We have to be more creative with our discipline tactics these days.
I went through the stage of actually writing myself reminder notes that this child or another was grounded from this or that privilege, because I would forget so often. It didn’t work out for me. I never got the hang of putting kids in “Time Out”; either I’d forget about them or they would annoy the heck out of me with their arsenal of anti-time-out weapons (crying, flopping, fidgeting, talking to me as if I was his/her best friend in the world and we were at Tuscan tea shop watching the grapes grow…).
I’m a big fan of letting kids experience the natural consequences of their mistakes. No shoes? The ground is hot in Texas, and I feel like walking slow today. I think it is important to connect cause and effect, and eventually they learn.
We hit on the idea of making the kids do extra chores for their misbehavior; let’s look at it as an opportunity for productivity and efficiency. Of course we warn them and try re-direction, basic tactics like that first. But when they cross the line, they earn an extra chore.
Act of Kindness.
We try to teach the kids to be respectful to each other no matter what. I understand that they can’t get along all of the time, but we’ve talked about acceptable ways to disagree and how to walk away from a frustrating situation.
Sometimes, things get heated and someone says or does something unacceptable. In this situation (after half-hearted apologies are made) the Offender owes the Offended an “Act of Kindness”. I try to allow the Offended to state their own price, but mostly they shrug “I don’t know”. Indecision on the Offended’s part allows me to pronounce, “You must do your brother’s chore” or “You have to clean your sister’s room” or “Play with your brother outside”.
The Barney Song.
When the kids are little, they love Barney… Then they catch on that the older kids “hate” Barney, and then all of the magic is lost. Or is it? When the kids senselessly squabble because they are bored or tired, I threaten to make them sing the Barney Song to each other. And they can’t just sing it, they must hug when the song says “hug” and kiss when the song says “kiss”, and finally, they must sing “I love you too”.
You can imagine the outcry when I suggest they sing this song to each other! However, I rarely have to follow through on the threat of making one child sing this song to his or her brother or sister. I believe the reason for this is because they find themselves allies on the same side of this comical battle in which the Barney Song and I are the enemy.
Attention is a limited resource. Kids use this limitation to their own advantage; apparently I called Germany when I was three and an only child, so you can imagine what a handful of kids can get up to when mom’s back is turned.
When a particular child just can’t seem to take care of business when he/she isn’t being supervised, he or she… ok – fine- it’s a “he”! It’s always a “HE!!” *clears throat* where was I? When he can’t be trusted to go it alone, he becomes my “Special Friend”. That means he goes wherever I go (because I can’t waste time following him around). For example, if I’m working on something in my room, then I’ll have my Special Friend fix my bed or collect all the kids’ toys that have been accumulating in my room. Whatever I’m doing, my Special Friend is right there helping me with any job I can think of; all with the knowledge that as soon as we’re done taking care of my business, he still has to take care of his.
This tactic also works as a threat occasionally; no one wants to be my Special Friend at a special event or outing, because that means holding my hand or sitting with me and having to listen to all the “boring adults” talk.
Duking it Out.
This is a tactic that I’ve only pulled out on limited occasions.
Number 5 is the sweetest kid; he’s loving and happy, but also annoying as heck when he wants to be. This is his super power. It is his weapon against those who slight him. It is his specialty. One fine day, the star Annoyus Supremus was at it’s zenith and Number 5 was mercilessly annoying the very snot out of his older brother. We had just packed up the van with groceries and buckled up when Number 4 snapped, slugging Number 5 in the nose. Physical violence is normally something that I never ever condone in any form. This day, however, I knew Number 5 totally had it coming.
“Number 4, you know it is not OK for you to hit your little brother! You are going to owe him TWO Acts of Kindness when we get home. Number 5, you can be as annoying as you want to be, but be aware that acting like that might end with being punched in the nose. Number 4, you can punch someone in the nose if you want to, as long as you are willing to live with the consequences of your actions.”
After that statement, there was contemplative silence in the back seat.
There have been a couple of times when the arguing pushed me past the sanity threshold. I’ve actually suggested they each get the foam t-ball bats we have laying around and beat each other with them until they feel better. I’m not sure if they stopped arguing because they were afraid of getting hit with a foam bat or because they realized that they were driving their mother insane.
There are those days when the word “mom” makes me cringe and run and hide under my bed covers, hoping no one will look for me there (it’s totally the first place they look). On these days, when the word “mom” is followed by “NAME + VERB+ed + me!”, my response tends to lean towards the snarky side. The kid is liable to get a response like, “Oh, is it my turn now?”; “He bit you? Were you so delicious?”; “Tell him to VERB you outside.”
I may also enjoy over-dramatizing the offense, “WHAT? WHY??? HOW COULD HE?? NOOOOOOO!!!!!!”. The sky’s the limit.
It’s not that I don’t care… it’s just that these tattle moments can really get under my skin if I don’t make light of them. The kids can’t help cracking a smile, either.
The downside is that my kids have overly developed their own snarky side. They have leveled a couple of good zingers at my husband and me on occasion.
Sometimes one of the kids will blow my mind, and I have to dig deep in order to salvage the situation.
The hardest thing about disciplining children is remaining disciplined myself. If I can do that, then using the right tactic in the right situation is just a bonus!