There are coping strategies that can save relationships and lives. The trouble is, nothing works for everybody. A family is a living organism, and like any other human conglomerate, it can be stubborn and set in its ways. On the other hand, sometimes the family can adjust in surprising ways. Parenting expert Ariadne Brill wrote “12 Alternatives to Spanking and Timeout.” A person could think of these ideas as that, or just think of them as nice things to do occasionally.
The ideas inspire a lot of thought. One is, when the child does something wrong, take a break together. This isn’t where the child gets grabbed by the arm and dragged off to a closet. If it can be managed, find a quiet place to just sit together for a few minutes. When a parent has the strength to sincerely underreact, and leave a space for something new, surprising things can happen.
One advantage of this move is, it’s classier than having a scene in public. No matter what kind of faux pas was committed, a socially competent grownup probably would not publicly scold or shout at another adult. Yet some parents seem hooked on the drama of the yelling-in-public brand of performance art.
Try a new paradigm
Another suggestion involves giving a second chance. Say, the kid gets careless when taking a carton of milk out of the refrigerator, and drops it on the floor. Again, what if this happened to an adult friend? You or I would probably be gracious and unruffled, and help with the cleanup. Why not extend the same courtesy to a child, just out of curiosity to see what happens?
Something you can do with a child (but not an adult) is set things up for a do-over. After the order is restored, replace the carton in the fridge, turn back the clock, and extend to the child a chance to give it another go — maintaining good humor throughout.
Cries can be heard of “We don’t have time for this!” Normally, that might be so. But a lot of people, staying in to avoid the virus, have nothing but time. Why not use some of it to try out atypical responses to boring old annoyances? Needless to say, none of this stuff works if the parent is coming from a place of anger and vindictiveness. It takes a mellow attitude and a sincere desire to raise the level of discourse.
The kid does something pretty messed up
This advice could extend to a lot of possible transgressions:
Ask what they are up to, with the intent to listen and understand first, then correct them by providing the appropriate outlet or information that is missing.
In a scene from an old movie, a little boy picked a green flower bud, not even close to opening yet, and took it to his mother who was sitting nearby. She reacted with impatient censure, demanding, “Why would you do a thing like that?” He said, “I wanted it for you,” and broke into tears of confused rejection. He had seen her be happy when someone gave her flowers. He knew this was a flower, of sorts. But he hadn’t put it together yet, that a sealed bud is not quite the same as a blossom.
That little scene could have gone a whole different way. What a missed opportunity to say, “Thank you, I love you too,” and to explain in a neutrally informational way the growth cycle of flowers; and why, sadly, this one would probably never open to show its beautiful color; and the advantage of letting them bloom before picking. A really sympathetic mom would have suggested, “But you know what? Let’s try something. Let’s just get a little glass and put this in water and see what happens.” And they would have bonded over having a project together, and their shared hopes for the outcome.
Because minimizing the friction creates a better atmosphere for handling disagreements around food and mealtime arrangements. And because, in a larger sense, any effort to prevent kids from developing emotional problems is also likely to protect them from developing obesity.
We want our kids to change, and it is only fair that we do some changing too. To invent and adopt a whole new parenting style is not easy, but if we can accept the challenge and summon up the boldness and creativity to try something different, it could open up a whole new world.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “12 alternatives to spanking and timeout,” AttachmentParenting.org, 10/02/14
Image by Gail Frederick/CC BY 2.0