As an avid writer, talker (mostly to myself and the cats), and thinker- effective communication is a major discipline for me and subsequently for my household. This methodology-while sometimes met with much resistance has been hugely successful in not only modifying unacceptable behaviors but in identifying areas where I can improve, or “preventive parenting”, if you will.
A story-a few weeks ago amidst the holiday baking frenzy, Yael my mostly amenable 10 year old pilfered some cake batter after I’d already obliged her request to lick the bowl and whisks. When I caught her out of my corner-penetrating-Jedi-mom-eye, I asked sternly, “Now, why would you do that”?! She offered the only unacceptable explanation in our home, “I don’t know”. Feeling my pressure rise, I instructed her to retrieve her self-improvement journal. I began using a self-improvement journal about a year ago as a means for tracking patterns of behavior and corrective action accurately. My children lost count or were otherwise unable to answer my bellows of , “How many times have I told you not to [insert random act of foolery]?!
Upon the journal’s retrieval I ask, “How could you have handled this cake batter situation better? Why is integrity important?” Yael is instructed to answer these questions. She goes to her room and emerges rather quickly, her response: “I could have handled it better by not getting caught. Integrity is important because if I get caught I will get in trouble. I don’t like to get in trouble, but I can’t do everything right all the time”.
This response left me with a lot to think about. For one, it seems in all of my admonishments to do the right thing, I’ve neglected to stress the personal benefits of integrity and good character. Surely, we all want our children to be glowing examples of our supreme parenting capabilities, but it really is about them. And the parent of any tween/teen will agree the world revolves around them and them exclusively!
So, after much thought, I called Yael over and confessed to frequently possessing the desire to eat the cake batter myself. Wide eyed and quizzical, she replied “So why don’t you?” I replied, “Because it just wouldn’t be the right thing to do, and while that cake batter sure tastes good, it doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as the feeling I get from doing the right thing. Don’t you feel good- proud even when you do the right thing”? “Kinda” she says. Pause, awkward laughter. “Yeah”! “See”. Blows knuckles, rubs them on chest, and eats cake. Two lessons from one cake!