I should begin this post with a disclaimer, and state that I have never strangled a child. However I have reached an age where I have to counsel parents who are younger than my youngest child. (Second disclaimer: I have never strangled a young parent, either.)
One thing young parents seem to find very relieving is that extreme exasperation during parenting is normal. That is why Jesus used the word “suffer” in association with the word “children”. Here is an old post, (which has been fairly popular over the years), discussing the association:
It seems parents always seek authority, when their little darlings become little devils. As an authority of sorts, I hereby state it is important to learn to laugh at your own exasperation and your own inability to find an answer.
It is only natural for parents to want to avoid suffering in the immediate present tense, even if it means they themselves won’t go to heaven.
On the wall of a milking room at a nearby farm I saw this framed motto:
Raising children is like
Being pecked to death
By a chicken.
What I tell parents is that they are not suppose to be a child’s friend. They are suppose to keep their child alive. For example, suppose a child sees a mushroom that looks just like candy:
You may know the mushroom is deadly, but the child “feels” you are taking candy from a baby. Therefore, if the child is in a pugnacious mood, they kick you in the shins. They rage. They roll about. If you have to restrain them from eating the deadly mushroom, they yell, “You are hurting me!” (if not “Call the authorities!”)
I’ve been in the Childcare business so long a child’s rage no longer really troubles me. In fact I’ve learned that yawning and looking bored in the face of their rage goes a long way to ending their tantrum, (though sometimes it merely infuriates them further, especially if they are not used to being dismissed so easily; in those cases it is like yawning in the face of an enraged Hitler.)
This morning I noticed one boy’s face was reddening, and could see he was going to have a tantrum and keep a group from starting a hike. I was just leaving, but delayed my departure, telling the member of my staff to go on ahead with the others, and I’d catch up with them later. Then I just sat with the boy, firmly telling him he wasn’t going to eat the proverbial deadly mushroom. (It wasn’t actually a fatal mushroom, in this case. It was merely that he wanted to keep playing with a toy truck, even if it meant the entire Childcare ground to a halt.)
The young tiger stood his ground, though I am three times as tall and nearly twenty times his age. I admire that in a man. I don’t want to discourage courage. However I had to get it across that sometimes we have to obey laws we don’t like. (In my case the law I dislike is the Law of Gravity.) When I said he had to put the truck away, he firmly stated, “I won’t!”
You will notice, please, that I didn’t make a request. I didn’t say, “Will you please put the truck away?” That was the “correct” approach a couple decades ago, because it was felt that unlimited freedom allowed children unlimited opportunities to grow. Rules, so-called experts thought, oppressed freedom, and therefore everything needed to phrased as a polite question: “Would you like to get out of bed and go to school?”
The result was restless, disturbed children who in some ways resembled the orphans found in a refugee camp. Having no boundaries was like having no parents. This was very odd, when the traumatized children in fact had very wealthy and very loving parents who wanted the best and were zealously reading the “correct” books so they could do the “correct” things.
Back then such parents looked down their noses at me, because I was oppressive to my children, and even yanked them from the government-run schools in order to home-school them, taking a cut in pay to do so. Better-educated parents were sure I was ignorant and they were wise, but time then passed. They then looked at their adult children, and then looked at mine, and scratched their heads.
Now new “correct” books are being written, and they suggest limiting freedom is a “correct” thing to do, because it is felt that a playground without fences causes “insecurity”, by exposing children to the wolves of the wilderness. So now childhood is bubble-wrapped. Some parents ban the out of doors altogether. The “experts” can’t win for losing. In a strange way they are so busy with writing rules they miss the Law itself.
I am the Law, as an elder charged with caring for small children, and when a child tells me they will not stop playing with a truck, right after I have told them the time has come to stop playing, I allow an ominous silence to fall. (Some children recognize something dangerous is involved in such silence, and abruptly pipe up with, “I’m done,” and scamper off.) Most, however, don’t recognize that the silence is ominous.
