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Punishment-free parents: need help with a biggie

post #1 of 83
Thread Starter 
How do you deal with things that are "major" transgressions in your house? Like significant destruction of household goods, things that the child really knows that they aren't supposed to do? In the past two days, dd has smashed two family heirlooms (that were in a location that we didn't think she could even access, let alone get to in the few minutes that I was in the kitchen starting the dishwasher) and scribbled on our kitchen table in marker that won't come off. Peter and I saved for that table for literally years; it is one of the only nice pieces of furniture in our house. She will be 4 in a few weeks, if that's at all useful.

I am totally beside myself. I feel like I do alot of forgiving dd and excusing her challenging behavior. She's a very spirited, difficult child and I love her so much and am parenting her as gently as I possibly can. I don't disguise my feelings from her, but I don't create consequences for her undesirable behavior, either. Yet she does stuff like this, and I'm so upset I can barely speak. I try hard to keep my eye on the prize, as it is, that she grows into a healthy, happy adult, but it's not okay with me that gets to include the all day destructo-fest that goes on here lately. (These are not isolated incidents, just the two most severe; I dread what's coming tomorrow.)

While I am racking my brain trying to understand the whys and how did I cause this behavior of the whole thing, a discussion on that really isn't too helpful to me right now. I'm really needing some bolstering on the parenting theory side of things, because I'm feeling totally lost.
post #2 of 83
No advice, but I am anxious to see the responses to this.
post #3 of 83
I know it's hard when things with meaning to you are damaged. Particularly when you thought you had put them some place safe.

Now, from the parenting point of view:

Does she have any real idea of the value of the things? Think of what you would do if it had been a couple of Goodwill vases she broke and a Salvation army table she drew on.

Plus side, since it's a nice table you'll be able to sand it down and revarnish it. Might want to wait until your youngest child's like 12 though.
post #4 of 83

I've been going through similar issues, but it's not even the kids that are doing it For instance, we stupidly put a humidifier on our $2000 dresser. It was fine there for MONTHS, but then, of course, murphy's law kicked in and the humidifier exploded and ruined the finish : And then there's the vase that we were given for our wedding that was knocked off a table by a cat, and the wooden korean duck statue that we were given for our wedding (has specific marriage meaning) that I was cleaning, dropped and the head broke off : So, yeah - even though it wasn't my kids, it totally SUCKS having your nice things ruined. I've started really believing that we just weren't *meant* to have anything nice.

That said, I'll be interested to see what the responses are to this, because I have an impish son who's recently learning how to get into everything - and I'm expecting it to continue
post #5 of 83
It sounds like your DD is very active and needs an outlet for that energy. I agree with the PP who said at her age she doesn't understand the concept of value, so I'd be proactive and put away anything valuable. Then, I'd give her a basket of things she can throw (balls, balloons), break (crayons, hard-boiled eggs), draw on, etc. I'd model for her and focus on what she can do with these things rather than what she can't. I know my kids sometimes enjoy doing specifically what I requested they not do and the more upset I get the most interested they are.

I hope this helps. I also would not hesitate to express my disappointment, not at her but the loss of the item. In our house, people always come before possessions.
post #6 of 83
My son is nearly the exact same age. The past month or so, he has started sneaking around testing things out that I thought he understood were not to be done. I have had to put up all of the scissors, markers, glue, and anything that I don't want ruined. He isn't trying to damage things, but has gotten to an age where he wants to be independent, and doesn't think he needs to ask questions before he starts his experiments. Our table was also drawn upon with a permanent marker, but luckily it was one we bought off of craigslist when he was young to replace our nice table. We've just done a lot of explaining about why we don't do certain things. We've also told him that if he feels like he needs to hide while he's doing something, then it probably isn't the best choice, and that maybe he can come talk to me about it first. This has actually worked in our case, so far. He was doing stuff like hiding behind the drapes doing things that we wouldn't e terribly happy about.

