DISCIPLINING a child is probably one of the most difficult parts of parenting. I have slowly learned that it’s not something that can be brandished in a black-and-white fashion. Rather, it requires that you recognise each small nuance and every shade of grey present in each situation, before trying to address these in a reasonably sensitive manner. This is, of course, not always easy when you are stressed out, struggling to strike a balance between a career or calling (of any shape and sort) and caring for a young family.
I recently left a new lipstick that I had bought using some hard-earned income on our dining table. My little man’s sharp eyes spotted it very quickly, and he volunteered to help me put it away. I was very pleased with his initiative, and he was chuffed at my acknowledgement. Ever since he was tall enough to peer into the mirror above my bathroom sink, he has been curious about lipsticks; fascinated by how I apply them every morning.
I should have seen what was coming next but, of course, I didn’t.
Cut to the next scene where my almost four-year-old was standing in front of a harried trying-to-rush-out-a-piece-of-writing me, smiling and sporting some not-so-masterfully applied lipstick strokes, saying, “Mummy, look!”
Before going into the usual Discipline Mum Mode, I heard my husband’s voice in my head reminding me to be a little kinder to our kids in such situations, and I caught myself before reacting. I allowed myself a giggle, and we both shared a little laugh. I told him to put the lipstick where it belonged, patting myself on the back for having handled the situation so positively.
My little one went off again for a rather long while and returned with a large Joker-like clown mouth (the villain from Batman), painted in with the whole of my brand new lipstick, used crayon style.
Naturally, I was very unhappy and what ensued involved a lost temper and lots of tears. However, when I calmed down and looked back, I realised I had encouraged the situation by sending mixed messages by laughing that first time, and not firmly stating that playing with lipsticks was not allowed. My heart ached a little when he later explained why he did it – “I did it because, mummy, I want to be just like you.”
This mummy learned a valuable lesson that day. Children sometimes do things that don’t seem to make any sense initially, but when you delve deeper, the reasons make perfect sense. They respond and react to what we do, say and show them through an action, a word, smile or even a frown. They are trying to learn the rules of daily living through us. We often think that they try to make life hard for us, but we forget that it is actually really hard for them, too.
I love an article (http://boston.citymomsblog.com/motherhood/its-hard-for-them-too/) I read recently on this topic. The author puts it beautifully: “… each time I put myself in the shoes of a young child I come to the same conclusion: Not a single one of us adults could cope with the things they have to cope with.
“For starters, think about being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it – endlessly. Eat this thing that you’ve never seen before. Don’t make a rude face (what does rude mean?). It’s time to go somewhere you don’t want to go, and hurry, hurry, hurry to meet an arbitrary timeline that means nothing to you.
“Imagine failing as much as a young child does. Not being able to make your hands move the right way to cut the paper, stumbling as you run across the lawn, spilling the milk you so desperately wanted to pour.”
It must be terrible when the person you live with and love the most controls your life like a ruler in a totalitarian regime.
I am starting to realise that not every non-conforming deed is a naughty act of disobedience that calls for discipline.
Our children meet each day with excitement and enthusiasm, enjoying every discovery, poking and prodding, and testing each set boundaries. I try to remind myself daily that instead of putting a damper on their curiosity, I really should try to match their energy and eagerness to try new things, and take new risks. Hopefully, it can also re-awaken my own now-dormant sense of wonder, help me see the world with fresh eyes again, and find the fun in doing simple everyday things.