Yesterday I had an interesting discipline situation with Babu while we were out in the city. We were at our favorite veggie restaurant / meditation center, as we often are (Babu loves to run around and flirt with everyone, and stop when he sees a Buddha statue and go "Booooo-DAH"). They have this fountain there that is a big stone ball spinning round in a base of water. Since he was about 6 months old Babu has loved this fountain. Now that he's talking and one of the main themes of his life (in addition to nursing ["booboo"] and cars ["Auto"]) is playing with a ball, he gets especially excited around this fountain ("Ball! Ball! Ball!"). The fountain sits in a little basin filled with pebbles and little stones. In the past Babu would take the stones out and drop them around and we'd have to run after him and pick them back up. That alone would be reason for discipline in some parents' minds ("Stop touching those stones!"), but for us that is just what babies do and no big deal.
Well, now that Babu is a toddler with his own ideas and an insatiable curiosity, he has reached the phase of seeing how fun it is to throw stuff. Most meals involve plenty of food tossing, which is especially hilarious when one of us offers him something and tries to hand it to him ("Babu, you want a piece of cheese?") and he proceeds to grab it and throw it as far as possible to the side to indicate "No thanks". Dontcha just wish it were socially acceptable for adults to do that sometimes? It would be fun! Just imagine taking a bite of cake and realizing it tastes horrible, and then hurling the whole piece across the room and saying "YUUUUK!". What an expression! Anyway, Babu had a playdate with his best buddy the other day and this same age friend of his is in a throwing phase. He was tossing everything about and we had to take away some of the wood toys as they become clobbering weapons in this little guy's eager-to-throw hands. Well, that very evening I noticed Babu throwing some of his toys around in the exact way his buddy had been doing. These behavioral phases are like viruses. Kids see each other behaving in a certain way and think "Hey, that might be fun to try out, how 'bout it?" It's part of their growth to experiment, and it's natural and beautiful.....and annoying, when it involves making a huge mess, screaming, and/or possible bodily or emotional harm to a person or animal.
Enter the responsible parent, whose job it is to kindly and lovingly redirect said child, as well as somehow find a way teach them "We don't do that". Both of these elements ~the redirection and the teaching~ are tricky. Particularly the teaching, as a 16 month old has a very limited brain and can only comprehend so much. In fact, the very idea of "Don't" is too abstract for a toddler. Yet how often do we say "We don't do that" or "No"?.
Now, as a good AP mama, I followed the "Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting" principle of Attachment Parenting by reading loads of books and articles about every aspect of parenting. I have several discipline books (a couple faves are Discipline Without Distress by Judy Arnall, Playful Parenting by Lawrence J Cohen, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey, and the books reviewed in previous posts) and felt pretty prepared to handle the typical situations that arise with toddlers.
So what happened yesterday was that Babu was sitting by the fountain (actually he was more in the fountain) enjoying the ball, when he decided those pebbles and stones would be great fun to throw about. And so the great fountain stone toss began! At first I was taking them out of his hands and saying "We don't throw stones Babu", "The stones belong in the fountain". But that's like telling the sun "We don't rise in the east". Then I remembered the sage advice of most AP / Positive / Gentle Discipline teachers and parents that you're supposed to, rather than stop the impulse to do whatever it is they're doing (which can be invasive to the child as well as squelching their natural life energy), set up a situation where it's safe and acceptable to keep doing it. So, for example, when a kid is coloring on the walls, you're supposed to put up a huge roll of paper where they can color, or even designate a wall in their room for coloring (which I think is a great idea actually, what do I care if the walls in Babu's room are crayon-covered?). Now, Babu being obsessed with balls, I usually have one handy. Especially the last couple days since he's been experimenting with throwing, I try to have a ball on hand at all times and in every room of the house. So, I whipped out the ball, feeling like such the awesome Gentle Discipline Mama. "Here Babu, throw this". He did throw it, and then took another handful of stones right away and threw that. D'oh! I guess it's kind of like if you wanted to dance to really hard rock music and someone else thought it was too loud and hectic, and said "I see you want to dance, good! Here, let me put on some soft New Age music, you can dance to that". Yeah right! We went through that routine a few times and I realized that was not going to work. And I was trying so hard not to get upset, even though I was actually really annoyed. Aha! Here I was, in one of those situations I'd only read about up until then. I really didn't want to throw my annoyance on Babu, it wouldn't be fair. He was just being a child, curious about the feeling and effect of throwing stones around. Not to mention trying to assert some power in a world where he has very little control. How can I blame him for that? Hell, if I were small and people were always picking me up and moving me around and running my whole life for me without my consent, I'd be pretty eager to show power and control wherever I could. It's not fair to get angry at a child for being this way. However, we are humans and it is downright frustrating when your child is doing something dangerous and won't stop. It's also frustrating that they keep doing it and won't listen and, dare I say that evil word, obey. The last thing I want is to create a child who always listens and does what he's told, blindly following authority (it reminds me, when asked what the worst German characteristic was, Goethe said "obedience"). I want to nurture the qualities of thinking for oneself and questioning authority. But uh-oh, I am the authority figure here, so guess what that means?
Okay I see that I'm blathering here and I want to close it up, so here's the end of this story: I realized I had to use the old tactic of removing the child from the situation. I was expecting him to scream and protest and thrash about, but he actually didn't. I did a double hit of removal and distraction (I can't remember what I distracted him with actually, probably a car) and ta-daaaa, that was the solution. And even if he had pitched a little fit about being removed, I would've done the validation thing: "You want to play by the fountain and I'm taking you away, I know how frustrating that must be" and fully allowed him to feel his anger and frustration...and luckily not feel ashamed of this as some parents do in public (well, I would've if anyone gave me a nasty look actually...hence the tip to never look at other people when your kid is throwing a fit in public) because this particular place we were at tends to attract the type of people who understand and won't judge a child for showing emotions (aka the spiritual / meditation crowd). If it had gotten really bad I probably would've taken him for a walk until he calmed down. But, lucky me, we somehow averted a major incident. This time.