I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A limp carrot and a soft stick

My Dad used a pretty simple child discipline system - and not a terribly original one - of applying "the carrot or the stick?" question to just about everything. In his case, the stick was fairly literal in so far as it wasn't unusual for one of us to get whacked, and the carrot was pretty much the 'prize' of avoiding getting whacked. I can remember being called in to see my Dad and him saying, "I have two ways I can deal with this. The carrot, or the stick? Which one would you prefer?" - which was his attempt at governing by fear and making you immediately own up to whatever it is you had done. In my case, I didn't get into trouble much - never snuck out, did drugs, disobeyed, broke curfew or ran around with boys...I was boring in that respect, but my big mouth and inability to shut it are what mostly got me in trouble. (Big surprise there, right?)

This week I got a phone call from school about DS, who decided that being a disrespectful pain in the ass was a really good way to endear his teachers to him. Sadly his logic was somewhat flawed, hence why I got a phone call. The school was calling just to tell me about the situation, NOT because they wanted me to take some action specifically (and because my IL's, who volunteer at the kids' school, had seen DS spoken to by a teacher, and they did not want word to get back to me from a source I would not appreciate. Damn, that school is good.)

Anyway I thought about how to deal with this for a long while, and I went through the seven stages of pissed off parenting: Incredulity, Irritation, Resignation, Anger, Consternation and finally Sharpening of Verbal Knives. I eventually decided that I was going to be irritatingly NICE to DS, but that I'd perhaps give him my OWN version of the carrot and the stick.

We sat down, DS and I, and I told him a bit about my Dad's method, and how I didn't really like it all that much, so I was unlikely to use it on him (cue: sigh of relief.) I then went on to tell him that in every life decision we make, we can choose if that moment is going to be a carrot moment, or a stick moment. We are in charge of deciding how we're going to behave in any given situation, and we can decide which of those two things we want more of. I went on to explain to him (because he loves food, so I had to relate it somehow) that if you had a life filled with sticks, you might be warm but you'll go hungry. If you had a life filled with carrots, your belly will be full but you might also get a stomach ache from eating them all raw - so in food as in life, it's really about having the right recipe to keep things tasting great. I don't expect (nor do I want) a Stepford Child. I just want a kid who is pretty great most of the time, but human enough to be stupid or pissed off or silly once in a while...and having made that decision, owns up to his 'stick' moments and moves onto more carrot ones.

I didn't yell, stare at him with my laser eyes, lecture him or even make threats I cannot keep (which is one of my MOST hated parenting styles and it makes my hackles rise when I hear other parents doing it). I just calmly sat him down and he and I had quite a friendly chat. I made it clear that his behaviour was HIS choice, but so too are the consequences. I also pointed out that he has quite a lot of carrots already - and, blessed with such abundance, why on earth would he want to lose any of them? (Namely those carrots known as guitar lessons, Scouts, late night reading privileges and so on.)  To me anyway it seemed a little foolish to go swapping your carrots out for sticks.

He's a frighteningly clever kid (and not just because I think so) - so he understood me perfectly, including the very loud subtext of "I'm watching you, kiddo, so watch yourself. Closely." We got to the end of the story and I just left it with, "Listen, kiddo, I don't expect you to have a life of only carrots. You're just a kid, and even us adults do a whole lot of stupid things sometimes. The difference is when you do something stupid, be smart enough to accept the consequence, and then move on. Don't bury yourself under an entire pile of sticks. If nothing else it can be a little hard to breathe under there."

...and then we went onto revising for his vocabulary test. And life as we know it continues, and I can only hope that I got through to my boy.

This afternoon, I got a phone call at work. "MUM!" screeched DD2 (she needs to make a grand entrance, even in a phone call) "We're home! When are you coming home? Oh and DS says to tell you he had a carrot day with only one stick, but I KNOW what he did and I think that was TWO sticks worth!"

No points for guessing who the next kid to get the carrot and the stick talk will be. Being a dobber is a definite stick behaviour.

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