Actually I am just waiting for the correct moment to swoop and pluck up the truck and place it on a high shelf. (You usually don’t want to swoop when the child has a firm grip, as that might bring about a tug-of-war. It is wiser to wait until they have released the truck and it is coasting.)
Of course the little child is then completely outraged. They hit the roof. How dare I snatch away a toy?! I simply respond that the “Law” says it is time to stop, and we have to obey the “Law”. (This is clever, because it avoids the entire ego-struggle of “me against you”, which some children are amazingly adept at. As soon as you state “we” have to obey, you are suggesting you are on the same side, and you are dealing with the same “Law”, which the little one is struggling to come to terms with.)
Often the little child’s outrage involves an escalation of hostilities. I expect this, and am untroubled that my effort seems to be making the situation worse. Usually I avoid the small kicks to my shins and the ferocious uppercuts to my thigh. Even when they connect and leave a bruise I don’t really get mad anymore. After all, I began the escalation of hostilities, by snatching away the truck. I accept the blame. I “started it”. Now I have to “finish it”.
It is the “finishing” that makes people most queasy, for they imagine it must somehow be bad to “finish” a child, as if I respond with an uppercut that leaves the child unconscious. Quite the opposite. What I do increases the child’s consciousness.
Years ago I had one superb employee who seemed to have a uncanny (and very beautiful) ability to avoid escalation. When a child hit her she would gasp, and then speak her Law, “Use words, not your hands.” Something about the tone of her voice, (and especially tone of her gasp), was amazingly effective. I stood back and shook my head in awe, 95% of the time. However 5% of the time the child would not use words, and would continue to belt her, or kick her, (or throw blocks at other students during “circle time”), and she would turn to me, with her eyes hopeless and appealing, and I knew it was time for the child to be “sent to the principle.” I had to step up and be “the heavy”. The child had “started it”, and I must “finish it.”
Of course, I had no desire to harm the child. I wanted to increase their consciousness, and one important thing for a child to be conscious of is that it is unwise to bite the hand that feeds, or, conversely, bite the hand that refuses to allow you to ingest poison mushrooms. In fact, kicking and biting and scratching and striking the very teachers who are trying to keep you safe is a sort of “poison mushroom” in and of itself. Respecting teachers is an important lesson to learn, (at least until one is an adolescent).
But long before they are adolescents, children test their limits, and a tantrum is a testing of adults. How much disrespect will the adult allow? How far can I push things before they draw the line?
I actually make it clear that the line was already drawn, and the little one has stepped over it. Until they step back, I will not stop doing what I am doing, which is to physically restrain them, and to bodily remove them from the situation they wanted to influence, to a quiet place where they can thrash and scream all they want, but it will have no influence.
This is forbidden in government-schools. For some reason (that only lawyers understand) any sort of restraint is frowned upon, and if a little child does something truly dangerous, such as wield a knife, the teachers must stand back and the government police must be called in. However, because I am not under the jurisdiction of the government (yet) I can get physical, and simply take the knife from the little ones hands. Before a child joins our Childcare my wife diplomatically makes it clear to parents that I will use “physical restraint” if need be, and “bodily remove” children if need be. Parents are free to find another place, if they dislike this philosophy.
In the ten years since I’ve opened this Childcare (thinking it would only be for a year or two), I’d say I’ve dealt with a hundred full-blown tantrums, and a thousand events which would have become full blown if I hadn’t nipped them in the bud, (because I know how.) My glasses have been broken on at least ten occasions. I’ve experienced uncountable bruises and have been bitten. Some of the worst bites are from parents, who fail to do what I do for their own children, yet mount a high horse and criticize what I do.
This gets old. I confess I am looking forward to getting out of the business, and taking some easier job, (such as herding rabid cats). However besides getting old, the job is getting to be old hat. The first time my glasses were broken I think I did glare at the little child. Now I only pretend to glare. I know the ropes of a tantrum, and the ins and outs. Therefore I feel I should offer some parting advise to young parents.
