Earlier this week, a summer camp counselor, Ms H, let me know that she’d had to ask my 7-year-old daughters repeatedly to put away the yarn they were crafting with. There had had been an incident related to yarn in which a child had suffered a minor injury, so everyone was required to forfeit the activity. My kids hadn’t been involved in the injury incident, but this was the first time the counselor had seen disobedience from either one of them. She thought I might want to know about it so I could have a discussion with J and M to get to the bottom of what was causing their uncharacteristic discipline slip-up.
At first, M and J protested their innocence. Mr. K had told them they were allowed to bead, so they didn’t understand what they’d done wrong. I asked them both to walk me through the events of the afternoon, but all I got was a muddled mishmash of contradictory statements. I had been able to tell that Ms H had really tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, so I wasn’t too quick to dismiss her concerns.
I told the girls that instead of playing with the kitten after dinner, they would write letters to Ms H explaining their side of the story. If they had been wronged, this would be their opportunity to set the record straight. If they were in the wrong, I figured, identifying the sequence of events might help them realize it and would form the base of an apology.
M began to wail. This consequence was just. too. hard. Couldn’t she go to timeout instead? She could forfeit her week’s allowance. It wasn’t faaaaaaair. There’s little point trying to be heard when she’s in that state, and I was driving. When she stopped to breathe, I told her that my decision was final. She would write a letter.
J didn’t bother trying to wriggle out of her punishment. Fortunately for me, my kids rarely act out with me at the same time. I don’t know whether seeing the silliness of Sissy’s whining is a wakeup call or whether they want to fill the roles of the “difficult and cooperative twins.” Either way, it does simplify my life.
J began to list out what had happened, planning out her letter. By the time we pulled into the garage, I’d heard the whole story.
- She had observed her friend Caroline finger knitting. (Yes, this is the same Caroline from yesterday.)
- She asked Caroline to teach her.
- Caroline taught her.
- J decided that M would enjoy the activity and called her over.
- M learned to finger knit.
- M messed up her knitting and Caroline helped her rescue it.
- A little boy got hurt.
- Ms H asked them to put their yarn away. They tried to finish up some stitches.
- Ms H asked them again to put their yarn away. They started to think about doing it.
- Ms H asked them to put the yarn up. This time, they did.
- Later in the afternoon, they asked Mr. K if they could make beaded jewelry. Mr. K said yes.
- M and J took the beads out.
- Ms H asked who had given then permission to take the beads out. They told her it was Mr. K.
I told J that it sounded to me that she’d had a listening problem. She agreed. I told her that, since she understood what had happened, she needn’t write it all out. An apology letter, including a description of what she’d done wrong, what she should have done instead, and an “I’m sorry,” would suffice. M would need to write everything out, since she still needed to get a grip on the whole thing.
M sniffled and confessed that she had, in fact, been wrong and owed Ms H an apology.
J elected to write out the whole step by step list, while M limited herself to short version of the apology for her letter. J’s letter ended up being a two-page treatise, and the poor girl had a cramped hand by the time she was done. M went a little overboard on the artistic embellishments on the first few lines of text, but then decided that plain old print would work fine.
It’s been a challenge to find logical consequences to use to discipline my daughters since The Time of the Timeout. This one seemed to work pretty well. Ms H was surprised and grateful to receive the letters, and told me she’d taken them home to show her fiancé. His reaction has been, “I didn’t think kids these days did that any more!”
Maybe my discipline techniques are old-fashioned. Regardless, they work for me.
How do you get to the bottom of the things your kids tell you about their day? How do you tackle discipline issues that come up when you children are in someone else’s care?