Thursday, January 20, 2011

Discipline Decisions

Last night, Ava and I had a blow-out. These kinds of storms are few and far between in our relationship, but when they come, they are devastating and ferocious. Looking back, I see that this collision had been building for more than a week, with Ava testing a lot of discipline limits and pushing the envelope of her behaviour, which is a normal part of life as an almost eight year old, but it ends up doing a slow boil, until the pot spills over and burns everyone in sight.

She was playing on my iPhone and I was returning some e-mails while William was in the bath, and Jason was in there supervising him. I asked her to go into her room and practice her three songs for her voice lessons. She said, "When I'm done this game." That went on for quite a long time, until I finally raised my voice and told her to turn it off and go.

She did, clearly unhappy about it, and on her way past me, she "tapped" me on the shoulder (in her words) but it felt more like a karate chop, and hurt for quite a long time after she did it. This kind of reaction was so unlike her, and I'm afraid to say that I flipped out. I began screaming at her, and told her to go in her room until I had calmed down enough to talk to her. She stood crying in the hallway, and no matter how loud I got, she didn't do as I asked her to do.

I felt like a bull seeing the red flag waved in front of me. Generally speaking, Ava has always been obedient, especially when someone is angry with her. But last night she was standing up to me, and I recognized it as part of her development that needed to find expression somewhere, but I wasn't about to lose this particular fight.

Over dinner, we had decided as a family to play the Scene It Disney DVD game we received for Christmas, and the kids were excited about this plan. I put Ava in her room and told her she would not be playing the game with us as her discipline for hitting me and for refusing to go in her room when she was asked to, and she sobbed like her heart was breaking.

When you are angry as a parent, it's sort of satisfying to hear your child cry and know that you have reached them with your discipline of choice. But as the sobbing continued and turned into the gasping for breath which I remember as a child when I was deeply distressed, my resolve began to waver and I thought about how easy it would be to break down and let her play with us, but the lesson I wanted her to learn couldn't be achieved by giving in to her demands.

When I felt enough time had gone by, I went in to talk with her, and steeled my heart against those red-rimmed eyes and shuddering breaths. She apologized, again and again, and said that she only meant to tap me, and that she didn't mean to be disobedient. She almost broke me when she said, "You told me it was okay to make a mistake, and I just made a mistake."

Ava tends toward perfectionism, like I do, and I've been working to let her know it's okay to mess up. Last night I thought for a moment before responding to her statement, and I eventually said, "It's always okay to make a mistake, but daddy's job and my job as your parents is to help you experience the consequences of your behaviour, and tonight your consequence is not playing the game with us and going to bed early. Tomorrow we'll all start again, with a fresh slate."

She still cried softly in her bedroom while the three of us played the DVD game in the family room, and after I had read with William and put him to bed, I went to do home reading with her, and the storm had passed. I was able to apologize for screaming, and I heard her say sorry without it having that forced "get-out-of-jail-free" feeling to it, and we had moved past the disturbance which came between us.

Discipline is hard. Ava will likely only understand when she is a parent how much easier it would have been to give in to her last night. As her will and personality become stronger over the next ten years, we will have many more of these incidents, and I'm glad for what I learned last night. It's hard at the moment, but bears fruit if we can lovingly hold our ground, and forgive the mistakes while holding firm consequences, so that they will look back and remember that they didn't get away with it.


  1. Great story... thanks! Just curious though... when you were screaming, did you hear the bathroom door close quietly as Jason and William hid?

  2. I absolutely love that you took the time to create a name with the private joke phone number from yesteryear. That seriously just made my entire day.

    And, yes, you are remarkably perceptive because of course Jason and William did exactly that - never get in the way of a mother and daughter getting all of their emotions out!

  3. Toughest job ever. Caleb has been getting in a lot of trouble at daycare (yes Caleb) because she is very structured and has very strict rules and schedules. I realized last week that most of the time I just give into him or avoid conflict as much as possible. Though I do think its good to avoid triggers with toddlers I obviously was not preparing him well for the rest of the world he had to live in.

    It is heart breaking to put him in time out over and over and over again and hear him beg to get his way, but tis the life of a (good) parent. And those lessons do get heard. Today, he had a perfect report from his dayhome after a week of tough love at home with mom and dad.

  4. I'm so glad about Caleb's report from his dayhome. As babies grow into toddlers and then children, the challenges of behaviour grow with them, and we have to decide how to address the problems as they crop up. It's never easy.

    Hopefully you'll find the post I'm about to write for today helpful, as I learned something wonderful yesterday about parenting, which I plan to put into practice ASAP.