I know this isn't much help, but just that we're there with you, and I don't know that there's a lot that will make sense to her in terms of a consequence. She wasn't being malicious, I'm sure, just testing things out. s
post #7 of 83
You know, we just don't buy expensive furniture right now. In fact, in our new house we have a "formal" living room that is sitting empty right now because I don't want to buy old crappy furniture, but no way am I paying for nice stuff while my kids are so young. I can't think of a single vase or glass object that is on display anywhere in our house. My kids aren't in the habit of destroying things on purpose, but there are certainly enough toys and balls that accidentally go flying through the air.

I know this is extreme, and doesn't work for some people, but for us the stress just isn't worth it. Plus, there is so much we can't put away. Our new kitchen cabinets, for instance. It makes dh crazy when the kids pull a chair up to the pantry and smack it against the lower door. But all we can do is ask them over and over again to please be careful (although I did recommend putting little clear bumper guard dots on the corner of the chairs). It also really helps my kids if we clearly explain exactly why we are asking them not to do it. We show them exactly how the corner of the chair hits the edge of the cabinet and makes a dent or chips the paint. We show them other ways of getting up the shelf without damaging the cabinet.

And all non washable pens are locked away from my younger son. He has "decorated" more items in this house than I care to think about. My older son never did, but every sharpie or other non washable pen is now stored in a box way up high in my office closet buried with other things - they don't even know it is there. It pisses me off when I need a sharpie and I have to go digging through there, but not as much as sharpie all over our carpet or couch.

This may be my own personal issue, and many here may not agree with me, but I consider seeing me burst into tears over the destruction of something that was important to me to be their natural consequence. I don't do it on purpose - I'm not talking about emotional manipulation. But I also don't try to hide my feelings about something that they did deliberately. If it was accidental, I'll be sure to reassure them that I am not mad at them and I completely understand they didn't mean to do it. But hey, you break someone's stuff, they're probably going to be upset. You smack someone, they might get angry. I don't think that's such an awful lesson to learn.

The only imposed consequence around here would be having them clean up the mess they made. If it was something really terrible, I might tell them that they need to go be somewhere else right now because I am too mad to be around anyone.
post #8 of 83
ITA with all of what oceanbaby has said. I have Sharpie on my windowsills and floor, courtesy of my 2-1/2 yo; fortunately nothing irreplaceable has been destroyed, but they do their fair share of major mess, and I chalk it up to a casualty of nonpunitive parenting because they have to learn and mature with reinforcement (like everything else) instead of acting out of fear/avoidance of punishment. Not that I'm all singsongy happy when something gets messed up - I definitely let them know when I'm upset...but I also don't 'blame' them, they're still learning. I have them help me clean when they can, etc.etc. They're not deliberately destructive, they're just enthusiastic and well, a little spazzy sometimes...and I'll be honest that in my case, it's usually me that has dropped the ball on supervision when something really crazy happens (like the Sharpie incident).

I do like the advice that simplehome gave about if it's something they feel like they need to hide that they either shouldn't do it or should come to me first...thanks for that!

Edit: On my local board, a mom was just posting about how she can't leave her 4-yo alone for even a minute, and someone said something along the lines of that not being a bad idea, to make them shadow or velcro you for a little while, and let them know that it's because they haven't been making great choices recently (not shaming, but matter of fact) and you need to have a little time to regroup and talk about things.
post #9 of 83
I don't punish. Punishment is designed to make someone feel bad, to get revenge.

Instead, thanks to what I've learned from Pam Leo, I offer the suggestion of restitution. The goal of restitution is to make things right while maintaining dignity.

I also agree with letting them see your honest reaction to it - you don't have to hide your feelings, but let them see that you are sad. Then help them make it right in a way that is appropriate for their age/maturity level.

