Chapter Four: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’m sure any parent of young children would agree that discipline is one of the trickiest challenges to navigate. In the attempt to raise a polite and pleasant human, at times it seems there is no need to have the power of thought and a wide-ranging vocabulary at your disposal; these could be replaced with a series of buttons which when pressed repeat the same phrases over and over and over again. ‘Say please’/ ‘get dressed’/ ‘stop it’/ ‘now please’ and a huge red one, used hundreds of times a day, marked ‘no’. God we must sound boring, it’s no wonder toddlers ignore their parents.

Discipline can feel like (and is, really), a series of complex mind games, in which tactics are key.
Here’s how you don’t do it. You don’t, when your toddler is refusing to get in the bath, deposit her on the naughty step then march upstairs, take all your clothes off, and get in the bath yourself. I can only imagine- as it would never happen in this house- that the toddler would not feel suitably disciplined by this but would instead stand in the bathroom asking with a mixture of delight and disgust ‘what are you DOING’, while you blathered with mad eyes ‘oh what a lovely bath, I’m so glad I am having this bath, I can’t hear you I am washing my hair’.

I would imagine that’s not the right way to do discipline.

Leading by example would seem a better approach (though in a sense the above incident IS leading by example- give a parenting award to that excellent mother!). But it occurred to me today that this isn’t as easy as it seems. We had fish and chips for lunch, and Leila was shovelling them in with her fingers. Just as I was about to press the ‘use your fork’ button, I realised that G was also eating with his hands. Apparently this is acceptable for f&c, and for curry. Doesn’t taste as good with cutlery, according to Stig of the Dump, sorry, my beloved.
We could hardly enforce one rule for us and another for her.

And, oh, she will notice and she will pull us up on it if we do. In the last few days I have been reprimanded for putting food in my drink (it was a biscuit and I was dunking it in my tea, but how to explain to Leila that it’s different from spooning mashed potato into her apple juice?), and for throwing a snowball at her (‘say sorry for throwing’).

In both cases, I said ‘whoops silly mummy’, and she crowed gleefully ‘you FORGOT’ and may have called me a silly sausage.

As with all things in parenting and life, it’s a case of muddling through and making it up as you go along (and worrying about it endlessly). At least that’s how it is for me. And then one day your child says ‘I want- PLEASE may I have some more ketchup’, and a gospel choir appears at the dining table singing Oh Happy Day.

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