Friday, July 3, 2009

Spaceship Landing

"Feel the dignity of a child. Do not feel superior to him, for you are not."
Robert Henri

We have a 'time-out' mat that we keep in the broom closet. We also call it the 'uncooperative mat,' and, thankfully, it rarely sees the light of day. We consistently give Pip one warning before the mat comes out, and she always decides to cooperate in order to avoid sitting on the mat for a minute.

When Crazybaby catches Pip off-guard and grabs a toy that she's holding, Pip's instinct is to swat her. To be honest, she usually doesn't even make contact with Crazybaby, but my husband and I decided that we would not tolerate hitting. We caught Pip 'air-swatting' a couple of times so we told her that if she ever actually hit Crazybaby, there would be no warning and she'd go straight to the time-out mat.

Several uneventful days went by after the no-tolerance rule was established, until one night when we were all in the kitchen. Pip was pretending that my metal steamer was a spaceship and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Pip bring the steamer down on Crazybaby's head! Crazybaby didn't even cry, but my 'Mama Bear' switch went on and I grabbed Pip by the arm and led her over to the broom closet.

"Pip, you do NOT hit Crazybaby on the head," I was saying in my quiet, but very stern voice. Pip was already crying, and she really turned it up when she saw the mat emerge from the closet.

"No Mama, nooooooo!!!" she started screaming. (You would've thought she was being taken to the gallows.) What followed was a comedy of sorts. Pip worked herself into hysterics and wouldn't stay on the mat, so I kept picking her up and putting her back. As I looked into my daughter's beet-red, tear-stained face, I doubted myself. Had she intended to hit her sister or was the spaceship just landing? Should I have given her a warning? Was our rule too harsh? Pip seemed so humiliated by the whole mat routine, it didn't seem like she was learning a thing about not hitting her sister.

I knew that once I had committed to the consequence, I had to follow through. I persisted, looking for the first opportunity to call an end to the time-out. Once Pip had successfully stayed on the mat by herself, and I had pretended to count down a minute on my watch, (it was more like ten seconds,) I told her the time-out was over and she flew into my arms. She stopped crying immediately and clung to me like a limpet. We went through the whole, "Do you know why you got a time-out?" routine, and she apologized to Crazybaby for hitting her.

When I was a teacher, my colleagues and I would de-brief about students all the time. We'd come up with behavioural strategies as a team and often meet to share ideas about the progress of specific students. As a parent, you're flying solo the majority of the time, and it's hard to make the time to reflect. That's one of the reasons I find blogging so rewarding, because I'm forced to review the moments of my days and learn something from them. So what did I learn about the spaceship landing?

Well, I still think the 'no tolerance' rule is a good one and the consequence is necessary, but I need to take a deep breath when the Mama Bear switch goes on, and calmly talk to Pip before dragging her off to the broom closet. She deserved an opportunity to explain herself before being disciplined. I want to be respectful of my kids at all times; especially when they misbehave.