Discipline is not something I am good at. It is my ultimate parenting black hole, the unknowable, unseeable, unfathomable mystery at the very heart of bringing up a child. I fundamentally believe that my children are little human beings, who are working out how the world works, what it all means, how people interact with each other and feel about each other, and they’re trying to do that with immature brains that have a lot of growing still to do. That sounds pretty challenging to me. I want all of that learning to come from a central view that the world is good and loving, trustworthy and hardworking, collaborative and respectful. And I want them to learn that from how their parents behave. I absolutely do. I want them to know that their emotions are valid, that they don’t need to be ashamed of them. I want them to know that they have total control of their own bodies. I want them to know that their opinion counts and that if they don’t agree with something then they should speak out and fight for what they believe is right. I realise that their behaviour is affected by whether they’re hungry, thirsty, tired, anxious, unsettled, lonely. I can see that they are constantly assimilating new information and testing it out through role play and pushing boundaries, like intrepid scientists.
But sometimes I would just really, really, really like them to do what I ask them, the first time, without whinging at me, or screaming at me, and just say “of course I will Mummy” whilst smiling beautifully at me.
Recently we have all seemed particularly tired, mainly from this awful lingering tail of winter that seems to be interminable, and its regular doses of winter bugs. And we all seem at a low-ebb, with little patience and far too much bickering, sniping, snapping, sulking, shouting, and sarcasm. And that’s just me!
In theory, we don’t do discipline. Not in the traditional sense of the word. There are no time-outs or confiscated toys, no withheld privileges or cancelled treats due to bad behaviour. In theory. Recently there have definitely been punishment driven no-TV days. The next two days will in fact be exactly that. I don’t feel comfortable with this at all, but sometimes a desperate person does things they’re not comfortable with. My aim is to have established rhythms to the day, clearly stated expectations of acceptable behaviour, consistent boundaries, with repetition, explanation and good role modelling. But there are times when it just feels like banging my head against a brick wall. And sometimes I just want to shut her in the bathroom so I can just have two seconds away from her, without her screaming at me just so I can hear my brain think and get control of myself enough to calmly reinforce those boundaries once again. And incredibly rarely, recently, that is exactly what I have resorted to doing. And at those moments I know that I have lost control, that I am not teaching her anything positive, that this is fundamentally not how I want to parent, not how I want her to learn the lessons life needs to teach her.
Today, today I managed to do better. After resorting to an enforced two day TV ban, with her behaviour continuing to escalate out of my control despite this, she was about to deliberately smash my cup as an expression of her anger, I managed to calm myself down, pick her up and remove her from the situation. We went to the spare room, acknowledged that she was really angry, that it was ok to feel angry, good to have those emotions, but we needed to do something with all that angry energy. I suggested having a big shout, or to do some angry scribbling, but instead she suggested I dangled her upside down (one of her favourite positions!) and between me and her we wriggled and shook all the angry energy out until it was replaced by giggles. And then she felt able to look in the calm down basket.
The calm down basket has had many manifestations. At one point, during my pregnancy, when the daily tantrums seemed to last the majority of each day and rage filled her life, we had an entire calm down den, consisting of a black-out tent where we could totally remove the rest of the sensory world which was perpetually seeming to overwhelm her. There have been special blankets to wrap her in and drinks and snacks to feed her, a journal to draw her feelings and for me write what is making her feel that way, yoga cards, a little MP3 player with calming songs, but today, this was in our basket:
We have books helping discuss emotions, we have balls with bells she can chime and bang, a mind jar filled with glitter and water to help model her maelstrom of emotions slowly settling. There is rescue remedy and magnesium salt spray to rub on her skin. There is a lovey with lavender essential oil and a wooden bird to hold in her hand and stroke. Pens and scrap paper to get those emotions down on paper. Sometimes it works perfectly. Today it did. Other times it’s just another way of banging my head against a brick wall. But I think that maybe I should start modelling the behaviour I want, and when my emotions start overwhelming me and I feel like I’m losing control, I think I might go and spend some time with the calm down basket myself. Think maybe I could do with it!