One fine spring day, a young father was working in his front yard while his toddler daughter played nearby. He glanced up to make sure she was still close, but he couldn't see her. He walked out into the street, calling her name. She came running around the corner back toward home.
With both relief and frustration, he scolded, "You can play in the yard, but you can't go past the corner!"
And he went back to work while she went back to play.
Minutes later, he looked up again to check on his girl. She was gone.
Calling her name, anger rising into this chest, he saw her coming full tilt around that same corner.
"I told you: not past the corner! If you don't listen to me, I'm going to spank your bum!"
She looked up at him with apparent understanding and scampered off to play.
He continued working hard, trying to catch up on the work that he hadn't been able to get to in the last weeks.
As he wrapped up his chores, he remembered to check for his toddler again.
Once again, she wasn't anywhere to be found.
This time, he yelled her name and made his way with determination toward that corner.
Of course, she came running around, eager to see her daddy.
He reached down, turned her around and said, "I told you NOT PAST THE CORNER!" He followed through with the threat he had made and spanked her bottom.
She looked up at him, tears in her eyes and asked, "Daddy, what is a corner?"
Allen's aunt relayed this story to me as we were discussing our parenting techniques. Her children are all grown and she now enjoys her grandchildren. She is a no-nonsense type woman, but has the hard won wisdom of a grand mom.
As adults, we make the gross assumption that our children understand the language we are using when we address them. We assume that they are getting the definition of words through the context in which we use them.
If they can identify a juice cup, why not another idea? Well, a juice cup is a tangible item. They can feel it. They hold it and know exactly what it does for them.
Behavioral descriptions and moral choices are not so clear. These are sometimes abstract ideas that are not as clear to identify.
For example, if you tell your child "Stop being a brat", you aren't really telling them what behavior is wrong and how to correct that behavior. Do they know what being a brat means? Have you told them that defiance and whining means "being a brat" and that is unacceptable in your home? Have you told them what behavior you would rather see them use to communicate?
As you raise your children, assume that they have no idea what you talking about as you teach behavioral principles. When you tell them to "stop whining" show them with your voice the difference between a big girl voice and whining. If you are going to a location where they are expected to behave a certain way, explain exactly what your expectations are for the occasion. What does reverence mean? Are they to sit quietly with arms folded? Can they talk amongst themselves? Lay it out in plain terms so your chances of success are the best.
Even if you have older kids, err on the side of ignorance for their benefit. Once you have established definitions and expectations, consequences can follow. Until you have done that, you do not set the foundation to build trust with your child. Life becomes a guessing game and very rarely will the child win.
I've constructed the vision of this little girl in my head: eager, genuine, innocent toddler with pig tails. She is over the moon to be out with dad. She feels included. She is curious and filled with wonder.
I look to my own children and see these same characteristics. Why would I want to do anything that would jade their enthusiasm? Why would I ever want to confuse them? When I find myself frustrated and near the braking point, I often hear this little girl in my head and I pull back. I check myself. Have I done the job my kids deserve? Have I created an opportunity for success?
More often that not, I find that I have neglected my part. I am always pleased by the response I get when I make my hopes and expectations clear. Kids really do want to please and be obedient. As the parent, the responsibility falls to me to make sure I have helped them to know "what is a corner?"