Safe, respectful, and kind

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a long weekend.

It started badly, when on Saturday morning Mabel was Postively Awful and had to be removed from a birthday party in disgrace, in which unhallowed state she remained all afternoon while her brother got to go to the carnival. I won’t tell you exactly what she did (to protect the innocent), but when asked to say sorry to the injured party, she blew a raspberry at him and all the parents present had a hard time not bursting out laughing. She’s got some comic timing, all right.

But no, it was a Bad Thing she done, and she knew it. (Which is why she blew the raspberry. When in trouble, her refuge is to become ever more defiant. This will not serve her well.)

That evening, exhausted from riding all the rides, Dash had a bit of an outburst over getting water instead of milk because we were almost out of milk. This was completely unreasonable, and he got uncharacteristically defiant as well, with the result that lightsabering privileges were revoked for two days. He felt this was unfair; doubly so the next day when it turned out “two days” did not mean part of the first day and you get it back on the second day, but a full 48 hours.

In general, I felt things were going badly. It was not nice, all this shouting and banging down of fists (that was Dash). So today, we did that cheesy-sounding thing and called a family meeting, wherein we all came up with household rules and talked about what might happen when people didn’t keep the rules, and what things people enjoyed that we could all do when the rules were followed. (This last is a bit hand-wavy, but I wanted something positive in the mix.)

Dash was entirely on board. He loved it. I would have to say that this sort of thing is made for five- or six-year-olds. (Not knowing much about sevens or older, I’m not sure when the rebellion kicks in again.) He had a great time laying down the law (coming up with rules) and telling me the things he’d like to do in those halcyon times when everyone’s well-behaved (have a costume parade, an art competition, and races). He pronounced that it was never ever fair to take away (or threaten to take away) his light saber.

I went over the things people had done that had got them into trouble lately, and manipulated the evidence so that everything fell neatly into the three categories I wanted the rules to cover, so that we could get them down to something concise and memorable that would work for every infraction worth fighting over. (I mention this because it’s something I read on the internet, I think originally from Moxie‘s excellent frequent commenter Hedra, and not because I made it up myself. I think it’s so good you might want to use it too.) Basically, we want to be 1) Safe, 2) Respectful, and 3) Kind. If what you do is all those things and I’m still getting my knickers in a twist about it, talk to me and I’ll be more reasonable.

I love this (when I remember it) because it makes sense from their perspective as well as mine, and because it helps me pick my battles. When I first read it, back when Dash was a little one, I thought “Well, that’s all very nice but I’m sure I can come up with three equally valid concepts that are my own.” This many years later I’m much more exhasuted and beaten down and quite happy that Hedra has done it already.

I’m not saying we’ve solved all our discipline problems in one fell swoop. Mabel, in particular, spent the whole meeting jumping around the sofa (no matter how much we pointed out that it was neither safe nor respectful (of property)) like a marmoset on speed, so I’m not sure the concept works so well for threes. But what had been nagging at me before was a sense that perhaps the children felt we were pulling these rules out of our arses whenever we felt like shouting, and that perhaps we were ambushing them with big punishments for small things that had escalated due to bad management. This way at least everyone knows what we’re trying to acheive.

My next step, mostly for Mabel, is to reclaim my copy of Adventures in Gentle Discipline from the friend I lent it to, and check How to Talk so Kids will Listen out of the library again. And I will remember to talk about expectations for behavior before we do things, to remind and direct with positive terms, and to praise the good actions whenever I see them.

Mabel goes back to school tomorrow, and right now she’s all fired up with plans to be polite and sweet and say please and thank-you all over the gaff. Option B, of course, is HellChild, and the unmentioned option C is that she throws a wobbler like last year and refuses to let me leave her sight. (I will be unmoved, mostly because for at least the first half hour I’ve to hang around the school office doing admin-y stuff anyway.)

And then I will go outside and join the other mothers doing the Happy Dance of Freedom, and go to Target on my own.

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