was that I spent 40 minutes today teaching Little Man and his friend that the consequence of making a mess is that you have to clean it up before you can move on to another activity. The mess in question was spaghetti, flung all over the kitchen while I went to change Lady Fair’s bum. Admittedly, the better approach for a 2 year old is probably to redirect/remove the spaghetti before it gets flung, but with 3 kids and one me, that’s not always possible.
Both boys vehemently refused to pick it up. They stomped on it, brushed it away, ate it off the floor, and wove it between their toes. When they did start to pick it up, they mostly just stuck it in their pockets. They also protested by pulling all of the magnets off the fridge (which I later made them pick up!) and by running away. After the 20th time that I picked them up and brought them back, they got the hint that they might as well stay put. So why not lay down on top of the spaghetti and have a little nap, eh?
Finally it calmed down enough to have this little chat:
LM: “I wan go plaaay.”
Me: “You’re bored aren’t you?”
Me: “Me too, I’d much rather be playing. Why don’t we clean this up so we can go play?”
… but he grudgingly did start to pick it up. One measly, smushed up piece at a time.
I could have hit him and be done with it, but I didn’t. I could have sent him to his room and cleaned it up myself, but I didn’t. I could have threatened him with no dinner since he obviously cared so little about lunch, but I didn’t. And not a single “Goddammit” escaped my lips.
It was hard work, but I’m proud of myself. I know it
might probably will take years, but the lazy mom in me is eagerly awaiting the day when he chooses not to make a big mess because it’s not worth the effort of cleaning it up. Or even better – the day when he makes the mess anyway, then cleans it up on his own, because that’s the lesson I taught him today.