September 2014

Let the Consequence Do the Teaching



It was purely by chance that I happened to look at the calendar Friday morning on my way to get my daughter ready for school. Imagine my surprise to find “No Preschool” in bold lettering that I had somehow managed to overlook in the whole month that the calendar had been hanging on my fridge.

With a whole day now open, my brain began to swirl with possibilities. There is a children’s museum we haven’t visited yet in a town about an hour away. Conveniently, it is in the same town as the nearest Target.  And so the plan was made. Make the hour drive, stop at Target, eat lunch at the park, and then visit the museum.

Fast forward through the drive, the store and the picnic to the scene at the park. There had been impending signs of a certain version of “attitude” that has been appearing more and more often. Example: She wanted to climb the observation tower, so we did. At the top, she pouted the entire time that I had misled her into believing she would get to “climb” the tower, not just walk up the stairs. (See photo.) On the way back to the car, the big meltdown finally happened.

We walked through the park’s little amphitheater with a concrete stage. I stopped and did the overly-excited-parent thing, thinking she would love the chance to be up on a stage all to herself. Instead, she pouted, which quickly turned into a full-blown, irrational temper tantrum.

I’ve been sporadically reading the “Love and Logic” book lately, mostly as a “motivational refresher”. I’ve found myself at a loss (for lack of better term) on several parenting challenges lately and turned to my books for help. There’s more to that story, for a later post.

Anyway, in the midst of the meltdown came the clear opportunity to practice what I had been reading. Rather than getting pulled into the emotional storm or launching into a lecture, I calmly reminded her that if she was throwing fits and having a bad attitude we wouldn’t be able to go the children’s museum, we’d have to go home. As I imagine is true of most parents, I had fallen into the bad habit lately of threatening consequences and then not following through with them, but instead riding out the battle until I got the outcome I wanted.

But today, I wasn’t going to battle. And today, she was calling my bluff. Despite the clearly stated expectation and consequence, she spiraled further into chaos, finally resulting in me carrying her kicking and screaming the last one hundred feet to the car. I almost lost my patience. I may have closed the car door a little harder than necessary. The impulse to launch into a lecture was overwhelming. To lecture her until she caved and gave up the battle so we could go on with our day.

But I didn’t. I took a few deep breaths and sat for a few extra moments before starting the car. And then I did my best to adopt the firm, empathetic patience I had read about. She cried when I explained that we were driving home because she had thrown a fit. I told her that I was sad, too. That I had been excited about our trip, too, and that it was too bad we had driven that far and not gotten to go to the museum. Rather than try to fit the lesson into a lecture, I simply carried out the consequence.

I can tell you this: it’s more fun to lecture. But lately, I’m tired of going to bed feeling like I spent the whole day lecturing this little human that I would rather be discovering. Letting the consequence do the teaching is hard. Holding the boundary is hard. But there’s one thing that makes it all worth it:

When there’s no battle, I get to be on her team.

We drove home. She went through sadness and then anger and frustration and back to sadness. She blamed me for most of the trip, but before we arrived home I heard a shaky, tearful voice from the back seat say “If I hadn’t done this we could have gone to the museum.” The sweet sorrow in her voice broke my heart into a million pieces. But she had made the connection between her behavior and the consequence. She had taken responsibility for her actions.

We went home and cuddled and took a “break”, because that was what she needed. When she was sad, we were sad together. When it was time to move on and make the best of the rest of our day, we did it together. And doesn’t that seem like the way it should be? Parenting is so much more fun when I’m standing beside her and not behind the podium.

Who vs How

I woke up this morning thinking about the difference between who our children are and how they are/how they act.

The first thought that came to my mind was how we try to teach our children to be kind, to be generous, to be patient. And then I wondered if I was contradicting my own movement. If I’m trying to make my child be that type of person, am I trying to control who she becomes? It would seem that way.

But on the other hand, perhaps being kind and patient and generous isn’t about who they are so much as how they are in the world. After all, people who are not patient people can learn to practice patience. People who are not inherently generous can be inspired to practice generosity. Perhaps our job as parents isn’t to make them into generous people but to teach the people they already are to practice generosity. To encourage them to practice kindness. To inspire them to practice patience.

Or maybe the best gift we can give them is the awareness that they have a choice. They can choose what they want to practice. It may not feel like it comes naturally. It may not be easy. But they can always choose.

I have learned a lot about myself in the last four years. I am on a constant journey of discovering who “me” is. And as I learn, I find things that I am grateful for in myself. Passion. Awareness. And I find things that I wasn’t aware of. Desire for control. Impulsiveness. These things are part of who I am, but sometimes I let them control how I am. And the outcomes are sometimes unpleasant for myself or those around me. Realizing that I didn’t have to resent those parts of me was an enormous gift. I could acknowledge that I am impulsive. And then make a conscious choice to be thoughtful instead.

If I could give my daughter only two things in all the world, I would give her the curiosity to discover WHO she is, and the awareness to see that she can always choose HOW she is.

Lucky for me, she was already born with more curiosity than I could ever give her.




It has been a crazy summer, as perhaps was obvious from my lack of writing. We got married in July, we found out we were adding another member to our family, we bought a house and moved, I changed jobs from my full-time job of the last seven years to be a massage therapist at a local spa, traveled to Glenwood Springs by train and the zoo by car, and we booked a trip to Disney World.

Most people’s eyes get a little wide when I tell them about my summer. People I hadn’t seen in a while would say, “Congratulations!” and I would have to ask “For which part?” 🙂 It was a crazy whirlwind of big life changes, so I should have been incredibly stressed. And I was. But I also recognized that all the changes were leading me to the place I am writing this from: a peaceful little home that is perfect for our growing family, a schedule that allows me to read and write and be a mom, a husband who supports me and our family. A place where I have the space and energy to be conscious and reflective about my parenting. And isn’t that the point?

It’s good to be back. 🙂