25 April 2008

Mess discipline easy, food discipline hard!

This morning after breakfast, making some playdoh and packing some brownies away in boxes for storage, I settled down to do some writing and transferring online. It took about five minutes of not paying my children sufficient attention for Jenna to parade through the room stark naked decorated with blue felt-tip Tiger Stripes. I didn't say anything, but as she let Morgan upstairs and then started running water in the bathroom I thought it best to prevent any significant harm coming to anything by following them. She was running a bath, "to wash these stripes off me." I thought that was a good idea, since she was meant to be going swimming later and I was a little embarrassed at the thought of her going covered in blue stripes (not that she would have cared one jot).

So then we did an unplanned bath time during which I sorted the mail and phoned two companies in irate disbelief to sort out monumental finance screw-ups. I left the bathroom to do so and heard mostly giggles and a few squeals of protest from Morgan who is going through a phase of being less keen on swimming in general and water on her face in particular. And then they got dirty again by the fastest possible method, that of smearing lunch on each other.

All of this served as a really timely reminder for me (on the subject of my discipline challenges) about the difference between short term and long term parenting goals. I don't want Jenna to spend the next few years with blue stripes, but who is she actually hurting? She will wash (and if she doesn't she will be blue for a while, I'm sure she wouldn't care but she might and she would live with it). If they get pasta in their hair, so what? They won't do it at sixteen (I strongly suspect) and there are bigger issues.

What if she wants to colour in her *clothes*? Then, THEN I will stop her. The fact is, since she chooses a lot of her clothes these days she would only be ruining something she really liked anyway! If she draws on the kitchen units, she has to clean them off (or if she was older and had access to permenant marker, she would be paying for cabinet paint and putting the damage right that way).

What would I gain by making a huge fuss and shouting and punishing? I would probably have a cleaner child, but one who thought that I didn't understand how fun it is to have tiger stripes. Reining in her creativity and making her my enemy have other prices too. I'm not willing to pay.

I had a funny little moment after lunch too - when Jenna announced that she wouldn't eat her pasta unless there was something for afterwards (a salami AND cheese AND yoghut AND a bisuit, she said). I have been known, when serving things that Jenna doesn't eat (ie most carbs) to say that she has to eat it before she has anything else. For example, four bites of pasta and then you can have some bread instead. Eat that last raisin and you can have an apple. That sort of thing. She has obviously sussed me and is now using it in reverse. She knows that I want her to eat the pasta, so she says that she will only do it for the preferred follow-up! I knew I shouldn't be doing it in the first place, now I'm stuck what to do instead.

I guess I should go back to the not-making-her-eat-more-but-offering-boring-alternatives. Everything along those lines is a bit smacking of coercion but I really feel I need to insist she eat some of what I've made. Why though? What's the worst that would happen if she didn't eat what I want her to? She isn't going to be malnourished. But she's going to be frequently hungry (even more so than she is anyhow lol) and so mainly I suppose it's for my convenience. Also though it's about gratitude. I want her to acknowledge when something has been done for her and not be wasteful by turning away something that has been served her.

Is there a better way to do this?

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