January 14, 2011

What Kids Teach Parents About Discipline

Our Founding Fathers granted parents certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the right to discipline our children. This is why, of course, they were called the Founding Fathers and not the Founding Single Dudes. Had it been the Founding Single Dudes, inalienable rights would likely have consisted of partying, porn and Dutch Ovens (also commonly known as "fart chambers.")

Early in the parenting process, I found out why our Founding Fathers granted us the right to discipline our kids. It's because kids touch everything. And by "everything" I mean "things they shouldn't." And by "things they shouldn't" I mean "everything that's ÜBER EXPENSIVE and HIGHLY BREAKABLE … and the toilet."

Not long after Ella began to walk, she decided it was well within her right to put her hands everywhere. She touched the television, the DVR, the computer, the shelf of DVDs (and every individual DVD she could get out of its case), the button that turns on and off the dishwasher, and, I'm not sure how she did it, but once she touched the remote in a way that left us without TV volume for three days.

They were the longest three days of my life.

For months my wife and I followed her around the house, stopping her grubby little hands from poking at our stuff, waving our fingers and telling her over and over again, "No, no, we don't touch that" and "No, no, you can't pick that up." The term "no, no" became so commonplace in our house, that for a short period of time Ella thought it was her name. How was your day, Nono? Did you enjoy Dora, Nono?

Then, one day out of the blue, I saw her standing there, facing the television, waving her finger saying, "No, no." "No, no." A breakthrough! It was as adorable as it was promising. She finally understood that she wasn't supposed to touch the TV. Then she sneezed all over it. Then she touched it.

This memory popped back in my head the other night, when Ella (now 3 years old) and I (now older than I'd like to admit) were putting together a giant floor puzzle. She'd suddenly grown up so fast. Her long hair was a departure from the hairless head that used to sneeze on our TV. Her meticulous placement of puzzle pieces on the floor instead of in her mouth reminded me that she's not the little girl with whom I waved my finger. She's mature. She's adult-like. She's a Timeout girl now. I was proud and a little sad all at once.

As we nearly finished the puzzle, one spot sat empty—and yet there were no more pieces in the box. "Where did it go?" I asked Ella. She shrugged and recommended we form a search party. We raided the house like a swat team raiding a drug bust, finding nothing unusual but dust and a few rogue Cheerios that had found refuge under our couch. After exhausting all options, I noticed a round edge sticking out from under the left leg of Sylvia, Ella's Cabbage Patch Kid.

"I think Sylvia has been hiding it from us!" I said.

Immediately Ella got a serious look on her face. She stormed over to her doll and picked her up. "We don't hide puzzle pieces from others, Sylvia," she said. "You're going in Timeout." With a firm grip, she marched Sylvia through Klems Manor to the southeast corner of our dining room—the one Ella has grown familiar with from her own Timeout experiences. She stood her up and pointed her face into the corner. Mimicking my "serious voice," she repeated to Sylvia over and over that's it's not OK to hide things when others are looking for them, just like I'd done to her on other occasions. After several minutes, she finally let Sylvia out and, with a softer voice, she said:
"Come here Sylvia. I hope you've learned that you don't hide things when others need them. You shouldn't have taken the puzzle piece from us. Do you promise never to do it again? (Long pause.) OK, good. Now give me a kiss and tell me you're sorry."
I was dumbfounded. Her punishment and lecture were spot-on the ones I'd handed her for jumping on the couch and knocking over her sister and putting our icepack in the toilet (Note: If you're at our house, don't use our icepack). It really hit home when she brought Sylvia out to the living room and made her apologize to me too. Then Ella set her back on the floor and completed the puzzle.

That day I learned that our kids not only pay close attention to our words, but also our actions. Every time Ella's down and I smile at her, I know she passes that smile along to someone else who may need it more. Every time I give her a hug, she shares that hug with others and brightens their day. And every time I discipline her, she shares that discipline with an unsuspecting Cabbage Patch Kid whose only fault was sitting too close the puzzle when we opened the box.

I'm not sure what discipline methods our Founding Fathers had in mind, but I know they would probably approve of the judicial system at Klems Manor. And as I watched Sylvia sit there, quietly minding her own business, I saw Anna (now 21 months old) march up to her, wave a finger in her face and carry her back into Timeout corner.

"No, no, Sylvia. No, no."

Apparently there's a new Nono in town.

Poor Sylvia.

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Carrie said...

That makes for an adorable mental image. It sounds like you're doing a wonderful job with them. :)

jennifer said...

the 1st time chris started putting things in time out...i thought it was funny. then after that he put EVERYTHING in time out...at that point...i got concerned :O

ps...omg...thinking about little bald ella just broke my heart a little! please make them both stop growing!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

This is great. And I totally know how the little ones are paying attention to EVERYTHING we do and how we do it.

karlaokala said...

I really enjoyed reading this, especially knowing that someone's else's kids put strange things in the toilet! :) I hear my kids repeat me and imitate me all of the time--and it's not always flattering. It keeps me humble--which I think is a child's primary job! Thank you for sharing. This piece was a bright spot in my day!

Kristen said...

I have a daughter who is almost 3...several months back she was sitting quietly playing with her lovely plastic orange Dora the Explorer house... she had arranged Dora and all her family members systematically in all of the rooms of the house. I was so impressed and complimented her on a job well done. She turned to me and simply said, "They're in time out." It was only then that I noticed that they were all sitting in their individual rooms with their backs against the wall. I'm not sure to this day what they had each done to deserve the punishment. They probably touched something they shouldn't have ;) nice article!

Sue said...

And THAT is preCISEly why I suppress all Bad Swears that occasionally (ok, frequently) cross my little mind. The Cherubs hear - and imitate - everything. Hearing a young'un parrot "Oh, cwap!" is not at the top of my wish list.

Susan said...

Great story. It also illustrates why the kiddos who have hit my six-year-old are--generally speaking--the ones who get smacked or spanked at home. Kids really do internalize and imitate everything we do--for better or worse.