Thursday, April 30, 2015

Disciplining Addison

Confession: It took me a long time before I was willing to discipline Addison. For the longest time I wondered if she understood the Action/Consequence equation. For the longest time, she used that area of question to get away with murder. (Not literally...unless you count my white couch as a person.)

Also-- it is hard to say the word "discipline" in public these days. Living in the liberal state of Vermont, I half expect camouflaged social workers to jump out of a nearby bush if I even THINK the word. Just to be clear, when I say "the word" I mean a wide variety of discipline techniques to fit a wide variety of personalities in my 3 children. My favorite for out-of-the-house outings is Real Life Consequence discipline. I am a big fan of this.

What is an example of Real Life Consequences? I am about to share one with you....concerning Addison...and my waffling on this matter of holding her to the same standard that I hold the boys to.

Let's call this The Cookie Incident of 2015.
Location? Grocery Store
Individuals present? Mommy, Addison, Carter, Eli
Method of transportation? A Grocery Cart
Level of Energy? Very Wiggly, High Energy
Crime Committed? Unkind hands (don't laugh...this is a VERY real thing at my house)

For a grocery outing with all 3, I really couldn't complain UNTIL Addison started smacking her brothers upside the head. At first she only hit Carter (sitting next to her). He did not hit back. He would just tell me (quite loudly) every time a fault occurred.

"Sweet, please don't hit your brother."

For the first few times. Then it became,

"Addison, if you don't stop hitting your brother, you are not going to get a cookie.

A cookie. The most prized award given to the wiggling child that somehow managed to sit in the same spot the ENTIRE grocery shopping expedition.  It is a highly coveted, much talked about thing at our house. "THE COOKIE AT THE GROCERY STORE."

She settled down for about 30 seconds and then started hitting and pushing even harder.

"Addison. Stop. If you keep hitting and pushing, you are NOT going to get a cookie."

Well, she didn't stop. Furthermore, she started hitting Eli too...until he started to cry. Lovely. Dozens and dozens of times she hit and pushed them...and each time I told her NO COOKIE if she didn't stop.

I knew what I had to do. It felt mean, cruel, "THE WORST MOTHER IN THE WORLD"...because I knew how she would respond.

I felt that waffling. Should I give her a cookie? Does she understand? If she understood she would have stopped hitting, right? She LOVES cookies. She wouldn't risk it...right? She's acting like she doesn't understand. Should I give it to her anyway because she doesn't understand? Am I expecting too much?

It came time.

I handed Carter a cookie and thanked him for obeying. I handed Eli a cookie and thanked him for obeying. I did not hand Addison a cookie.

(Side note: the free bakery cookies were looking especially delicious today. Large, soft, yet crunchy around the edges...)

Addison held out her hand and said, "Cookie!"

I knelt until I was eye to eye with her.

"Sweetie, I'm very sorry, but you don't get a cookie today. I asked you to stop hitting and pushing, but you didn't stop. I told you that you wouldn't get a cookie if you chose to keep hitting. You kept hitting. So you don't get a cookie. I'm very sorry, and I love you very much but no cookie today."

Was the kiss that I gave her then enough to stench the bitter tide of cookieless pain that she felt in that moment? Not even a little bit.

Her screams were intense enough to shake loose the entire display of cookies next to us. Gasping wails. More screams. Pitiful "COOKIE COOKIE COOKIE!"

My heart was breaking. Did she understand? Was I just being mean? Or was my Real Life Consequence a fair one? I wouldn't have thought twice about doing this for Carter.

(See what I mean...even now she plays me on this.)

Her brothers happily munched their cookies. Tears streaming down her face, she stared at them and then kicked her screams up a notch at the UNFAIRNESS of it all.

I stopped to talk to her several more times, very clearly laying out why she did not get a cookie and her brothers did. Her only response was to glare at me before pitifully sobbing once again for her cookie. And then screaming.

When the lady in line ahead of us turned around to see who was screaming so loudly, I held my breath. Was she going to make a comment about Addison having Down syndrome? About me being unfair?

But this wonderful person stared at Addison for a long moment, heard my quick explanation, and said "They have to learn. It's hard, but it is the right thing to do."

A couple hours later, Addison went to school. I have been thinking about this all day. About how she plays me. About how I tend to be softer on her because I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.

After her long afternoon at school, her bus ride home, a couple of hours playing on the deck...she was in the kitchen helping me make dinner.

I wanted to check in.

"Addison, do you remember what happened at the grocery store this morning?"

She answered, "No hitting. No pushing. Be kind."

"And what happens if you hit and push?"

Her bottom lip quivered and she said, "No cookie. Hit, push, no cookie for Addisie."

The little stinker. No lack of understanding here at all. (Although I do have to say that I let my breath out that I felt like I had been holding all day when she repeated this back to me hours later from the incident. She DID GET IT.)

I don't know why I underestimate her on this. Some days I do better than others. No doubt it is a combination of her being my first and me learning that ALL children do this to a certain extent...and me understanding how to parent a child with special needs. Down syndrome is not an excuse for disobedience or misbehavior, but the method of correcting and disciplining often trips me up as I always want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Walking the straight and narrow is HARD WORK. Of course there are things for us learn along the way. (I would say there is as much for me to learn as there is for her.)

This hitting/pushing thing has been a big battle. And the thing is, at times no matter how consistent I am with consequences, she does it again. And again and again and again. Which makes me think again-- does she just not understand?

But she does. Sweet cookie does she ever understand.
This is the view from my deck while the kids tired themselves out with one last play session before bed. I can think of worse things to stare at while pondering the mysteries of parenting...

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