Thursday, September 17, 2009

It Takes Discipline

My mom amazes me. She worked full time. She managed a family. She raised two great kids. (Though we still have some lingering questions about the greatness of my brother. Is he a lord? Or a peon?) I have learned an enormous amount from my mom, and she continues to teach me about being an effective parent.

My mom understands discipline. It’s about being clear and consistent, and she is fantastic on both accounts. There are many examples that I could share from my youth to demonstrate my point. However, since it was always my brother, and never me, at the center of these stories, I will refrain. Perhaps he will entertain the blog world with "tales of a boy and the construction workers outside his school window" or "sitting in the chair with my hands folded." From each of these examples I learned important lessons about being a parent: 1.) Always follow through. 2.) Sometimes you need to work really hard to hide your smile.

These lessons served me well the other day when my son decided to misbehave at dinner. He screamed. He cried. He threw food. He put his feet on the table. He did everything a two year old wants to do, and none of the things his adult parent wanted him to do. I cajoled. I warned. And then I served the ultimatum. If he continued to act inappropriately, he would not be allowed to watch Hi-5, one of his favorite shows, after dinner. I could see his wheels turning. I knew he was going to test me. I did my best to hide my smile, which involuntarily came out in response to the evil grin on his face. And then he threw his pasta on the floor.

Sighing inside, I knew I was in for a struggle as I carried out the ultimatum. However, I didn’t realize how difficult this punishment would be – because he is a twin.

My daughter had earned her privilege of watching Hi-5. I had to allow her to do so in order to reward positive behavior. My son did not earn tube time, so I had to follow through with the discipline and keep him away from the TV. Enter the twin problem. Though they are fairly well-behaved kids and not overly courageous in trying new things, I did not feel comfortable leaving my daughter alone downstairs while she watched TV, and I certainly did not intend to allow my son, my little troublemaker, alone upstairs while my daughter finished her show. Our house has an open floor plan, and the only room with a door on the main level is my office, which is adjacent to the family room – and the TV. With no other option, my son and I ended up sitting in the office, where he could clearly hear the sounds of Hi-5. He sat quietly on the big leather chair, dutifully answering my questions about his behavior. He knew exactly what he had done wrong. He listed his misdemeanors without prompting from me – "throwing pasta," "foot on table," "banging fork." He sweetly said, "I’m sorry" and jumped from the seat, rushing to the door and the familiar sounds of "Paz", the cartoon that precedes Hi-5. I quickly foiled his escape and explained, again, that there were consequences to his actions. He climbed back on the big leather chair.

His furtive glances toward the door became more and more despondent as "Paz" ended and the introductory music of Hi-5 began. He looked longingly at me and asked, "Watch Hi-5?" I bit my cheek, so wanting to smile at my sweet little boy, knowing that the demon from the dinner table was learning its lesson. My heart ached as I struggled with the fact that I had forced him to sit in earshot of the TV, making the punishment more drastic than if I had taken him to the playroom to play with toys, distracting him from that sweet reward that he had not earned and that his twin sister had.

I imagine scenes like this will play out regularly in my house, and my son will undoubtedly be at the center of them more than my daughter. Perhaps it is genetic. When he gets the devilish grin, the one that reminds me of my brother, I try to be clear and consistent, just as my mom has modeled for me. Yet I have begun to realize that I have a challenge my mom did not have. Even though I have one relatively tractable child and one who pushes the limits, just like my mom did, in this case, the twin factor makes my job more than twice as hard. Discipline with twins has a unique dimension. Rewards and punishments with two children of the same development and age takes even more self-control on my part. In so many ways they are treated the same, and it is difficult for them to understand when one is allowed to do something that the other is not. It’s difficult for me to separate their individual actions from the routine we have established for the two of them and to realize that being fair means more than doing the same thing at the same time.

So with thanks to my mom and the lessons she has taught me, I enter a new challenge on the discipline path as I learn to see clearly what is "fair" and discipline myself while I follow through.

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