Monday, April 21, 2008

Books as Currency

Bryn is a complete delight 90% of the time. With that kind of record, Beau and I are ALWAYS shocked when she has a bonafide three-year-old moment. We regularly forget that she is still learning right from wrong, how to make good decisions, that bad decisions have consequences, that she doesn't always get her way, etc.

To date, all the discipline that she has really required is--what amounts to--a "stern talking to" (in Southern-speak). More recently it has dawned on her that she has to be a willing participant for these little chats to be effective. She has taken to the "courtesy" of announcing when she doesn't plan on being a willing participant (although that typically doesn't go well). The conversation usually goes like this:

Mom/Dad: "Bryn, come here. we need to talk about how you are acting right now."

Bryn: "I don't WANT to talk to you!" (or the nominee for most creative variation: "I don't want to listen to your words!!")

Exasperated parent takes a deep breath--knowing where this is heading--and escalates to "oh, yes, you will" posturing. Then out come the big guns--what will happen if she proceeds on the path she's chosen. And here's where it becomes very clear that she doesn't have a firm grasp on consequences.

We've elected not to spank, so our options are to take away things or opportunities that she holds dear. Sometimes there is an event that she is really looking forward to, but usually our go-to is books. (NOTE: as an educator who firmly believes in the importance of a book-rich environment, this is a constant struggle for me. But you harvest where there's fruit, right?)

Sometimes, I try to ward off a fit by bargaining with bedtime books. Our usual routine is two books before lights out. If she is being uncooperative/defiant, I'll (politely) warn her that if she doesn't pull it together, we'll only have time for one book (or heaven forbid, zero books). The unfortunate part of this strategy is I don't have much wiggle room when I count down from 2 because when we move to only reading 1 book, she keeps up the protests about "But I want TWO books!!!" (Which, for those of you paying attention, is exactly the opposite of the reaction I'm hoping for.) So then, all her arguing about two books (whose ship has sailed) leads me to explicitly state--again--that she now has the choice of one book or zero books, and that she is making the choice by the way she is acting and talking to me. Usually, the continued argument about two books requires that I take away all books. (Which, of course, IMMEDIATELY makes one book the thing she wants more than anything in life....but at that point, even the one book has sailed.) As mentioned earlier, sending a child to bed with no books is bordering on un-American and inhumane, but my thinking is---she had fair warning and continued with poor choices.

Last night she chose so poorly with behavior so unacceptable that we had to skip all bargaining, going straight to zero books. Straight out of the bath, to bed, no books. Oh, my goodness. You would have thought we had cut off a finger or something. She was nearly inconsolable. She tried to say "sorry" to undo her actions, but this was not a "that's okay, honey" situation. We thought it warranted making a more explicit statement about consequences. It's great that you are sorry, but there are always consequences to what you choose to do. That's a good life lesson, right? So, "we love you, but no books."

Instead of books, we just said a prayer. Bryn wanted to do it "allbymyself" (her new favorite phrase), so through the tears about not reading books she offered this gem of a prayer....

"Dear God, Please help me to slow down all the crying. Amen."

And all the people said....Amen to that.

PS: I was in the kitchen when Bryn woke up. She came downstairs with two books and asked sweetly, "Can you read these two books to me now?"

1 comment:

Wendy said...

I already told you on the phone how hilarious this is to me, but I thought I'd leave a comment as well since I've read this a couple of times now and howled with laughter each time.

Oh, and I tagged you on my blog.