November 01, 2013

Creative Discipline- Our Get Along Jar

I'm just going to put this out there.  I HATE DISCIPLINE.  It is one of my least favorite parts of parenting.  Just like my kids act all surprised that they have to brush their teeth every. single. day.  I get all surprised when my kids lose their chit and I have to pull some crazy discipline move out of my butt.  I crash and burn every single time.  We all know that in the moment, we get irrational.  We over or under react.

When one kid steals another kid's favorite toy for the four billionth time and then you snap and say something like "YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO GET TO WATCH TV AGAIN IN YOUR LIFE!" if you are anything like me, you panic at what just came out of your mouth.  Then you are faced with this dilemma of actually following through and ruining your life by giving up your free babysitter or not following through and showing your child that they can't count on you to be consistent.

When we recently adopted our fourth child, something had to change in this house by way of discipline.  I needed to have a plan.  My kids needed to see that I followed through and meant what I said.  I needed to take some of the pressure off of myself to always come up with a good punishment on the fly.  What my kids really needed (especially the ones who came in to our family when they weren't tiny babies) were very clear expectations and very clear consequences.

Our main problem that we have at our house are what I'm going to call "sibling issues".  These are the "Scarlett's following me."  "Miles is hitting me."  "Stop kicking my seat."  and all of those other moments that make me scream "OH DEAR GOD!  WOULD YOU ALL PLEASE STOP TRYING TO KILL EACH OTHER!"

Thus the idea of "Our Get Along Jar" was born.  THIS IS SAVING OUR LIVES.  It is so simple and easy.  Every one of my friends that comes over lately wants to make one of these and so today, I'm giving you the "how to" of my very best mommy secret.

Nothing helps a kid have ownership over something like contributing to the making of it.  Discipline is no different!  I sat my kids down and we scattered popsicle sticks all over the island in the kitchen.  I asked them to come up with some good consequences for different scenarios.  For example, I asked them, "If two of you are fighting over a toy, what do you think would be an appropriate consequence?" They said things like, "pick up all the toys" and "Mommy takes the toys away."  Then we thought for a few minutes about how mommy taking all the toys away would help us learn to love each other.  I felt like so many of our problems stemmed from the fact that we weren't treating each other the way that we'd want to be treated. The truth of the matter was that it didn't help at all to actually foster good sibling relationships for me to always have to step in and be the big bad taker awayer of all things fun.  It just eliminated that problem with that particular toy and that particular time.  We needed to dig deeper.

So we tried to spin all of our punishments to actually create bonding.  This is especially important for my adopted kids who are learning how to fit into a family and what connections are supposed to look like.  So instead of the punishment being "pick up all the toys" the consequence became "pick up the other person's toys".  Yes, they were still picking up toys.  But they were serving each other in the process and for some crazy reason, this helped my kids to foster a better relationship.  I think that we can learn so much about other people when we take the time to serve them and this is something that I really want to drive home with  my kids.

So we wrote all the consequences they came up with on popsicle sticks.  Then we came up with some 5 minute fun things that we can do to bond together.  Some of these ideas were "jump on the trampoline together for five minutes" or "dance it out to one whole song together".  We wrote all of these ideas on popsicle sticks as well.

Then we got some Jesus.  If you aren't about Jesus- then you can just skip this part.  One time, my friend, David, spoke at a conference about how one of the most tangible ways that we can teach our children the grace of Jesus is to show our children grace when they deserve punishment.  We are all people who deserve punishment and Jesus took that from us (grace).  We wrote the word GRACE on a couple (and only a couple because we can't milk Jesus, folks) of popsicle stick and put them in there as a reminder that when we deserved a consequence that Jesus took that from us.  (On the off chance that my kids pick grace out of the jar, I do make them explain to me what it means so that they don't just see Jesus as a free pass.)

We put all of the popsicle sticks in our "Get Along Jar".  I'm not crafty so our jar is just a clearance pencil can from Walmart.  But whatever.  It does the trick!  (My kids are ages 9,6,6 and 5 and they were all old enough to come up with some really great consequences for this.)

Now, when two of the kids are having trouble getting along or are pestering each other or fighting, I can send them to the jar to pick a stick.   Because there are just enough "fun" things in the jar and because they have some ownership in the consequences, I've never once had one of the kids be reluctant to pull a stick.  Whatever you draw, is the consequence that you have to do.  We do have a loophole in this little activity, though.  We have a MASSIVE tattle tale in our home in one of the kids.  If two kids are fighting, they both pull a stick.  If one kid is excessively tattling, the tattler is the only one to pull the stick.  It makes them think twice about getting their siblings into trouble just for the sake of creating drama.  This has saved my life as a mom.

I find that in the five- ten minutes it usually takes them to perform the task on their popsicle stick, they've had just long enough to get over why they were fighting.  Sometimes, I think kids just need to get unstuck from their behavior patterns and our popsicle stick consequences provide just the input they need to get unstuck.  It refocusses their brains and bodies long enough to start a different pattern.  It helps them be intentional in their relationships! It doesn't hurt that working through the consequences together helps them learn to appreciate each other. For instance, if the consequence is "take out the trash together" I've watched them work out amicably who would take the upstairs trash or the downstairs trash."  And if the consequence is "Make up the other person's bed" I've seen my kids say to the other "You had some dirty clothes on your bed so I put them in your dirty clothes basket."  I don't know why it works but it does.  Let me tell you- my kids are not saints.  75% of them are not bent on being nice, so to see this happen as a result of being more intentional with our discipline feels like a miracle.

Here's my favorite part.  My kids no longer get mad at me when they get punished.  I used to hear "That's not fair" or "You love so and so better because they didn't get in trouble."  And now, they blame everything on that darn jar!  It's beautiful.  It took so much of the pressure off of me and gave them just the boundaries that they were craving.  Win/Win.  Unfortunately, this doesn't work with the big giant hairy discipline problems.  Sometimes those deserve their own punishments, but I do find that since we instated this, most of our discipline problems get taken care of early before things become big giant discipline issues.

The other great thing is that you can tailor the consequences to the needs of your family.  Here are what our sticks say:

Make the other person's bed
Pick up the other person's toys
Jump on the trampoline together for five minutes
Go brush your teeth
Take the other person's dirty clothes basket to the laundry room
Sit next to each other quietly for 5 whole minutes
Wash the back door windows together
Do the hokey pokey
Say five nice things about the other person
Take out the trash together
Set the table together
Dust the furniture in a certain room together
Put on your bathing suits and clean the bathtub/shower together
Sweep the garage together
Draw or write an apology letter to the other person
Do one of the other person's regular chores for them
Make a snack for the other person
Make each other a drink and say something nice about the other one while you do "cheers"

As we go, we tweak what's in our jar.  If we find that certain behaviors are cropping up, we come up with logical consequences to put in the jar that seem to fit.  It's a work in progress, just like parenting!

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