Close calls

I love the phrase “What will it take…” It rivals “Yes, as soon as …” and “Would you be willing …” on my list of most powerful language tools. I’m pretty sure it saved us from the rabbit hole this morning.

We had our second family meeting and all went well. Everyone wanted the same job as last week. (This time Charlotte opened the meeting with a musical Jack-in-the-box. She cranked the handle and when the toy popped out, the meeting had begun. She loved it.) Ellen was the treasurer again and after appreciations, she handed out the allowance. Charlotte ended the meeting and we went about our day. Soon, however, I heard this:

“Charlotte! Give it back!” “No, I want the one with the purple five.” “But that’s mine! You took it. You have to give it back!” “No.” Ellen was anxious, but not yelling. I glanced over and saw Charlotte folding the 5-dollar-bill into a little ball and Ellen helplessly watching. “Moooooom! She won’t give it back! It’s mine and now she’s folding it up and ruining it!” Charlotte looked at me. “Mom? Do I go back to zero if I don’t give something back?” “Um. Well, what I see is the two of you working on a problem pretty respectfully,” I said, and walked away. They continued along the same lines for a few minutes. Ellen was on the verge of tears, and just then I heard the magic words come out of her mouth: “Charlotte, what will it take for you to give that back to me?” Charlotte thought for a minute and then said, “Um … for you to give me five of your ones for this five.” “Ok!” said Ellen. They happily made the trade, and the problem vanished. I walked right over to them. “Girls. I just saw you solve a difficult problem and there was no yelling and no hitting and no name calling.” “Mom, go away,” said Ellen with a smirk, not looking up from counting her money. I did, with a big smile.

Later I went for a walk and Charlotte wanted to come with me. We had a nice time and Charlotte brought her new camera and took lots of pictures. On the way back she asked if we could stop at the neighbor’s pond and catch a frog. “Well, I need to get back in time for supper. So how about we stop and look for frogs for five minutes and then head home?” “Ok!” she said. Five minutes came and went. We had found a large pollywog and lots of salamanders, but no frogs. “Time to go!” “No!” she said. “Yep, we agreed on five minutes.” “Okaaaay … Mom, will you please get my camera?” she said and walked over to her shoes. I picked up her camera and walked to the other side of the pond. “Oh no, now I have to wash my feet!” She walked back to the water and stuck her feet in. “Ohhh! Look at the cutie salamanders!” I could feel my blood-pressure rising. “Charlotte, this is taking a long time. If you don’t do what you say then I can’t let you come with me.” “I’m coming! Just have to get my shoes, and then …” I started to walk slowly toward the road. She ran to catch up. “Mom, can I have my camera?” “Yes, as soon as we get to the road, I’ll give it back.” We stepped onto the road and I handed her the camera. She took the camera, turned around, and started to walk back toward the pond. “No. Charlotte? If you go back to the pond, then you will not be coming with me next time,” I said, trying hard to stay calm. “I don’t care!” she shouted and broke into a run. “I don’t care if I never come with you again!” she called happily over her shoulder.

I stood there, stewing: Well, I can’t leave her alone by the water, and now I’m mad. Yep, mad, mad, mad. I’ll stand here at a distance and make sure she doesn’t drown. I’m not going over there. If I do, I’ll say something I’ll regret. So what will I say when she does come back? Charlotte, you broke your agreement, so you know what that means! Yep, back to zero you go. How do you like them apples? At this rate, you might never see your friends! Ok, wait. That might blow off some steam, but what was that Vicki said about natural consequences? Don’t use them as punishment? Ok, ok. But if I put her back to zero, how is that not punishment? What turns natural consequences into punishment? Hmm … I guess I do. I have the power to do that with my approach, my attitude, my words, my tone. If I do the verbal equivalent of shaking my finger at her, then the context becomes punishment. If I relax, accept this moment as it is, and quietly, gently put her back to zero then we get a neutral if ____, then _____. No judgment, no baggage, no punishment. Just learning.

Luckily Charlotte took long enough getting her frog pictures that I was able to cool down. When she was done, we walked and talked and looked at her pictures on the camera. Then when we got home I calmly got out my stickers and changed the date for Charlotte to earn her friends privilege. She gave me one wide-eyed look, and that was it. She had made her choice: frog photos over friends. Done.

… and I can kinda see why – cool pics!



Explore posts in the same categories: Week 10: The Rabbit Hole

2 Comments on “Close calls”

  1. Cheryl Says:

    I started reading your blog from the beginning three days ago and have had a hard time pulling myself away from trying to catch up! I’d never heard of Parenting On Track before but am feeling very inspired. This post in particular is so helpful – thank you for going through your internal thought process while you worked out a response that would be honest and neutral and leave behind the temptation to exact revenge… such a struggle. Your conclusion makes perfect sense and has given me a lot to think about.

    • flockmother Says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! I love knowing that my streams of consciousness are helpful. Funny, it helps me too to re-read them!

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