Monday, November 24, 2014

"Make That Child Behave"

My nephew is hitting the threes pretty hard. He is prone to long and loud temper tantrums which are sometimes triggered by nothing in particular. And did I mention he is L-O-U-D? Quite loud.

Yesterday at church while Marian and I found ourselves again in the narthex because she was feeling especially chatty, my sister joined us because her son, the three year old, was having a similar problem. By the end of Mass he had descended into a loud, screaming ball of toddler that had to first be removed out of the sanctuary, then out of the narthex into a nearby classroom, and finally out of the building. He was extra, extra loud where the communion meditation and final blessing were punctuated by the sound of his muffled screaming. My sister pretty much kept her cool through the whole episode, but she made a remark afterwards that I thought was worth passing along.

She and I have had a few discussions around this notion of French parenting. She said that if they had been at home, she would have treated the run up to the giant temper-tantrum a lot differently. She would have spent more time ignoring the leading behavior instead of rewarding it by attempting to redirect it and then physically removing him. All of the actions taken played into his bid for attention, which she knew as she took them, but she wasn't sure what else to do. Her remark was that it is hard to consistently apply a discipline technique which relies heavily on praising good behavior and ignoring bad behavior when the prevailing parenting culture expects you to make that child behave right now! when you are out in public. She couldn't ignore certain behaviors in public because the people around her would not be ignoring the behaviors. She said it would be much easier to implement the technique if the general culture accepted it as a reasonable approach and ignored the behavior as well. But that's not what happens here so she has to make adjustments out in public for the comfort of the people around her even though, through the eyes of a three year old, it screams inconsistency and opportunity for mischief.

So any thoughts about this dichotomy between private disciple and public expectations?


bearing said...

Only that I know very well what she means.

One thing that I think is helpful, if only internally, is to accept that private and public discipline (and self-discipline) don't have to look the same. I reject the notion that you should put on a display of harshness for the satisfaction of annoyed onlookers. But you also can take the comfort of others into account when you decide the best way to deal with a behavior. My tactic in church, when it's up to me, is to whisk the child quickly to a very boring place, such as a stairwell or bathroom stall, where there is some privacy. In a pinch, out to the car. Once there, you can deal however you wish.

Some mothers find it effective to turn discipline over to Dad whenever out in public, however he sees fit. For some reason, nobody ever gives Dad the stinkeye, no matter what he chooses to do. O_o

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add a hearty Amen to this post! Church is the hardest possible place to discipline. I am generally so uncomfortable with bothering others that I whisk away. Contrary to what old ladies say, it does not take "just once" leaving a full grocery cart to teach a child not to scream at Kroger.

*Alan Kazdin (Yale Center for Parenting) has great strategies for developing this by practice sessions if you are ever looking for a good audiobook.