Friday, January 07, 2011

My favorite discipline technique

All of that talk about the Nurtured Heart Approach is making me think of another discipline technique I like.

I learned this from another parent at my early childhood family education classes. When two kids get into one of those all-out fights that involves shouting and looks like it's headed toward violence, you tell them to each sit down on a stool. You explain to them that they need to talk it out, taking turns. When they do this at school, they use a "peace feather" to indicate who is able to speak; at home, we use the "peace rolling pin," since that is what is most handy. Plus the kids like to roll it on their laps as they're talking.

You pick one child to speak first, then hand her the rolling pin, promising the other child that they will get a chance to reply as soon as the first is done. Then you instruct the first child to tell the other child her grievance.   Once she feels done speaking, she hands the peace pin over, and the other child responds. They have to keep talking until the situation is resolved. And it's resolved when each child says it's resolved. Each child gives the other permission to get off the chair once it's resolved.

For really heated arguments, I stick around and coach -- maybe suggesting a sixty-second cooling off period, or advising someone that their language is making things worse, or gently suggesting the wording for a simple apology. A lot of times, it's more penny-ante bickering; in those cases, I pull out the chairs, hand them the peace pin, and say, "Talk it out." Then I walk away. I do this a lot when I get a kid coming to me complaining about something a sibling has done -- "___ slammed the door in my face!" or whatever. "OK," I say. "You need to tell ___ that. Pull up a chair and I'll get the rolling pin!"

The beauty of this arrangement? First, it takes me out of the role of negotiator/mediator -- I'm no longer responsible for sorting out who did what to whom. Second, it cuts down on the really trivial bickering, because the chairs serve as a kind of time-out; the longer they bicker, the more time they spend just cooling their heels instead of playing. Third, by making them responsible for resolving the conflict, they're learning an extremely valuable life skill; a lot of adults don't know how to argue well. And since I started doing this a couple years ago, I've noticed the older kids -- especially Bear -- using these skills independently to solve conflicts with siblings without things getting out of hand.

And no, no one has bashed anyone over the head with the rolling pin yet. It just makes me smile every time I say, "Let's get out the rolling pin, kids, and you work this out among yourselves!" It's dark, dark humor, but a parent is allowed his inside jokes.