Posts tagged ‘discipline’

Did I ever Mention This?

This is my girl today. Eyes ablaze, striking first, screaming second, pissed.

My logical, solution-seeking brain wants to know why? I scan through the last twenty-four hours. Did she get enough sleep? Food? What the bleep is wrong? Eventually I come to my senses, it doesn’t matter. I feed her all the time and we strive for as much sleep as possible. There aren’t days where I let sleep slide, or forget to offer nutrients, so even if I found a culprit to blame there still wouldn’t be anything to do differently in terms of physical needs.

After flailing about in this direction, I remember that I can still address emotional needs and quickly pull out empathy and information.

Empathy: Oh Echo. I see you’re really upset, really mad.

Information: When you scream at Bella like that she turns away from you and doesn’t want to play. Can I help you talk to her and figure out a solution?

I use my face to show understanding, I make myself physically available in case a hug or snuggle is desired, and I keep listening, searching for deeper feelings that can be empathized with. This is our formula and it works. It is time-consuming, at least in the moment, (although I’d argue that time-outs, threats and bribes take more time out of your life in the long-term), and quite verbal, but our children thrive under this system.

That being said, I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned the fact that I also use physical restraint. Today, empathy is reaching Echo’s ears, but not before she lands a few blows. Once I caught wind of her fierce temperament this morning I have been quick to slide my body between hers and her adversary. When the safety of others is involved I follow the same formula, while gently but firmly holding Echo in my arms.

Empathy: Oh Echo. You’re really mad. You want to hit her, huh? Oh you’re sad too? You wanted to play with that toy and she picked it up before you had a chance.

Information: You want me to let you go so that you can hit her and scratch her? Well, I think I’m going to continue holding you so that your sister stays safe. When you hit her she feels mad and probably won’t give you the toy. Do you want help figuring something else out?

It’s a safety clause but you have to be very mindful when you use it. It’s tempting to convince yourself that you are keeping others safe when in reality you are looking for ways to justify controlling your child’s movements. It’s better for your relationship to assume the best and be mistaken than to continuously and thoughtlessly jump in and use restraint. In addition, blocking a blow to spare another child harm is very different from grabbing an arm as an expression of your own anger. Empathic restraint is a short-term, temporary measure to protect others, the real, effective work is being done by your words, expression, and empathy.


July 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm 7 comments

close call

I’d like to say that I respond to my children with empathy as my first and immediate response. I’d love to say that I never waver from a loving and kind stance, no matter what the situation might be, but alas. It just isn’t true. Sometimes, even though, as I begin, I know it is the wrong/unhelpful path to travel I plunge headlong regardless.

The other day while writing a post to this blog the two younger girls were playing in the bathroom bathing a baby-doll. In the back of my consciousness I could hear them getting prickly with one another but I didn’t tune-in completely to their struggle. I typed onward until their yelling and screeching broke through my concentration. With consternation I burst onto the scene.


Xi: She splashed me and I don’t want to be wet!!!

Echo: Will you hold me mama!!?? Wahhh!

Me: (Sternly and annoyed)What happened?

Xi: She got me wet!

Me: (Exasperated) And what did you do?

Xi: Nothing.

Me: (Frustrated) I don’t believe that. Did you say you’d prefer to stay dry? Did you ask her to stop?

Xi: No.

Me: What did you do instead?

Xi: Nothing!

Echo: Well, I got her wet and she hit me! And then I hit her and I spit at her.

Xi: No I did not Echo! You hit me.

Me: Well you guys, I really don’t like how you are treating each other. Xi, if Echo does something you don’t like, talk to her about it and if that doesn’t work come and get me to help you. But you didn’t do that, did you, and now look at you guys. Both of you are upset. And Echo, Xi didn’t like getting wet and she didn’t like getting hit either. You chose to handle it in a way that was upsetting to both of you. Now you’re both mad and both crying. Etc. Etc. Etc…….

I went on and on. Annoyed. Exasperated. I didn’t pick Echo up. I blustered about, wiping up water, and scrunching up my forehead in irritation. And then after I had “sorted it all out”, deciding who was at fault and what they could have done differently, guess what? THEY DIDN’T FEEL BETTER. My response had not improved the situation in the slightest, in fact it only made it worse. By the end of my rant Echo was a crying lump on the living room floor and Xi was slumped against the bathroom wall, tears stalled on her cheeks and hair hanging limp.

They were still mad. And sad. In fact as a last stab Xi said: Thanks a lot for getting me wet ECHO.

And I said: Hey! I don’t like the way you are talking to her. If you are upset with her then say that instead of sarcasm. That’s bullshit. We don’t talk to you that way and I don’t want you to talk to her that way.

Guess what? That didn’t work very well either.

I took a deep, regretful, breath and started over.

I asked Xi what, in particular, she was upset about and she wouldn’t answer me. Understandably she wasn’t exactly seeing me as an ally. So I made my best guess.

Me: My guess is that it feels unfair. Unfair that Echo got you wet, unfair that she spit on you, and unfair that I came in and started yelling at both of you and not her.

Xi: Yeah.

Me: Would it have felt better if I had just checked in with you when I came in? Talked with you about your feelings instead of huffing and puffing at you guys?

