Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Structural Discpline

A friend at the Frog Pond was asking about how parent can have preferences considered by family members, rather than ALWAYS doing what the other family members want even if it's not what they want, and I suggested non-verbal communication of preferences being useful.

Here is the first of a set of hypothetical examples I gave to illustrate:

You know what I think you might really need is structural discipline, but which I dont mean disciplining your child, I mean disciplining your surroundings.

Let me give you a hypothetical. Child likes painting very much this month (I'm not defining this hypothetical child by their preference for painting. It's just what they enjoy this month mkay?). And I mean painting everything. So

1) Parent spreads great big bed spreads on the floor EVERYWHERE to protect the landlord's carpet

2) parent buys in a huge stock of washable paint.

3) parent buys a whole ream of assorted paper and card, putting out little heaps in parentally preferred places (child much more likely to just paint there rather than move the heap)That's a pretty good first pass at structural discipline.

4) Now child starts making handprints on the wall, and painting pictures there. Parent could go crazy about this, except that the walls are just egg shell white. After painting a test area and establishing that standard paint will cover the hand prints, parent leaves child be, but looks out for an opportunity to paint the walls to re set this grand canvas.

5) but now child starts painting EVERYTHING - books, jigsaw boxes, teabag containers, TV screens, pans, plates, you name it. Some of these, parent is ok with, some not (5 minutes of painting a book and then if you don't wipe before it dries, that's the end of the book because the pages are stuck together). Parent could go crazy here. Instead, parent finds better things to paint - magazines, colouring books, those little mini-boxes of cereal. Parent enlists the help of work colleagues to pass on any small interesting cardboard packaging which arrives at the workplace. Parent puts books on a high shelf. Child doesn't mind at all, just says when they want to read stuff, and instead, the cardboard mountain is what comes to hand when painting.

6) But child sometimes still paints stuff parent wants to wipe off straight away, and walking all the way to the sink for a cloth every time is not much fun, so parent manages to turn it into a delivery game where child brings painted objects to parent ready for wiping. "delivery for you" "thank you" "you're welcome" "good bye" *cue noise of wiping with wet cloth*

I extended this hypothetical as far as I could to show that there are several points where parent could easily self-sacrifice, or flip into authoritarian fright show, but instead they find a way for child to still do what they want to do, in spirit if not in exact kind (painting cereal boxes instead of jigsaw boxes, for example). And parent manages to turn their desired outcome of not running around the house into a game. I guess the first few times the parent would have to play the delivery game on their own, and then child would want to join in, not becuase it is manipulative-pretend-fun, but because parent is finding a way to turn that activity into something genuinely fun for a child that age.

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