The gift of the consequence. As a parent I wear many hats. I am a mother, friend, disciplinary, educator, emotional support, rule breaker, rule follower and boundary setter. My daughter has come to love and hate different hats that I wear and I respect her need for structure by ensuring that each hat I wear is appropriate for the occasion.
When my daughter was first born our pediatrician told me that teaching our daughter to sleep was also giving her "the gift of sleep". It was a way of telling me that I should not feel broken hearted or failed when going through the sleep training process (whatever that may look like) but rather that I should feel good about giving my daughter a gift that she will use for the entirety of her life. The gift of sleep.
When I was a child I was terrified of sleep, it was scary and dark, lonely and unknown. Looking back, I wish someone had given me the gift of sleep so that I had been able to find comfort in the quiet stillness of night. Now that my daughter is a toddler I give her gifts all the time. I give her gum after school and small tokens of my love when something caches my eye. The gifts I gave her as an infant were gifts that helped her become the toddler she is today and will hopefully continue to help her become the adult she will one day be.
I had a meeting with a director of a school here in Boulder, Colorado. The school is beautifully put together, friendly, filled with light, joy and love. She was speaking about her classrooms and without a second thought mentioned the idea of giving children the "gift of the consequence". I continued listening to what she was telling me but found myself hung up on this concept of viewing life's natural consequences as a gift rather than a punishment.
I want to clarify that by consequences I do not mean putting a child on time out, raising your voice or forcing a reaction to their action. Consequence as I use it here is described as the natural result of any action a child displays. When a child takes a material or loved item they have and misuses it, causing it to break, that is the natural consequence. When this toy breaks we as parents do not have to yell, scream or show disapproval. We simply need to look at our child and say calmly; "Wow, that was your favorite toy. You broke it by misusing it. Now we will throw it away and you will no longer have it." As a parent we do not have to parent more but we must parent smarter. The gift of consequence takes the pressure off of the parent to discipline and places it back on the child to behave.
Sometimes these lessons we must teach feel a bit like walking out on a tightrope above two buildings. Sometimes it can be terrifying to trust that letting go of some of the control will actually result in your child having more self control. As a mother and an educator I want to urge you to try. Try to give your children gifts that carve out who they are as human beings. Help them understand that this world reacts in ways that can sting at times. If we try to protect them by controlling the discipline, the consequence or by covering up the outcome (replacing the toy) we are only stiffening their natural ability to be who they are.
I am a mother, not a wizard. I share what is hard, what is scary and what is real. The rest I leave to you.