I think I'm going to unofficially make this "Guidance and Discipline Week" (or maybe month...or year, heh) over here at the Jumping Bean. In twenty years of working with kids and ten years raising them myself, discipline still seems to be the most difficult and elusive topic for most adults I know. I'm going to post on a lot of different issues surrounding discipline this week, but first I'd like to start with the inspiration for this--a visit to the movies yesterday.
It's been a crazy summer for our family--a cross country move, changes in jobs and schools, caring for extended family. I've always tried to make sure I spend one on one time with each of my children, and so yesterday my eleven-year old daughter and I headed out to the mall to do some shopping and hit a movie. We went to a local second-run theater to see Despicable Me, which, by the way, I would highly recommend for both adults and children. Great movie. Anyway, whenever you go to a kids movie, you learn to expect certain things--some kids are going to be super excited and yell or talk or move around. That's typical. But unfortunately, so is what I witnessed before the movie--a mom and dad so focused on their thirty minute conversation with their friends outside the theater that they practically ignored their three young children the entire time.
So I've decided to write them a letter. Maybe a reminder for all of us what discipline's about.
To the Mom and Dad at the Movies--
I got the chance to watch you today as my daughter and I sat for a half-hour waiting for the theater to open up. You had run into some old friends and were excited to see them, remember? You seemed like a nice couple, and you had three beautiful kids. Your daughter looked to be about six or seven, a son around five, and a second son who was not quite two. You both were sweet with your children and clearly were out to have a nice family afternoon.
The disturbance started innocently enough as you stood chatting with your friends. Your kids got impatient, as kids that age often do, and began to wander around the lobby. Mom, you spoke to them sweetly and reminded them to stay calm and behave appropriately. A few minutes later, though, as you were still continuing your conversation, your kids began to chase each other around the pool tables, running through other guests and laughing hysterically. After a few minutes you stopped them again and reminded them of appropriate behavior.
The third time you stopped them was ten minutes later, when they were racing around said tables again, loudly screeching and giggling. The toddler was falling down, tripping over his own feet. You told your older two they were setting a bad example for the little one, and if they ran again, they would have to sit. Two minutes later, your two boys were once again racing through the lobby as your daughter took giant strides to keep up and continue the game without technically running. You've got a clever kid, anyway! :-) Dad, you stopped them and told them to sit down, but before they did, all of you said goodbye to your friends and left the theater. The entire exchange was nearly thirty minutes in length.
I've been where you were a million times. Often, because of my husband's work schedule, I had two little ones and no adult with me at those types of venues. One kid in each hand, literally. And maybe I'm way too strict of a mom on my own two--I've wondered that a million times--but I would never, EVER, have allowed my kids to race through a lobby with virtually no consequences for thirty minutes, and here's why: other people have paid to be there too, and they have the right to a pleasant experience without having to dodge my kids or listen to them screaming, laughing, giggling, or yelling. They paid their money to go to have a pleasant afternoon too. As lovely as you think the sounds of your children's happiness are, the raw truth is that other people don't share your same enthusiasm. Nobody will ever love your children like you do, and that's true even in a movie theater. Especially in a movie theater.
It's wonderful to see parents who are patient and loving with their children, but not when their children are out of line. Truth be told, your children are probably great kids. They were set up in a situation yesterday that led to their misbehavior. Do you know how long thirty minutes is to wait for somebody? Now that I'm caring for an aging parent, I find myself waiting a lot at doctor's offices and such. If I have nothing to do, thirty minutes is a long time. For a kid, I would imagine it feels like forever. Your kids were resourceful and did what kids do--found something naturally entertaining--and to your credit you didn't punish them for it. But you did unleash all of that unpleasantry of mania on everyone else around you.
Did you notice the other kids there? The ones who waited quietly with their families, who giggled quietly and laughed with each other, whose moms and dads led them to movies and birthday parties or out of the theater? That's because a theater lobby isn't the best place to catch up with your friends. Go grab an ice cream or a soda--you're at a mall, for goodness sake's. But please remember that public places aren't open territory for you and your kids, just because you paid your ticket fare to be there.
I've raised two great kids too who have had more than their fair share of challenging moments. I've left movies, restaurants, grocery stores, and malls because of my children's misbehavior. It took awhile, but once it clicked, it clicked, and my children were often complimented on their behavior at your kids' age. Why? Not because my kids did anything grand, mind you; it's because of people like you who let your kids run all over the place. Your parenting choices, to a lot of people, ends up reflecting poorly on your children instead of the other way around. An elderly gentleman once stopped both of my children at a restaurant when they were about your eldest daughter's age and gave them each a dollar. Why? Because he said they were so well-behaved, and you didn't see that kind of thing anymore. That's incredibly sad to me.
As parents, we have a responsibility to treat our children lovingly, which you obviously do. But we also have a responsibility to teach them about a responsibility to others, which they won't learn when they are set up to behave poorly; nor will they learn it when consequences are threatened but there is no follow-through. But our responsibilities don't end there either--we have responsibilities as people to be respectful to one another. It was in this you failed most abysmally yesterday, and taught your children through your actions that this respect isn't necessary.
Hopefully over time this will occur to you, and quickly. I worry about so many young children with so few limits in our world, whose parents are afraid of saying no or following through, or don't understand what kids are developmentally able to do, or even worse, don't care. Perhaps yesterday was the exception to the rule. I hope so.
In case you were wondering, I was the mom with the eleven-year old painting my nails. Like I said, a half hour is a long time to wait with nothing to do.
Another Movie Mom