Friday night, we took the boys to Tot Shabbat at Rodef Shalom, our new temple. Rodef has been a real find for us; that's where The Boy goes to school, and where Little Bear will also go to preschool. It's a very nice, friendly environment, with lots of families and lots of kids. Tot Shabbat is the normal Friday services, but done in an intelligent manner: they say some blessings, then have a potluck dinner, then an abridged services, then dessert. The whole night starts at 6 and ran until 8. We could have stayed longer, but things didn't quite work out the way we wanted.
The boys were both quite wild during the course of the evening. They weren't "bad," as such; they were just crazy. They spent most of the time running around and chasing each other and "hiding" behind some curtains and exploring and pushing the elevator buttons and, in short, acting like little boys quite frequently act. Friday night, my kids were "That Kid." During the service, Little Bear was not content to stay close to us, and spent that time wandering around the temple grounds.
My own state of mind was not good. Last week was a difficult work week; not a stressful one, not a harsh one, just a hard one. I worked my tail off all week and was exhausted. I'm certain that this didn't help matters any.
This lead me to reconsider our discipline plan for the children, as The Wife and I frequently do. We spend a lot of time talking about it and planning things. Our discipline system for the children starts with careful planning: we try to never put our kids in a position to allow bad choices to be easy. We're careful about when we take them places, and what places we take them. We're careful about what toys and things we put out for them. We're careful about letting them be by themselves often. In general, if you make the right choice easier for them, then they're more likely to make the right choice.
Most kids want to do the right thing. I believe that strongly. They want to play nicely, they want to have friends, and they want to make their parents happy. The "wrong" choice is more interesting and more compelling for the children, because it's the choice that gets them the quickest attention from their parents. So, if the right choice is easy to make, and if the right choice gets the best attention of their parents, then the right choice is more attractive.
This isn't particularly easy to do. It requires constant vigilance (the price of liberty) and significant conversation and agreement between the parental units. It's also not something that it is easy to establish, and can frequently be mistaken for a lack of discipline.
Many people's ideas of discipline isn't really discipline. It's setting fear. I've come to the belief that, for my children, hitting them or putting them in a "time out" is not the right idea. They're not old enough to understand why you're doing that. Little Bear is 19 months old as of yesterday. He loves dumping stuff out onto the ground, and he loves taking food off of the kitchen counters to eat it. Can you honestly say that, at 19 months, he'd understand being put in "time out" for those two unappreciated behaviors? Instead, we tell him we don't like it and remove him from the situation. We'll remove a toy if the kids are playing with it in a destructive manner.
The Boy might understand "time out," but I'm not sure it's worth it. He's a good-natured kid, and removing him from the situation or removing the offending item seems to work better and faster than trying to force him into a "time out" situation. If he hits his brother, and we remove him from the situation and take the toy away, then he understands that it isn't proper behavior. "That's not nice!" seems to be something that he understands, and he tries not to behave that way.
So, what do we do during situations like Friday night, where our kids are "those kids?" Remove them from the situation. Explain to them that the behavior is not acceptable. And, above all, try not to allow the negative situation to develop from the beginning. When we see that they're crazy at the start, we don't expect that the little one will sit and watch the service. We take him outside and let him walk around, bringing him into the service for short periods of time. This hopefully sends the message that the service is important, but we're not going against Boy Nature and trying to force him to sit still and pay attention.
(Hey - I'm 36 1/2 years old, and I don't sit still and pay attention. Why should they, at 19 months and 3 1/2 years old?)
The next night, we went out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant, to Babies 'R' Us for stroller shopping, and to Barnes and Noble for book shopping. They were great, as we expect them to behave. They sat at the table and talked like normal. They stayed near us at the stores and played nicely with the toys at the stores and with the other little kids.
Considering that we have far more positive experiences than negative ones, I think we're on the right path. I also know that our system isn't for everybody. We've both had years to develop our discipline system through our teaching, and it did take years to develop the concepts, ideals, and execution abilities to the point that it's practical on a 24/7 schedule. What's easy for a 45 minute time period is not so easy during their entire waking hours.
That's not to say that we keep patience all of the time. Not even close. I know that, at school, I've had more than my fair share of music-stand-throwing, ripping my hair out, screaming at the top of my lungs tantrums at my students. Remind me to tell you about the time I made my entire wind ensemble cry after a concert in New Jersey... but, we try.