Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tough Love: Look at my Face!

This morning at breakfast, husband still off sick, asked son due for a History exam this morning: "What is the middle name of Alexander the Great?"

Son: Uh, uhm, "the"!

So delightful he is now. Yet there was a time before he was out of nappies when he would keep pushing the boundaries. Well, he still does, actually.

For reasons I cannot remember he was told he was not to cross the line between the hall and the living room. Maybe it's the staircase that we thought could pose some danger.

What did our young man do? He walked up to the line/boundary and threw his toy into the forbidden area.

Would Mum let me go out there to retrieve my toy? He looked at us and waited for a reaction from us. Can't remember what we did, probably ignored him. And he learned when mum and dad set boundaries, those remain as boundaries.

Once while he was still toddling he took to biting, purely out of mischief. He was told off sternly, "Do not bite!" And every time he approached me and started acting suspiciously, I would be on my guard and said, "Don't you even think of biting."

Then one day while I was at the kitchen sink he crept up behind me and sank his teeth into the back of my thigh.

In pain I turned round, stooped to his level ("stooped" being the operative word) and smacked him really hard on his hand.

First the shock, and then he realized there was some pain. Tears.

"That is what it feels like when you bite! PAIN."

Then when he had calmed down, we had a cuddle.

He never bit again. Not me, nor anyone else.

I've never had to hit him again.

I had used my "cane". Once.

Up to that point he had no idea what pain meant; that certain behaviour of his (eg biting, hitting, head-butting) could cause pain on another human being was a totally foreign concept.

Recently I recalled how my father used to hit us on the head: He would place his left hand, palm down on our head, and then hit his own hand with his right hand. (And should any social worker query, he was only hitting himself, really.)

Everytime he 'hit' us, he had to hit himself first. This was a 'Chinese' way of gentle discipline. It was almost done in a loving way, never out of anger. That was not very respectful ... smack!

Then he would say that every time parents hit their children, they themselves feel the hurt, just as his own hand had to take the force of the smack.

"Fathers [and mothers, too], do not exasperate your children!" so the Bible advises.

I can recall how I had done exactly that. It was a futile exercise. We both just got angrier and angrier. Never again.

I also learned that I must give him 'face' and 'space'. If I pushed him into a corner where he could not show remorse with some dignity, it becomes a downward spiral. When I had made my point and backed off ... he'd come round to it ... eventually.

Still we have many boundaries. Computer and TV times are restricted. Twenty-minute slots on the computer (he sets either the oven clock or some other timer) and a total of 90 minutes a day on the TV. If he fails to use up the 90 minutes due to school activities or homework, tough! He gets a bit more TV on the weekend. But he is required to be "sensible".

Sometimes when I get extremely tired and need a lie-down I would give him free rein. On those occasions he has proven that he could be sensible, resting between 'screen activities' and never exceeding his 20 minute computer slots.

Years ago someone mentioned that there are some mothers who could control their children just by raising their eyebrows. Just one eyebrow, actually. Their children understand "the look" and refrain from whatever.

These days when son gets a bit carried away -- as nine-year-olds often do -- I find myself saying, "Look at Dad's face," or when Dad is not around, "Look at my face," and immediately son knows what is best for him.

If all else fails, I would say, "That's why God give human children mums and dads. We are not like animals who are expected to look after themselves hours after we were born."

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