We resently went to a kids’ arcade/restaurant, and when my children ran out of tokens, they had huge tantrums in the middle of the place. I’ve heard that I should make my children be responsible for their own behavior, but how do you get them to do that? How do you teach that? Would logical consequences be appropriate to use for a child that is grade-school age? How do you let a larger child have his big feelings without damaging someone or something? And how do you enforce consequences, natural or logical, when your child is in the midst of such emotion? I just wanted to get in the car and go home!!!
I do want to say that I don’t like to talk about “logical consequences” until children are older (over 10, and really more into the adolescent years), but love the way Jane Nelson, in her book Positive Discipline, has changed her wording to talk about “solutions.” This is what I have always believed in – a proactive approach for handling or preventing the situation next time. So, if a 10-year-old doesn’t come in when it’s time without a big stink, maybe next time he needs to stay inside and not have the opportunity to not be successful at coming in. When he is ready to take responsibility for his attitude and cooperation about coming into the house, he is ready to try again to show me he is ready for that privelage and responsibility.
I have a problem with the idea in our culture that children are entitled to things. No one is entitled to anything. As my children grow in maturity, I give them more opportunities to be successful at new and expanding things. When I overestimate their readiness, I pull back and reconsider. Because I want to set them up for success, I don’t want to ask more of them than they are ready for. And I have explained to them that privileges come with responsibilities. Until they are ready to handle the responsibilities, they aren’t ready to handle the privileges.
One thing I’ve struggled with is handling these situations with my oldest when I wasn’t convinced he fully grasped the situation. He’s turning six on Tuesday, and I finally feel that his emotional and mental development are somewhere near evened out. My job is not to rescue him – from either his feelings or the circumstances that created them. My job is to help facilitate teaching him how to handle his feelings and the circumstances that created them.
Yesterday was the combined birthday party for my son and two of his friends. It was so much fun! One of the things he received from my mother was the one thing he asked for: a bow and arrow set. Now, it was a cheepy and she apologized (they were out of the nicer set she had wanted to give him), but she bought it so that he’d have a gift and said we could exchange it for the nicer one if we wanted. Since he also got a little set from the dollar store, this was what we were going to do. After both he and his friend asking about 100 times if they could open it up, and having it explained to them repeatedly why they may not, they got it out this morning to sword fight with the arrows. Of course one of the arrows broke; the speed and ease with which it broke tells me the first time it hit the target against something hard it was going to shatter.
My son had so many big feelings and ideas and excuses. “It was my friend’s idea. He made me do it.” “It was the arrow he was holding that broke. It’s his fault.” “We can tape it and give it back to the store.” And big big tears, too. He kept saying it wasn’t “fair” and when I told him it was fair, he burst into tears because “I don’t know what fair means.”
So, I explained:
- Grandma gave good money to the store for a good toy.
- We were going to give the good toy back to the store and get the good money
- We were going to put that good money with a little more good money and buy
- a better toy.
- Now we don’t have a good toy to give them back for good money anymore.
- He had been told not to play with it.
- Asher had wanted to play with it.
- He didn’t say no, therefore, he disobeyed me and he allowed Asher to lead him into something he had been told was wrong to do.
- He played with it.
- It broke.
- He made a choice and needs to be responsible for it.
He wasn’t happy about any of this, but understood. And at that point, it was about letting him have his feelings, while telling him he needed to settle down because I wasn’t going to be abused by them. With the limit combined with a little redirection, he was fine.
I actually consider it totally unreasonable that the toy broke so easily. He knows we’re returning another gift to that store and wants to get the nicer arrow set with that (and some of his birthday money), so I am going to take the toy in and explain the situation and see what they do. But I wasn’t about to drive home the lesson that you can do anything you want and expect someone else to clean up your mess. Yet, as his mother, I am going to try and help clean this one up (and teach the store a lesson in selling cheap toys for little children at way more than they are worth). He’s still disappointed, but I think he learned the lesson.
In your situation, the lesson your children faced was this: “You can spend money on anything you want, but you can only spend it one time.” In our family, we actually have rules for “kid game places” that include this same lesson: “You may spend your money however you want. You may not complain to me about the way you choose to spend your money.” Because there won’t always be someone there with another quarter, I’d would not have offered that. I would consider offering “grace” by going next week if the tantrum was an unusual behavior expression. But I consider this lesson really important since I didn’t start learning it until my late 20s.
The logical consequence is, they regretted the way they chose to spend their money. The lesson? Make a different choice next time. The result, they were frustrated and disappointed. But the behavior is where the problem is.
Another example: the other day we went on a walk to the park, and on the way home my son found a golf ball. He wanted to use it in his homemade sling shot. I told him that wouldn’t work and was telling him that he couldn’t bring it inside. Before I got to, “You may keep it outside and play with it,” he impulsively threw it on the other side of a locked chain-link gate. When he realized what I was going to say, he started crying about how much he wanted it back.
There wasn’t anything I could/would do about that, so I kept walking. He wasn’t going to walk anymore, but when I continued walking, he caught up. He wasn’t going to talk to me or listen, but when I refused to get drawn into his upset, he did. I just kept walking and told him, “You need to own your own upset.” In fact, we talked about the saying, “Misery loves company,” and I explained that when people are feeling bad they like to do things that make other people feel bad, too, so that they won’t be all alone. I explained that I wasn’t going to let him do that to me. “I choose to be in a good mood.” He chose to be upset.
And I was talking to him about how that was benefiting him (Did he enjoy being miserable? Would he consider choosing to embrace the reality that he had acted impulsively and he could learn to think more before he acted next time?) and guess what we found on the side of the road ? Another golf ball! So then we got to talk about how he had wasted his time and energy throwing the fit. And I explained that this happens a lot in life – where we get second chances, and one thing we try harder at next time is not reacting in a way we will only regret later. It was truly a teachable moment!
And that’s how I’m trying to look at situations like this – teachable moments. What can he learn from the situation that he’s ready to learn? What lesson do I want him to start learning now so he’s not learning it when he’s in his 30s?