Thursday, November 20, 2008

Enforcing with understanding

She is ten years old and definitely getting to the age where she fights with mom. "You never listen to me. You're always telling me what to do. I hate you!" and she disappeared. Where is she? She has run off. Mom is in a panic and finally finds her a half mile from home, back at school. "Just wait till your dad gets home. He's going to be so angry." Mom had been worried sick! Where was she! So, she wanted to put the fear into their daughter to prevent this from happening again, but now dad has to be the judge and the bad-guy and figure out how to deal with this situation.

There are several "lessons" in this. What do we want this child to learn? Be afraid of mom and dad and what they will do? or Remember to let mom and dad know where you are so they know you are safe? I think it's the second one. Children need to know they can get angry at us and we won't reject them. We just want to make sure they are safe. So when dad gets home, what is he to do? First, he can tell her that he and mom were worried when they didn't know where she was. Sometimes bad things can happen (no need to go into the gory details), and they want to make sure she was safe. Then, acknowledge her feelings, "Mom told me you were mad about having to do your homework right away after school. I know you get frustrated, but just please stay safe!"

When they were fighting, mom could have responded differently instead of invoking the potential wrath of dad, calmly saying something like, "I know you're mad it me. You don't like having to do your homework. But it's important. You can take some time to relax and then we'll talk some more." We can respond to kids in ways that acknowledge their feelings and prevent a situation from blowing up into a fight.

It's frustrating for dad to feel like he has to come home and be the enforcer. When he has a chance to talk with his daughter, he can ask her what she was feeling and thinking. Try to see the situation from her perspective AND let her know that moms and dads get scared and worried. We can also ask her, "How do you think we should deal with this. It was not safe to go off without saying where you are and we don't want this to happen again." Often, children have some workable ideas for consequences. Sometimes their ideas are even more strict than we would impose. Probably her worries about what would happen, before dad came home, and this conversation offer the major learning experiences. A brief consequence might also reinforce the lesson, but she doesn't need to be grounded for a long period.

In most situations, after the talk and the immediate consequence, it is important to do our best to restore good feelings.

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