This weekend, while shopping for the ultimate present for a little boy turning three, I overheard the following exchange between a mother and her young boy:
Boy: <throwing some kind of fit>
Mother: Come on honey – let’s get your Wii games first.
Boy: Noooooooo, I don’t want to.
Mother: Do you want your pizza?
I was totally appalled. Had this been my mother, we would have been heading out the door straight for a spanking after the first hint of fit-throwing. Certainly I would not have been offered pizza as a prize for complaining about the Wii games I was being purchased. Well, since I played with sticks and rocks as a kid, I’m not actually sure what the appropriate fill-in toy for my age range would be. I was just very thankful my daughter wasn’t with me to witness this behavior and see it being rewarded.
Later that day, my family attended the party for which I’d been gift shopping. I know, my forethought and planning are unbelievable. About a half hour after arriving, my three-year-old decided that just about everything at the party was a reason to break down into sobs and hysterics. She hasn’t really been feeling well this week, so I cut her some slack at first. But then it was time for cake, which was the one food at the party Maddie couldn’t eat. My friend Bethany is amazing and totally considerate of Madison’s allergies and every single snack was “Maddie-safe”. I brought some Oreos, for the little girl because – can you believe it? – no dairy in them! She loves them and was very excited about having some. After eating a the few I’d given her, out came another tantrum. This time, my immediate instinct was to offer more of the cookies I’d just put away. And keep giving them to her as long as they kept her quiet. However, the memory of that placating parent in Target was so fresh in my mind, that I managed to quell my emotional response to Madison’s whining and responded in a manner my mother would have been proud of. I told my usually sweet, currently surly daughter that if she did not stop her moodiness right then, we would be going home so she could take the nap she so obviously needed. She right at me, disbelief in her blue eyes and went right on with her meltdown. I stopped my husband in the middle of the conversation he was having with a “we gotta go”, and he (thankfully) required no explanation as to why. We packed up, made our apologies and headed home. Once there, it was straight to bed for the girl – where she turned into a character from a fairy tale, sleeping until we woke her up 5 hours later.
As parents, we constantly have choices with our kids. It probably would have been much easier in the short-term to just feed my kid her favorite cookie and not have to deal with the embarrassment of having the tantrum throwing kid at the party. However, I know that in the long run, Madison needs to figure out how to deal with her emotions without allowing them to overtake her in a fit. Walking your kid right back out of a store, when you’ve promised him Wii games requires an entire car ride (or afternoon) of crying and complaining – which is no fun at all. But, how are kids supposed to learn that everything in life isn’t about them. Their immediate gratification. Whatever their mood dictates at the moment, if we as parents can’t model self-control and follow-thru with them?
My parents were awesome at following thru on their threats of discipline. I remember clearly being a young child and my mom leaving two carts of groceries at the store so she could drive up the hill and punish one of her children for the disobedience displayed in the check out line. I don’t remember who it was, or what they did. But the knowledge that my mom was willing to ditch all the food she’d spent the last hour collecting from shelves made an indelible impact on me. Even more now that I’m also a mom and know what a pain it is to grocery shop with kiddos. The other clear memory I have of punishment despite the inconvenience to my parents was at a big celebration for my Grandfather when I was about 9. My family went to Black Angus for dinner, which was a HUGE deal. There were five kids and one income, so meals out, especially at a nice (hey, it was really nice then) place, almost never happened. So, there we were all at the table and I decided it would be a great idea to start sawing the edge of the table with my steak knife. My dad told me to stop. Then he told me if I didn’t, it was displaying to him that I wasn’t adult enough to be in such a nice place, and I would have to go sit in the car. I totally didn’t believe him. So, I went back to my sawing – and BAM…found myself in the family station wagon, in the parking lot. What I didn’t know at the time was that when my dad came back to the table without me, my mother had a fit. Told him I absolutely could not be out there by myself. So instead of enjoying his rare nice meal out, my dad spent the entire time watching the parking lot from the lobby to make sure I was safe. How much simpler would it have been for him to just come get me from the car? But he rightly knew that would demonstrate to me that I’d won. That, in fact, they wouldn’t make me sit in the parking lot the whole dinner. Smart guy my dad. That one evening of inconvenience pretty much was the defining moment that led to my (mostly) extremely obedient teenage years.
I’m so thankful I had amazing models of discipline and follow thru in my parents. I know that had I grown up without that kind of structure, not only would I be a completely different person, but Madison probably would have been fed the entire bag of Oreos this weekend.