Xi: (Smiling) Yeah. You were like the grandmother in that book we were reading!

Me: I know. I was mad and saying, “you did this, and you did that!”. That was definitely a mistake. I made a mistake. It didn’t really matter who did what to who, what mattered is that you guys were upset.

Xi: (Happy) Yeah.

Then I crawled over to the lump of Echo on the floor to give her love and hear about her feelings, and it was over. Happy children and happy Mama. Once I got out of my automated response and switched to empathy, the process was lightning-quick.

At the bottom of it all I was mad, annoyed, and frustrated that I was interrupted from what I was working on. I didn’t take a second to give myself empathy before I barged in to “help”. Instead I carried my emotions with me and threw them at the girls. Secondly, I fell into the trap of thinking that by giving the kids empathy I would be siding with one or the other, or condoning their actions. It felt like if I picked Echo up and held her I would be supporting her decision to spit at Xi. If I wiped Xi’s tears and rubbed her back, it would be like telling her it was okay that she didn’t use her words to communicate with Echo. This way of thinking is a trap because it causes me to act against what I know.

Empathy supports a person’s feelings, not their actions.

Empathy allows a child to act from a place other than their feelings.

I managed to pull the interaction out of the gutter at the last second. Thankfully we all came away from the dispute feeling more connected, but it was a close one.


June 6, 2010 at 8:57 am 4 comments

poke, poke

There is never a dull moment around here. Even the mundane tasks are accompanied by outrageous outbursts, and dramatic exchanges, all adding up to straight-up absurdity. I guess houses with children are like this. Last night while making mac and cheese Xi ran into the kitchen.

“NALLIE!!! I don’t want her to stab me with a unicorn…”


Echo slumps out of the bedroom. “But I want to ask her something!”

So I say, “Xi she wants to ask you something.”

And Xi says, “I don’t want to talk to her” and then she slumps into the bedroom.

It’s all sounding crazy to me and I don’t understand a lick of it so I go back to stirring noodles when I hear Echo rummaging around the toys and saying to herself, “I’m going to get a pointy unicorn and swing it at her! I’m gonna stab her right in the leg with the horn! I’m  gonna…”

So I say, “Ya know, I just don’t think that will work for you love. Xi is just going to get upset and then you will get upset and then you won’t get to ask her what you want to ask her”. Echo trundles in to the bedroom anyway, despite the obvious logic of my reasoning and the obvious lack of logic in her tactic. So I dutifully follow, figuring that keeping the children safe is really the bare minimum requirement of parenting.

I enter to see Echo ramming a plastic unicorn horn into Xi’s leg  saying, “I’m gonna poke her! Poke! Poke!”. I make a move to intervene when Xi stops me.

“No Nallie, don’t stop her, it doesn’t hurt.”. And letting Echo know she is failing, she says, “Echo this unicorn is too soft. It doesn’t hurt me.”. And then things get really confusing when she says, “How ’bout you try and bite me??”. They then start gleefully pursuing each other around the house.

See what I mean? Absurdity.

This is why I make the argument that making rules, such as No Hitting, or No Biting, doesn’t make sense. There are only actions and reactions. Needs and feelings. On this day, for Echo and Xi at least, biting was a perfectly delightful game. Apparently far preferable to unicorn horn poking. You never would be able to predict that.

I think most parents do too much work. They enter into arguments, try to determine a truthful chronology of events, then single out which is the victim, which is the aggressor, huff and puff about poor choices, figure out a punishment and hang around enforcing the punishment. Sheesh. If you use empathy for all parties, give and gather information about needs and feelings instead of the classic crime and punishment scenario you are freed from this chore, freed from the pressure to have the answers. Holding both children, listening to their concerns without judgement, leaves room for them to find their own solutions.

I certainly would never have come up with the “let’s bite each other instead!” solution. They came to this on their own. And even though it makes no sense to me it makes sense to them. That’s what matters. Their relationship was at play in this scenario. Let’s face it, in an ordinary household Echo would have been put in timeout for her actions. I would then have been monitoring the time-out instead of stirring noodles. She would have been crying about her isolation instead of thinking about Xi’s feelings and figuring out a way to work it out. And Xi would have been denied a playmate, and a chance to interact in a way that felt better to her.

A few minutes later Echo approached Xi with two different unicorns, and these apparently were pointy enough to make Xi yelp when Echo stabbed them at her ankles. At this point I asked Echo if she wanted attention from Xi. She said yes, so I helped her formulate a request. She then approached Xi, sans unicorns, and said;

“Xi, I want your attention. Will you give me some?”

Xi smiled, bent down, and scooped Echo up. “Sure!”

If Echo were wailing away in time-out this happy ending would not have been possible. If I had demanded that the children make sense in the first place I wouldn’t have been able to guess at Echo’s need for attention, and Xi wouldn’t get the satisfaction of meeting that need. If absurdity and strong emotions weren’t both welcome in our home we wouldn’t get the opportunity to work our way through, albeit in a kooky manner, conflict.

Pokey unicorns. You just never know where it’s going. But the best part is that you don’t have to.

April 25, 2010 at 2:47 pm 2 comments

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