(Previously posted and published) Another oldie but a goodie. 🙂
My husband is a primary school teacher who uses a piano accordion (a creature lives and breathes in a big grey box, can you guess what it is?) and three monkeys to capture his students’ attention. Even the rough and tumble grade six boys aren’t ashamed to stop him in the school ground and ask what Nerk, Nerkette and Cousin Nokki have been up to on the weekend, and why does Nerk have a bandaged head they want to know? Nerk is the naughty and troublesome one and therefore everyone’s favourite. Once he has their interest, my husband says, they are his for the rest of the year, ready to learn to listen and most importantly ready to take instruction. At the beginning of each year there’s a bit of getting to know you happening, so they’re still a bit wary and he tries to balance a friendly persona with a teacher’s authority. The monkeys have done half his job for him and by the time the children realise that they have the power to disrupt, they’re in high school.
If you are a teacher, you work in a controlled environment. If you are parent and don’t like to smack to reinforce obedience what do you do? My husband is the first to admit that having seen him at his best and worst he will never be a mystery to his children. They found his stuffed toys and exotic stories entertaining but not enough to keep them entranced longer than it took to tell the tale. He says that by the time the class gets to know him and wise up to his methods, they move on to the next grade where they have to get used to a different set of rules. At home children tend to hang around for a couple of decades till you’re forced to turf them out. By that time they know all there is to know about you and it had better be good.
There’s a short term solution, but it is only effective as long as your children are shorter and weaker than you are. If you can pick them up, tuck them under one arm and haul them off into their bedrooms for time-out you’re in charge. The moment they can reciprocate you’re in trouble because the hormones have kicked in and you haven’t built up a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
The (open) secret to success is to use brains over brawn. My husband and I acted as a team to foil our offsprings’ attempts to play us off against each other. We agreed that no matter what the request we would not be influenced by ‘but dad (or mum) said yes’, there had to be a parental consensus. No snacks were allowed before dinner and homework came before television. Sleepovers were only for school holidays and pleas of why can’t I have an expensive electronic gizmo like my friend James, got a response of I’m not James’ mother / father.
Our children’s gripes often seemed trivial but we recognised that they were as important to them as ours were to us, so we paid them attention. Such important issues as why the older child got to stay up an extra hour before going to bed were resolved by discussion and negotiation. The older brother had more homework so an extra hour of leisure time was his privilege. The younger brother didn’t exactly like the end result, but knew that his turn would come and that he could expect the same fair outcome when he was in the right. On the other hand, being three years behind his brother in everything did have its frustrations.
Our children were not immune to loud sounds, just those that came from us. Speaking quietly forced them to stop their crash and burn games and listen. As repeating an instruction ends in a sore throat and a headache, and asking ‘how many times have I told you to put your toys away?’ only gets a shrug, we finally bought a box with a lock and put their favourite toys in it. Being deprived of their Mario Brothers hand held game for even one day seemed like forever but did wonders for their hearing and taught them about consequences. It also hardened us to pleas for mercy. We thought it was a good result all round.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep and keep your promise whether it’s in your favour to do so or not. If you take them to the dentist and say it won’t hurt, it had better not hurt. There’s something in the old saying about preferring the devil you know. In the end, being afraid of the unknown is a lot worse than knowing what to expect. If they have been absolute stinkers and you’ve previously promised to take them to the park keep your word. My children had squabbled all morning and into the afternoon. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to take them. Words of reproach and justification were trembling on my lips, but I had heard that although elephants never forget children are even better about remembering and using it against you. My sins were going to come back to bite me if I had reneged, I knew it. And they knew it.
I’d like to say that we turned out perfect children. But how can imperfect parents who are constantly learning on the job do anything more than their best, then cross fingers and hope it all turns out? Even now that we are empty nesters we’re surprising ourselves about how much we still have to learn. I will admit that our boys have turned into perfectly nice adults who are good to their parents and each other. And at the risk of sounding like one of those advertisements you see in the local paper for lovelorn singles seeking each other out, my children drink in moderation, don’t smoke and they don’t go out looking for trouble. They are respectable citizens raising the next generation in the family tradition of discipline, exotic stories about naughty monkeys and mysterious creatures that live in grey boxes