Happiness: A Parent’s Secret Weapon
My daughter can be a seriously domineering and head-strong girl when she chooses to be. She’s also fantastic, creative, inspiring, loving…a long list of wonderful. However, we battle it out quite a bit. She wants everything her way and “NOW!” Not A-typical for a 4 year old. I’ve tried a variety of techniques to put an end to the bossiness. Sometimes I reason with her, explaining the virtues of kindness. Sometimes I try to ease the tension with humor, calling her Veruka Salt and singing the Willy Wonka songs about naughty children. Tickle-torture, tickling her so fervently and so long that she can’t even remember what she was angry about in the first place, is one of my tried and true mood busters. I do not like yelling in general, but sometimes I do lose my cool and raise my voice.When true anger boils up and I feel compelled to show my daughter that her behavior has put me over the edge, the funniest thing happens to me. Instead of a stern, authoritative voice ending the insanity, I almost always break down in hysterical, uncontrollable laughter.
To complicate matters further, when my daughter is at her naughtiest, I find myself relating to her.The truth is, she is a little me…she looks like me, she dances (crazy) like me, and she likes things to be just so…as I do.Yet, I feel like this is the time, when my kids are still young, when I need to teach them about the concept of consequences so that they will learn to think carefully before embarking on some misadventure. I feel compelled to examine my lighthearted approach to discipline and consider if my tickling and hysterical laughter are truly setting my children upon the path of joy and happiness I wish for them.
It occurred to me that it might be beneficial to figure out why this happens to me. Why is it so difficult for me to be tough? Am I just hard-wired for ridiculousness? Are suppressed memories of childhood discipline interfering with my mothering? My parents could be fairly scary when they were mad. Or should I just relax; and continue on my jolly way, forgoing the societal pressure to stomp on my children’s personalities and turn myself into a homespun horror. I like to keep things light, and I take comfort in knowing it is perfectly normal for small children to test out their environments and try to figure out on their own which buttons will make mommy’s head pop off.
Maybe my problem isn’t so much of a problem as it is a quirk. I am reminded of a student I once had in my classroom who was so terribly frustrated with me that I was not responding to his bad behavior the way he had hoped. “Why are you always smiling?” he shrieked. And I replied with the wise words of the Indian leader Gandhi, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Teachers and parents are challenged with the same task: to guide, to inspire, to facilitate a pleasant learning environment. We are not in the business of settling scores. Being a heavy who reacts with anger when a child pushes one’s buttons will not inspire that child to choose a better approach.
I earnestly believe that children need to learn that actions lead to consequences, and I certainly do not want my own children growing up rude and reckless in any regard. Still, old fashioned, put-them-in-their–place discipline is not my cup of tea. So I search for answers…still smiling, still tickling…trying not to crack up completely in the mean time.