Featured Picture Book
MORRIS THE ARTIST by Lore Segal
(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)
MORRIS THE ARTIST is the story of Morris, a young boy who has been invited to his friend Benjamin’s birthday party. Morris, being a typical young child, was uncooperative. “’I want to paint,’ said Morris.” All he wanted to do is be an artist. But, his mother insisted that he go with her to buy a present and attend the birthday party. Morris selected a present at the store – the one he wanted, not one his mother suggested. When it came time for Morris to present his present, he gave a resounding, “’No!’” and tightly “… put the present behind his back.” He wouldn’t let go for anything, not even for eating cake or playing with toys. When he finally was willing to give the present, no one was interested, not Benjamin and not the other guests. Morris opened the present himself and began to show everybody what could be done with his present. “’This is so great!’” said Benjamin. After hours of fun, Morris’ creativity blossomed even more as he, Benjamin, and all the guests had the most colorful birthday celebration ever.
Dr. Mom: As I mentioned in our last posting, MORRIS THE ARTIST inspires me to repeat several ideas that I have written about before. If you are a regular reader, I hope these ideas will seem like old friends and not like that as on TV that you have seen 100 times.
Repetition is really important for understanding and using an idea. Each time you use it, you do so smarter than you were the last time you tried it. When you read it in this blog, I’m sure you will find some new twist that will make it make more sense to you and be easier to use.
Repetition is just as good for parents (and all adults) as it is good for children. It’s an opportunity to think in deeper, smarter ways. It’s a reminder of what we know, but may be forgetting. It encourages us to practice – the only way we can get better at anything.
When something happens automatically as a result of what a child does, this is what we mean by natural consequences. He gets up late; he misses the bus and has to walk to school. He spends all of his allowance, and he has no money to go to the movie with friends – natural consequences. The parent does not create what happens. It happens naturally without the parent doing anything special. Natural consequences can be a great way to teach a child, but they can also be very challenging.
Sometimes natural consequences are too severe. In fact, they can be unsafe. For example, we can’t let a child ride a bike in the street to learn that he could get hit by a car or play at the stove to experience the natural consequence of getting burned. But, for some issues natural consequences can be just what are needed to get the message across – like Morris not being able to eat his birthday cake because he wouldn’t let go of Benjamin’s present. Remember, you must be very careful to only allow consequences to occur naturally if they are safe.
When natural consequences are not obvious or not safe another approach is “logical consequences.” Logical consequences make sense for the situation. For example, many of you may have a rule that there is no TV until homework is done. If a child chooses to do something other than homework after school, it makes sense (is logical) that no TV is allowed in the evening.
It’s not really a “punishment” you are giving. It is the logical consequence of the rule that you have established. A logical consequence is a connection between a rule and a result. It is explained to the child in a very direct and understandable way before a rule is broken. Then, when the child has broken the rule, it isn’t about what you are going to do to her because she didn’t do her homework after school. Instead, it is about what she is going to have to deal with because she chose not to follow a rule. I am amazed at how creative parents can be at figuring out logical consequences for different situations. It’s not always easy, but it is worth the brainpower because logical consequences give children lasting lessons.
And by the way, when you are sticking to the consequences and not letting the child off the hook, your reactions should be unemotional. Be as matter-of-fact as you possibly can be.
Darling Daughter: And when you are sticking to the consequences and not letting the child off the hook, the issue usually only happens once or twice. The child sees you mean business and will make decisions that avoid the consequences they don’t like – this removes you from the equation and makes life much easier.
This is quite different from punishing a child. When you punish, it is very hard to be unemotional. I believe that often the reason we punish is because our emotions are taking over our thinking. We just can’t think of something that would work better. However, with some effort we can train ourselves to be unemotional when sticking with our natural and logical consequences.
My friend and mentor, Jean Illsley Clarke, uses a Parenting Road to describe parenting behaviors that can help us make rules, stick to them, and insist on consequences for bad behavior. The Parenting Road has six lanes. The two on the far left and the two on the far right are off the Road and not where we want to be. For example, when we don’t insist on consequences for breaking rules, we are on the berm, outside the Road’s center lanes. It’s a bumpy, dangerous place to be. When we don’t even bother to set rules for our kids, we are so far off the Road that we are stuck in a ditch – an even more dangerous place to be – at a complete stop and not able to get anywhere as a parent.
The center two lanes of the Parenting Road are where we want to be. The center lanes are patient, matter-of-fact places where we can accept that children will mess up while still expecting that with help and firm consequences they will do better the next time. The middle is where we match rules with what the child can handle given his age and maturity. Remember, one six-year-old may not be able to handle what another six-year-old can. Children show us what they are able to handle by the choices they make in lots of different situations. Our job is to pay attention.
Staying on track where discipline is concerned means having rules that are right for the child’s age, his self-control, and his ability to make good choices. Staying on track with discipline also means sticking to the rules. You might as well not have any rules, if you aren’t going to insist they be followed. By the way, children need and deserve to have rules that protect them and teach them, so having no rules or not enforcing them is a form of abandoning them. It is not giving them what they need to be safe.
Figuring out the natural or logical consequences for breaking rules can help us stick to the rules. Not sticking to rules and consequences is a form of overindulging children. Overindulgence is one of the in-the-ditch lanes on the Parenting Road. It is harmful to kids (actually to all people), just like driving off the road in a car is dangerous and harmful. No matter how much kids protest, consequences are the way to go. They teach children that they can make mistakes, learn from them, and still be loved.
Being Responsible to Children
One of the hardest things about natural consequences and about matter-of-fact approaches to enforcing consequences is the mistaken belief that we are responsible “for” our children.
Think about a time your child’s behavior embarrassed you. Why were you embarrassed? Did you think others would judge you as a bad parent? Did you think you taught your child to never make this mistake, so you were now a failure? Did you think you should and could control what your child did or did not do?
Just last week! E was at strings practice and was to be practicing with her trio for a concert coming up in a few weeks. The teacher was working with other groups doing duets and such. I’m waiting in the hall and suddenly (and then repeatedly) hear bursts of laughter and giggling. I hear E above everyone else (could be just my “mommy radar”). Now granted they are 10 but still they are in a class and I expect E to act like it. I refrained from saying anything to E at the time because the teacher was in the room and should have been correcting them if it was a problem. On the ride home I mentioned to E that I could hear her goofing off and that her behavior was not the best choice – that it was probably very distracting for the other students trying to practice and get help. What I wanted to do is storm in there and scold her immediately – probably not the best choice. J
If so, you likely believe you are responsible “for” your child – that somehow what he does or doesn’t do is your fault. For that to be true, you would have to be terribly powerful. The last I observed, children have minds of their own. What I encourage you to do is focus on responsibility “to” your child, instead of “for” your child. You and your child have a much greater chance of success that way.
When you focus on responsibility “to” your children, you will do the best parenting you can (including learn more about children, yourself, and parenting – like you are doing by reading this blog). If your children behave badly (tantrums, saying “no,” breaking rules, etc.), you will realize that it is not a reflection on you as a failure. It is a sign that you need to go to work to learn more and try new ways to get your children to behave better.
Well, MORRIS THE ARTIST has had a long run, but we will be moving on to a new book on April 15. Be sure to check-in with us.
Read All About It
GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson
SELF ESTEEM A FAMILY AFFAIR, Jean Illsley Clarke
CONNECTIONS: THE THREADS THAT STRENGTHEN FAMILIES, Jean Illsley Clarke
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH, Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehofts
Surf the Internet:
- natural consequences
- logical consequences
- parenting road
- criticizing children
- April Fool’s Day