First, the child’s ultimatums have no real power. No person has ever killed themselves by holding their breath. Don’t worry. Even if they manage to hold their breath so long they pass out, they will awake and find you still there, drawing the line.
Second, the line you draw is more important than whatever they think trumps you. You need to get to work, and so they must leave the piano, even if it means little Mozart’s “Opus One” must wait until age four. There will be no “Opus One” ever, if you get fired and starve, (and anyway, classical music involves huge amounts of discipline.)
Third, a child’s tantrum is not entirely an imposition. It is a chance to go on an emotional trip without the brain damage caused by hallucinogens. A slight adjustment in attitude is required, but it is possible to see a child’s tantrum as a chance to travel to colorful emotional landscapes seldom seen in the gray tedium of adult life. Usually adults have to go to a movie to shed a few tears, or a Beethoven concert to feel the tempests of emotion, but a kid’s tantrum traverses the same spheres. It is for this reason, though dealing with tantrums has gotten to be a bit old, it has never quite become “Ho Hum” for me. There is something about the emotional journey I am reluctantly joining which reminds me of newlywed’s first fight. It may not be the honeymoon, but it is certainly not jaded, and is still on the other side of the planet from divorce.
Anyway, to get back to the tantrum I helped a boy through this morning, it went through the ordinary phases. Because psychologists like to pretend to be scientific, I suppose I should describe the phases. As I recall they were: rage-violence-rage-violence-complaint-violence-tears-rage-violence-tears-rage-rage-surprisingly sarcastic comment-tears-tears-defiance-tears-tears-silence-tears-willingness to get up and go.
I should mention I am careful to be gentle, even tender, when I restrain a child, but they often shout, “You’re hurting me!” The hurt is real but emotional. (When you want to pop someone in the snoot, it hurts when you are a failure.)
The child often says unloving things such as “I hate your guts”. My response tends to be, in soothing tones, “Of course you do. I took away your truck. Of course you do.” A bit later I add some sage advise, “Use words, not your hands. Hitting teachers is against the Law. Don’t hit. Use words. Say, ‘I am very, very angry you took my truck.'”
I am very aware a lot of what I say is merely a background noise to the child, but I attempt to speak in tender tones. What I say may merely be the “Mooph-mooph-mooph”, which was all that adults said in old Charlie Brown animations, but I attempt to make my “Moophs” less snide and more compassionate than those “Moophs” were.
In terms of the Law, I don’t budge. In this case the Laws were, “‘Time to stop playing with a truck’ means thou shalt stop” and “Thou shalt not attempt to kick the principle in the groin.” But I am flexible in terms of how long it will take the little child to become resigned to the inevitable. I say things like. “Are you ready to go, or do you need more time for a good cry?”
I was a bit surprised how quickly this particular boy got through all the peaks and valleys of his tantrum, this morning. After only fifteen minutes, when I asked, “Are you ready to go”, the same boy, who had made it plain he would rather die than obey me, instead nodded. As we walked to catch up to the others he didn’t look up at me, but felt sideways to take my hand. (Three-year-old boys are allowed to do what grown men can’t.)
We caught up with the others, and I handed the child off to the staff with the smug sense I’d done good, though I was late for my morning break. Not that my staff couldn’t have handled the tantrum, but it is harder when you have eleven other demanding children. A tantrum is best handled one on one. I figured I’d done a good deed, and, after briefly talking shop with the staff, headed off to a coffee I felt I’d earned.
I was nearly to the bottom of the hill when I heard the sound of small feet running up behind me. I turned and was nearly tackled by the small boy. The same small person who would have rather died than obey me, a half hour earlier, now wanted to hug me good-bye.
I must admit this: Though I still want to find a new business, there are parts of this job I’ll miss, when I’m gone.