Saturday, July 10, 2004

Things seen in a bowling alley

A family -- parents, grandparents, two small boys -- sit around a corner table waiting for their fish and chips and chicken strips. Smaller Boy reaches for tall glass of ice water, one of his favorite things in life, sips water and dips his hands in it fishing for ice cubes. Father of boy, concerned with the potential for laps full of very cold water, says mother's name to get her attention, which was already on boy and glass. Mother, responding to her husband's tone of voice, reaches for the glass and promptly knocks it over. Water and ice pour into the lap of Slightly Older Boy, who happens to have a strong aversion to even the smallest amount of water on his clothing, and must be stripped down to his underwear before he can sit down again to eat calmly.

Grandmother of boys comments to Mother, "Well, now you have something to write in your blog tonight!"

Now the question is, should I stop there? Or continue with the rest of the evening, which provided plenty of fodder for discussion of parenting philosophies?

Oh, what the heck.

So, here's the deal. We try our best to treat our boys as the human beings they are, to let them be kids and keep expectations reasonable, to speak respectfully, neither bossing nor condescending. And they respond accordingly.

Thus, it's really painful to be in public and see other children being treated as though they have not an ounce of common sense and no right to move or speak without permission. To hear a big person barking orders at a small person under the assumption that not to do so would... what? Turn him into a criminal? Be "bad parenting"? Embarrass the adult who is suppose to be in CHARGE of the child?

My own boys respond very well to polite requests. Unless they have a specific reason for not being able or willing to meet the request, they are very obliging. At 20 months old, Son #2 has never been expected to obey on command like a dog, and he does not like rude behavior on the part of adults. He, like most adults, likes to be asked nicely and to be allowed to move his own body in compliance. If you grab something from his hands you don't think he should have, you'll get some rendition of what is called a "temper tantrum." It is mainly the result of language limitations. Most adults would be angry if treated the same way, but they would be able to express those feelings verbally.

When the boys have a dispute -- often over a toy or bite of food one has taken from the other, I try first to calm down the Injured Party. I explain to the Accused the feelings of his brother (since they're not yet skilled at doing that themselves). And I encourage the IP to politely request the item back, or to find an alternative to offer in exchange. To me, this encourages the IP not to become a powerless victim, not to depend on an outside authority to solve all disputes ("Give him that toy back, right now!"), and to remain loving in conflict. The focus is on the one offended, not the offender, who is quickly disarmed and given a chance to empathize. Isn't this what the Bible teaches?

And yet, as I did this at the dinner table this evening, I was accused of letting the Taker of Chicken Bite be "in control." He was smiling as he took it, after all, and we all know that smiling is the first sign of guilty pleasure. And yet, the boys' solution to the problem (for the offender to remove the chicken from his mouth and return it to the offended to eat), after receiving my help, ended in peace. Trying to console the offended with another piece of chicken did not work. Wrenching the chicken from the offender would have been impossible without further injury. Punishing the offender would have ended in misery for all in the room, and would not have solved the offended's problem.

So, tell me, what do you think? Was justice served? Was the right lesson learned? I think my accusers assumed that the same boy does the taking each time, when I see it go both ways at home. They both have opportunity for repentence, forgiveness and reconciliation. Doesn't the Cross apply to children as well? What, exactly, is the point of punishment?

1 comment:

Cassandra S. said...

You thoroughly think things through! I have not, which is a HUGE fault I find within myself. This has already inspired me to better my parenting techniques. Thank you!

I wonder how many comments I will leave you tonight, and if you'll tire of reading :D I've decided to go ahead, I'm smiling with guilty pleasure....cackle cackle cackle :D

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