I’m about to tell you one of my most favorite parenting decisions I’ve ever made. No, it’s not the hidden sock basket, though that is one of my favorites. (FYI: Kids don’t put dirty socks in the laundry basket. But they DO put them in the secret hidden sock basket in the living room. Because it’s a secret basket. Like a treasure chest…but with dirty socks.)
One of my most favorite parenting decisions is to make a deal. Have you ever tried letting your kids in on the discipline/consequence process? I don’t do it with everything, obviously, but there are certain issues that are resolved much easier and quicker when I let my kids in on creating the consequences.
One day awhile ago I was extremely tired of Micah’s whining. I had tried everything to stop it, and my ears were bleeding. Finally, quite by accident, I said to him, “Micah, I can’t handle your whining anymore! What are we going to do to get you to stop?!” And he replied, “Well, Mommy, maybe I just have to hop around the circle every time I do it.”
I honestly didn’t think it would work, especially because none of my very smart and perfectly thought out consequences had helped. But I was desperate, so we tried it. Every time those whinies came out, all I said was, “Hop the circle” in response, and he immediately got up, hopping like a rabbit all the way through the kitchen, down the hall, and back to me. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he dropped it and hopped. Let me tell you what, it worked like a charm! By the time he got back to me, not only was he out of breath to even try whining, but he couldn’t remember why it was worth whining about to begin with. Plus, it made me laugh.
And since then, whenever there is a non-serious issue that I can’t make a breakthrough in, I invite them to help me. We strike a deal: you help create the consequence, I help enforce the consequence, we all abide by the rules of the consequence. See, it seems to me that when I hand over some of the control in creating the rule, they take more ownership over it and more initiative in following it. They also seem to follow it easier and quicker when I’m not there to enforce it because part of it has come from their hearts.
For example, Norah loves her long hair. Loves Loves Loves. But she HATES when I brush it or pull it up, or wash it, for that matter.
This is an old picture, but this is her real bed head, my friends. This is real trouble. So we struck a deal. IF she lets me wash her hair the night before, she gets to wear it down. IF she doesn’t let me wash her hair, I pull it up, and she gets to pick the barrette. We both follow the rules of this deal, and she gets all the choosing. No more struggle.
Another deal we have is Pennies at Dinner. I’m not sure if this happens at your house, but dinner chairs at my house apparently contain secret springs that shoot my children out of them as soon as they sit down. No amount of convincing keeps my kids sitting. So we struck a deal. It goes like this: you, child, get five pennies. Each time you get down, you give me one. If you go through dinner with all five pennies, you get to buy a candy from me. If you lose all five pennies, you get to have trouble.
“Pennies! CANDY!” yell my children.
“SIT!” yells their mother.
And they sit. And to date, Micah has never lost a penny, and Norah has only ever lost two. (And for the record, a candy is equivalent to one chocolate chip or one miniature candy cane. My poor, poor children. They have no idea how minuscule that is.)
I’m really into teaching my kids responsibility and obedience from the heart. I want them to know that rules are for reasons, like keeping them safe or keeping the family running smoothly, not just because mom likes to be mean. So in handing them partial control for non-serious issues, they get to evaluate the situation, be creative in coming up with possible solutions, and recognize the need for the rule to begin with. When they do this, it helps them to feel the responsibility for follow-through on their own. They’re not just going to get in trouble for disobeying, they’re actually letting themselves down because they know internally that they are doing something wrong. They get to experience the natural consequences of not following the rules.
The wonderful thing for me in all this is that I get to simply follow the rules too. It takes the power struggle out of it because we came up with it together. When Norah lost those two pennies, she didn’t want to give them to me. I geared myself up for a battle, but when I said, “Norah, that’s the deal, remember? Every time you get up, you give me a penny. That’s just how it goes with Pennies at Dinner,” she begrudgingly gave me two pennies, without a fight.
Sometimes the deals don’t work, so we throw them out. But when we hit on a good one that helps solve an issue that’s causing everyone frustration, we all win. And we all grow through the issue, eventually coming out of needing it all together. Micah never hops the circle anymore, and I’ve stopped saying, “Hop the circle!” in my sleep.