Also like oceanbaby (great post!) we keep things locked up. It's inconvenient sometimes, but if I'm not willing to clean it up, then I keep it put away or in a locked cabinet. We also don't have expensive furniture or breakables around. It's not worth my energy/stress to worry about it.
post #10 of 83
how would you deal with your spouse if it was he who broke the vase (say in a fit of anger or frustration)? or if he wrote on the table?

my DS smashed the front of an antique console table that was very special to me. did have any clue that is was worth so much? nope. none what so ever. my DD wrote on my mom's dishwasher with sharpie. we tried everything to get it off. does she know how bad i feel about it? nope. no clue.

your DD didn't do these things to hurt you. she simply doesn't have clue. as far as "knowing not to do it" might very well know what she did was wrong. 4 yo lack the impulse control that adult and even older children have. the more they mature, the more control they get.

i would speak to her about it. ask her why she did it. ask her to tell you how she feels about what she did. tell her how sad you feel. but make sure she knows you value her more than material things.

and i would say.. get some pads on that table! put things away you don't want broken... i mean away in storage or at someone else's house. children, esp. children who don't live in fear of their parents are going to explore and express themselves. i blame myself for my table. it should not have been in living room.

and remember, discipline yourself first... meaning move through your personal feelings about what happened before you discipline you child.... think carefully about what you would like for her to take away from what happened and work with that.

my DS destroyed something at some one else's house and the mom ended the friendship. he didn't get to play with the kids anymore. while it wasn't the outcome i would have preferred or wanted... he did learn that some people value things more than relationships and he needs to be really careful to not destroy things at other people's houses anymore.

(sorry this go long, lots of experience here!)
post #11 of 83
I agree that she doesn't understand the value.

The answer is to find a place that is really inaccessible for heirlooms - like maybe behind a door that can be kept closed and locked in some way. And keep permanent markers out of her reach. She doesn't know a cheap table from a nice table. Or an heirloom from a toy. Kids are still very impulsive at 3 (almost 4). And they still have no sense of the value of things.
post #12 of 83
You say your DD knows not to do this stuff, but does she really understand exactly what you don't want her to do, and why? With the heirlooms, did she know that they were irreplaceable family heirlooms that were very important to you, and did she intentionally do something she knew would smash them? She may have known you didn't want her to draw on the table, but did she know how strongly you felt about it, and why? She may have thought drawing on the table was more like, say, screaming in the house - something you find annoying and would prefer she not do, but with no lasting consequences. She probably didn't realize how expensive the table was (or even exactly what "expensive" means), or that, to an adult, the pen marks would basically ruin the table.

I doubt she's doing this stuff because you don't punish her, and I doubt punishing would help much.
post #13 of 83
I didn't have markers accesable in my house for YEARS- from the time DD1 was born until DS was about 6. It drove me bonkers when a child needed washable markers for school, and then they got brought home at the end of the year and a younger sibling got into them (or even the child him/herself in the case of kindergarteners.) It actually feels quite strange to me that I no longer need to "babyproof" the houses, that my youngest is 7 and I really don't need to worry about anybody writing on the walls or the furniture anymore!

I simply didn't trust any of them with even washable markers unsupervised and I'm not capable of supervising them every second! I'm having a hard time understanding why a 3yo had access to permenant markers in the first place.

I don't really have any advice about breakable heirlooms, as I don't have any of those in my house. My Mom's even clumsier than I am, so nobody passed anything breakable along to her, and anything she's passed to me is durable (like handmade blankets.) I guess the best thing is to have them boxed up, carefully wrapped to cushion them, until she's old enough to understand their importance.
post #14 of 83
There isn't anything you can do about heirlooms now, and that sucks. I know how that is. When my DD was just turning 2, she found something I didn't think she could find, and broke it. Its amazing what they can do!

Somebody mentioned having to sand and refinish the table. Perhaps a natural consequence to coloring on it could be taking part in this project. Obviously at 4 she is not capable of fixing it by herself. But she can do "chores" or other things around the house to help "earn" the money for the sander and finish. She can go to the store with you to get the items needed to fit, and she can take part in the process.

I feel like this is teaching her to take responsibility for her actions. She may have done what she did for a variety of reasons, and may have been lacking the impulse control, but when you see and experience first hand the consequences your actions have, you are better able, next time, to stop and think it through.
post #15 of 83
I really have not studied gentle discipline much, however I thought that there were consequences used; just logical, natural consequences. I don't see how a child can learn proper behavior without any conseqeunces. I also think that some children are also too small to understand a long conversation or reasoning discussion about most things.. it tends to go over their head.

