Creative Parenting

Or, How To Shame My Daughter into Behaving Properly Without Leaving Her Feeling Shamed

Last week was a tough week.  Coinciding with (or perhaps because of) the no-sleep solution I had been working on with the baby, Hazel decided to test her boundaries.  Over and over and over, and then some more for good measure.

We’ve been having a lot of conversations about respecting other people’s property.  The street that we live on has tons of kids, and most evenings everyone goes outside to play.  This is great—the parents are all so much fun and we all tend to get along really well.  The downside to that is that sometimes we let the kids wander off a bit and they find some mischief.

One of the current mischievous activities is for the kids to tear flowers out of people’s gardens/pull leaves off their plants/pull out their grass.  Inevitably, they are pulled from the people who have either spent lots of time and energy taking care of their gardens, or from people who have paid landscapers.

So, I spent a lot of time explaining to Hazel, over and over again, why I don’t think that’s appropriate.  We’ve talked about respecting other people.  We’ve talked about how it would feel if someone destroyed something that we cared about.  We’ve talked and talked and talked… and she still did it.

So I instituted what Kullervo called a draconian punishment—if she tore up someone’s garden, essentially destroying their property, I would destroy one of her toys so that she’d know how it felt.  I really hoped that just the thought of this would be enough to keep her from doing it… but of course it wasn’t.  So, the first time she did it, I chose out one of her toys, got a hammer, and brought her to the backyard so she could watch me hammer it into pieces.  Then she cried and I cried.

It didn’t feel good to do it.  To me, it was like spanking.  I have spanked Hazel (her consequence for hurting the baby is that she gets spanked because she has a tendency to be carelessly cavalier about how she plays with him), and I hate it every time.  I was certain that she wouldn’t destroy someone’s property again, and I reminded her a few times what the consequence would be.

Well, last week she did it again.  So I destroyed a toy.  Again.  Again, she cried and said she wished she hadn’t done it.  I was certain then that she had learned her lesson.  The next day, we went outside again, and before we went out, I reminded her not to do that, and that we should play nicely and not break any rules.  Immediately, she went into our next door neighbor’s yard and tore up some of their plants.  I made her sit on our steps for the rest of the time that we were outside, because, I told her, I can’t watch her all the time, and since I can’t trust her to behave, she has to stay where I can see her.

But destroying toy after toy didn’t feel right.  I wanted to do something different.  I reached out to some wise women that I know and asked their advice.  Almost immediately I got feedback—she should do something more restorative.  The punishment should be more of a positive consequence instead of a negative one.

I mulled it over.  Nothing seemed just right for our current situation.  But the next morning, we went outside where each of the kids has been tending to their own tomato plants.  Hazel is growing cherry tomatoes, and every few days she is able to pick a handful of ripe tomatoes.  She looks forward to it, and loves to bring them inside and eat them with her breakfast or her lunch.

And then it hit me.  As Hazel was picking her tomatoes, it came to me.  We brought them inside, and I sat her down.  I reminded her about picking Mrs. O.’s beautiful flowers, and asked her what she thought about it.  I told her I didn’t want to destroy a toy, because clearly that consequence wasn’t working to change her behavior.  I then asked her how it would feel to her if someone came at night and picked all of her tomatoes.  And then I told her that I thought I knew a way that we could make it right.  I had her write an apology card to Mrs. O., and we put all of Hazel’s ripe tomatoes into a bag.  We knocked on Mrs. O.’s door, and when she answered, Hazel apologized for picking her flowers, and gave her the apology card.  And we told her that we wanted to make it right by giving her the tomatoes that Hazel has been growing.  Mrs. O. thanked Hazel, and we all went on our merry way.

And on our walk home, I said, “Hazel, how do you think it would feel if you had to go to Mrs. O.’s house again to apologize because you couldn’t resist picking her flowers?”

And, lo and behold, Hazel has not picked anyone’s garden since.  I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future, but in the meantime, I feel like we’ve done a decent job of righting our wrongs, and doing it in a more positive way for everyone.

One response to “Creative Parenting

  1. So glad that helped! You know, I increasingly am coming to the conclusion that while behavior modification is an important part of why we discipline, the most important thing is that you, as the parent, feel good about how you are raising your kids. Parenting does matter in determining future outcomes, yes, but I fear often less than we think…and certainly not always how we intend. But if we can enjoy our relationship with our children, and create a positive relationship, be a positive role model, set boundaries and teach important lessons, we can feel good about that. The important thing is to look at ourselves at the end of the day and be able to say “I (mostly) parented the way I want to parent. I am happy with the relationship I am building.” Because they are their own little people, we can never guarantee anything we do will work and work permanently–but no one wants to spend their day screaming (or smashing toys).

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