Tonight when we got home, both kids had homework. For a change, Zander was further along — thanks to a new after-school arrangement with my mom that involves going to Kojay’s Cafe to drink hot chocolate and do homework while Zoe is at Girls on the Run.
Zoe had had a trying day. A special rock that she had been carrying around with her for days was confiscated by a teacher and thrown away. Sadly, this happened at Girls on the Run, which is meant to be a fun, empowering activity. My mom reported that when she picked Zoe up, Zoe was in tears. It sounded to me as though the teacher had acted impulsively and, perhaps, made a wrong move in taking Zoe’s prized possesion wtihout explanation or chance for redemption — not only taken it, but actually thrown it into the long grass where it couldn’t be found later.
Impulsive. I ran the word through my head as we drove home. It made me feel calm and superior. I was not impulsive. I could step back and assess a situation and act in a measured way rather than reacting without thinking.
Then came homework time. I helped Zander with the last problem on his math worksheet, a complicated logic problem that required several steps. Zoe had already finished her math and moved on to spelling. She reluctantly agreed to let me check her math worksheet. She assured me that she knew it was all correct. I went straight to the last problem. Sure enough, it was wrong — totally wrong — all five parts of the answer. But when I pointed this out to Zoe, she immediately, adamantly refused to correct it.
And what did I do? Was I calm and measured? Was I compassionate? Did I try another approach? No. I said things like, “Handing in work that’s wrong is no better than not doing it at all.” and “You have a responsibility to do your best work.” and probably worse. I was convinced that Zoe would not let me help her with her math because of her need for power and control. This made me feel angry and hopeless. I wanted to overpower her. I wanted to shame her into letting me help her. I wanted the math problem to be done correctly at all costs.
Everything that was going through my head and coming out of my mouth was exactly the opposite of what Positive Discipline is all about. Positive Discipline teaches parents to look for the hidden message behind children’s behavior and respond to that rather than to the immediate behavior. It counsels parents to step back from conflict because our primitive brains take over when we are in conflict, making it difficult to find a solution. It teaches us, above all, to be kind and compassionate to our children.
Over the weekend, I found myself seething with anger several times when the kids were fighting. I wasn’t using, or even thinking about, Positive Discipline skills and techniques. And now, on the very first day of a new school and work week, I had already lost it and behaved in a manner that made me feel guilty and ineffective.
Happily, though, Positive Discipline also focuses on learning from our mistakes and forgiving ourselves — not just giving lip service to this idea because it makes us feel better, but really, truly learning and, hopefully, showing our children how mistakes can be wonderful teachers. This is a hard one, I admit. I would much rather have a magic wand to wave away my bad behavior. But I’m working on it. I mean, really, what else can I do?
Tonight, Zoe and I have reconciled, at least temporarilly. She has agreed to look at the math problem with me after taking a break from her homework. I know we have not reached the end of this power struggle between us. Somehow, instead of cowering in dread and reverting to my most primitive parental behavior when confronted with her defiance, I need to rise to embrace this dynamic and change it. Wish me luck and courage.