I swear we've been sold a bad bill of goods on discipline. Authoritarian and Alternative alike agree: warn, state a consequence, carry through firmly and consistently. You're done. Lesson learned. Right?
Why didn't anyone tell our children about this?
For us, carrying through with a consequence is only the beginning of a prolonged, painful conflict in which we suffer hours of screaming and crying and threats and defiance at every turn -- because we did something to them. This steep escalation used to only be Gabriel's department, and he's still the master, but Julian's screeching despair punctuated by enraged insults upon carry-out of a consequence is also absolutely horrendous.
It's like there's just no way out. I'm so on edge that I find myself clenching my teeth before asking (firmly, clearly, simply, calmly, kindly, positively and all the right things) for one of the boys to do something. And it's not all bad, but it can turn bad at any moment.
This morning, Gabriel lost a valuable alarm circuit thing, because he wanted to bring it to school, but only said so as everyone was getting into the car. We've talked many times that if he wants to bring something to school for Sharing, that it needs to be ready to go (in a bag, in his knapsack etc). If it's not ready to go, it's not going. He was so angry that he had to be dragged into the car and was so rude and threatening to Dave that Dave called me and asked me to put the circuit away.
Tonight, Julian lost a craft puzzle because he wasn't cleaning it up, and when the consequence of it getting put away (really away) was carried through, he completely freaked. His shrieking and howling were so savage that I had to leave the house and take a walk around the block.
What are we supposed to do?!
I was so upset at Julian's freakout that I tackled it sort of head-on, by calling him upstairs and getting him ready for bed alone. I needed some good time with him, and we all needed him to have time apart from Gabriel. He was still very upset about the craft puzzle pieces, wailing that the pieces were lost. I knew they were really important to him. Out of nowhere, I heard myself say that the pieces weren't thrown away, they got put away in a closet because of rudeness....yeah, yeah, that's the ticket, a Rude Closet. They're in the Rude Closet to get given away to a kid who's not rude.
I couldn't believe his reaction: wide eyes and genuine fear. "Given away?"
"Given away, to polite kids." I thought about renaming it the Polite Closet, but it just didn't have the same tone (sorry, positive parenters). He chewed on this. "What if I promise not to be rude?"
I ran with it, a la Carrie Bradshaw, who did what any writer does when put on the spot: "pulled an idea out of my ass." "No, no, the Rude Closet doesn't understand promises, only politeness. For five straight days!" I also talked to him very matter-of-factly about all the backtalk and rude talk and how it's just not allowed, and why, but it was all Charlie-Brown-grownup wonk-wonk-wonk to him. The Rude Closet on the other hand....that sunk in.
To my amazement and not-so-secret delight, as the boys were finishing up getting ready for bed, Gabriel appeared downstairs, with the same wide-eyed fearful face. "Mom...I didn't know about the Rude Closet....is my alarm circuit in there?" He started to cry -- cry! -- when I said it was on its way to a kid who wasn't rude. "What if I'm not rude?" "Hmm, I don't know, can you do that?" We talked about how long it should be in there for, and he said he thought it should be for the number of days in a row he's been rude, forgetting that he'd admitted it'd been least 5 days in a row (and I was being really generous with that). "OK. I'll think about it and talk to Dad later." Dave and I actually cleared a shelf and put their confiscated toys up there, in plain sight, tonight.
I was completely making this up as I went along. How many days, and how to track a particular toy's liberation date, general sentencing guidelines, I haven't worked through yet. In general, putting things away has its limits: kids quickly realize that they have nothing to lose now, and can be even more obnoxious. And the threat/consequence of giving toys away is nothing new. But for some reason, the prospect of quarantine in the Rude Closet has yielded the first sign of contrition yet. The devilish details will surely bring reality crashing around my ringing ears tomorrow, but tonight, I'll relish a small victory.