The art of discipline, I find, treads a delicate balance between draconian finger pointing and liberal indulgence. Between castigation and permissiveness. The (good) text books and psychologists applaud firm boundary setting, and I agree, for children feel safe and emotionally held when they buffet against the parental limitations of 'no', 'I've already warned you once', and 'you do that again and I'm switching off Rastamouse.' Consequences teach the invaluable lessons of cause and effect, Hindus and Buddhists, I believe, call this Karma.
I like to think that I am flexible in my approach to boundary setting, that I pick my battles carefully, that daily raids of the fridge or an extra episode of Timmy Time aren't worth raised words. I like to think that if I give a little, my will full offspring might reciprocate in kind. And this seems to work (most of the time), Little A being hesitantly malleable to requests of 'socks off', 'shoes on', 'books back on the shelf' (please).
But yesterday afternoon was different. Yesterday, I had to dish out some 'proper' discipline...
The scene was set a squash and a squeeze before teatime. Little A sat perched on my lap, facing me, at the kitchen table.
"Mummy can I do some painting?"
"No, I'm sorry sweetheart, it's tea time in ten minutes."
And with my response, Little A's eyes began to water, her face began to redden, to contort with toddler fury, and then, without a blink, a small hand administered a stinging slap, nay, whack, that planted itself on my right cheek bone catching the hollow of my eye. BIG. ALMIGHTY. OUCH. I loudly mirrored (screamed) my displeasure at her behaviour...
"Little A you really, really hurt mummy. Say sorry."
"Right, then it's time out on the thinking cushion."
"No! No! I don't want to sit on the thinking cushion."
"I'm sorry Little A, but that's where we're going."
So I packed her up, and took her forthwith downstairs, down to the cushion on the floor in mummy and daddy's bedroom. The thinking cushion only presents itself in times of physical outbursts - there haven't been many but recently Little A has begun testing her physical nerve, again.
On the way, there was a request for the potty. Mid flow, a sobbing Little A apologised in earnest. I wanted to say okay, to cuddle her with pants and trousers concertinaed around her ankles. But I knew I had to follow through. So I gently acknowledged that I'd heard her sorry. But, I had said it was the thinking cushion. So the thinking cushion we must go...
I firmly held a wriggling, resistant Little A on the cushion, wrapping my limbs around her body. She remained on the cushion for two minutes (she's two years old). Then I explained to her why we had done this. That we don't hit, nip or scratch other people (and certainly not mummy). That I could see I'd angered her when I said 'no' to paint. But that we still don't lash out when we can't have something. And that, importantly, she'd caused me pain, and must say sorry (again).
And a big fat hug ensued.
In the aftermath I felt unsettled, upset, a bad parent. Although I know it's often necessary, it always saddens me when I have to play bad cop. Boundary setting and disciplining is a fine art, made all the more challenging by the anger it fires in me when Little A misbehaves. Sometimes it's like taming two beasts. It really is an aspect of parenting I don't enjoy, that I feel quite unsure about, that I will have to increasingly engage with, no doubt, the older Little A becomes... (minefield).
So how do you handle discipline?