I would first of all buy only washable markers.
I would discuss that we do not draw on furniture; only paper. I say this to my children all the time. I would tell her if she wants to use markers, she will have to ask you for them, and perhaps set up a mat under the paper for her, and provide her with paper. As soon as she is finished, put them up. Explain you will do this from now on, to make sure markers are only used on paper.

For the heirlooms I would explain to her that they were very special to you, perhaps compare them to one of her special things so she understands.. a favorite doll or toy or something, and then explain we must respect people's things, because people care about their things.

I think getting her to help refinish the table is a great idea. She will see how much work goes in to fixing her mistake, and perhaps will learn not to do it again. This is a natural consequence of her actions. Someone will have to fix what she did, she may as well learn a bit of responsiblity and accountability by joining in.
post #16 of 83
Originally Posted by sunanthem View Post
I really have not studied gentle discipline much, however I thought that there were consequences used; just logical, natural consequences. I don't see how a child can learn proper behavior without any conseqeunces. I also think that some children are also too small to understand a long conversation or reasoning discussion about most things.. it tends to go over their head.
This is all true IMO; I *think* the OP (and please correct me if I'm wrong), was asking about using GD versus a punitive solution, like, "you wrote on the table so no dessert tonight" or, "you broke my heirloom lamp so no playdates this week". Those are arbitrary, unrelated consequences to the situation.

Natural and logical consequences do have a place in GD, for sure - but for the things she described, other than making amends and making sure the opportunities are reduced, there are not many other natural or logical consequences that I can think of...which I think was the point of the post, she wanted to know what people who don't arbitrarily punish would do about things like this.
post #17 of 83
I'm in the with Oceanbaby. We didn't buy really nice stuff yet ( except our kitchen table) In fact, we sold some of the 'pre-children' stuff(furniture) that WAS really nice. It's just not worth it to me to stress over 'stuff'. All of my expensive china etc is either packed away or way, way out of reach. I know this is not an option or even acceptable for many people but it works for us.
post #18 of 83
I think sometimes we take something and swing it to the extreme. This being said I really don't understand why anyone has ANY coloring on the walls. I have a daycare and 5 kids and only a couple times have my kids or the daycare written on the wall. (By the way have you used the Magic Erase yet? It is truly magical!) If someone writes on the walls or furniture. I tell them that we write only on paper and I only allow the crayons or markers to be out when i am watching. Now with this said I leave crayons, markers and paper out 24/7. I have only put them up a couple times.

I also believe that there needs to be a room or two which a child can go and not be afraid of breaking something. I also believe that not everything need to be packed away. What will happen if you visit a friend or relative. Kids need to understand that we don't touch or play with some things period. So if you have a room which has some more expensive stuff, then let it be a rule that we don't play in that room. The consequence for breaking something on purpose is you need to be within my eye site and we can't go in the room with valuables.

You have to have consequences of some kind. Life is not without them .You speed=you get a ticket. You break something in a store=you buy it, you hurt someone=you may get sued.
Just my thoughts. Good luck.
post #19 of 83
Originally Posted by robin4kids View Post

You have to have consequences of some kind. Life is not without them .You speed=you get a ticket. You break something in a store=you buy it, you hurt someone=you may get sued.
Just my thoughts. Good luck.
i don't agree. a parent child relationship is not about tickets, paying for things or getting sued. that's like comparing apples and oranges.

this isn't about consequences, this about the OP feeling big feelings about how her child is acting. this isn't about "correcting" a child's behavior, this is about dealing with how you feel when your child doesn't act the you want her/him to. that could easily have been her spouse or friend that broke that vase or wrote on the table. would we be talking about consequences then?
post #20 of 83
If a little one is breaking fragile things, drawing on walls etc....

I put away the breakables, lock up the markers, and supervise better.

Getting upset won't help, and doing nothing won't prevent it from happening again. So do something about this, but do it constructively, kwim?
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