My daughter was having a bath. And a snack; strips of purple cabbage in a ceramic measuring cup, sitting at the edge of the bath.
We were chatting when she excitedly told me to “watch this trick” but as she contorted into position in the bath, her foot hit the edge with the measuring cup and sent it toppling to the ground where it shattered.
“I’m so sorry” she gasped.
“I know, it’s okay, are you okay? I’ll get something to clear it so we don’t cut our feet”
“You loved that, I’m sorry”
And it’s true, I did. But I love her more.
Things break. Things stain. Things are lost.
When one chooses to chastise and punish in these moments, they hope to communicate something like “take care of your things”. It is a way of letting the child know that something is important or that the money it will take to resolve the situation is inconvenient; that they need to be more mindful.
But what is it actually communicating when we protect our things and our money at the expense of our child?
Discipline hurts. It is intended to do so, so that one would desire to avoid it in the future. It hurts to be yelled at, it hurts to be isolated, it hurts to be hit, it hurts to lose something important to us. It hurts to be hurt by the people in our life who we are closest too, who we depend on, who are intended to love and care for us unconditionally.
So when we discipline our child we say that the item in question is more important to protect than you are. This item is so important that you deserve to be hurt.
You deserve to be hurt.
And avoiding that message seems far more important than a dish or the carpet or a toy.
Because if discipline even happens to prevent misuse of property (which from my personal experience as somebody who had a standing appointment at detention for misplacing my hat; I do not believe it does), shouldn’t we ask why? The child would not be attempting to be more careful because they see how we value things and wish to respect that. They’d be attempting to avoid hurt. They wouldn’t be thinking of others in any way because they would feel compelled to protect themselves; understanding clearly that the parent has no interest in doing so.
I’ve cracked my phone screen. Multiple times. I’ve also dropped it in water. Multiple times.
Nobody yelled. Nobody restricted my access. Nobody said I would need to earn the money before it could be repaired. Nobody withdrew affection. Nobody isolated me.
I researched phone cases and invested in one that would protect the phone from drops and water.
And the next time my daughter was taking a snack into a situation that could involve movement, she put it in a stainless steel bowl.
Mistakes happen. Discipline would be another one.
How can you ever hope to inspire your child to prioritise people if you don’t?