I can't help it, I'm a perfectionist who expects the same from everyone around me. That is, until I grew wise in my old age and realized I can't change everyone around me, I can only emulate examples to those around me, which I still stink at much of the time. So now I just refuse to ever make a mistake. Ask my colleague Bill, I think it makes him happy when I actually fail at something. At least he tells everyone about it when it happens.
So everytime Jack flips out because he didn't do something exactly perfect, or makes any tiny error of any kind I shrink back into myself cringing, wondering how in only 4 1/2 years I have managed to scar my child with the curse I lived with each and everyday of expecting so much of myself. Or at least expecting so much of myself that I worried it will affect how others thought of me. Approval, it was a strong, strong need in me in my younger years. After my early thirties it turned into someone else's problem. My mid life crisis/awakening came earlier than most but later than I wish it had, much later.
It's not that the child never gets in trouble or never throws an all out major fit that both his father and I want to go back to our DINK days and rethink the whole "maybe our careers aren't the only thing in life". Trust me, in this household, Jack is King of the Fit. It's just that his fits are more in the category of discipline for self control, not discipline for outright naughty behavior. In my opinion it's harder to discipline a child who is flipping out because he didn't get his arms in his shirt exactly right when he's trying to do it to please you, vs. a kid who's flipping out because he's smacking the living daylights out of his brother. Both require discipline, but oh the nuances. Let's just say the words Self Control are used often on Sterling Creek Ranch.
When I picked up Jack today I was warned that #1 he didn't nap, and #2 that he was pretty "active" all day long. Hmm, the napping thing, no great suprise or concern as he doesn't at home on the weekend, though it is rare he wouldn't at school. Secretly, I was ecstatic because it means he'll be asleep before 9pm tonight. However, #3 was that he received a Sad Face on his work today because...
It was his first Sad Face. The first time I can remember that he has ever been called out by a teacher for not following directions. Not that he hasn't done it, but that it was worthy enough to note to me at pick up. And it was notable that when he brought me the paper from his cubby, he just handed it over and didn't show it to me, didn't want to call it out in any way and followed it up with several other creations making sure to point out how he is "doing better at his "K"'s in his name". I didn't acknowledge anything otherwise, no calling out of the Sad Face, no asking about the other papers he brought me. We just went on our merry way, though he was a bit more defiant in the departure than usual, he eventually came along and off we went, to get Duke and to the car on our merry way home.
It wasn't until middle of supper he asked the question I knew was coming. "Can we play the George game?" We recently began allowing 30 minutes of computer time with our friends over at PBS kids and Curious George and their games. Great for lots of reasons, and it's a really special, BIG KID activity. I knew this was my moment to make it or break it. Tell a child who is already over concerned with not making mistakes, that there is a consequence for the Sad Face. I knew it was important not to focus on the Sad Face, but focus on the behavior that caused the Sad Face.
And so when he asked I explained that today, there would be no PBSKids, no George game. That today because we didn't listen to our teachers and follow directions during activity time, we would have to wait until another day to play the George game. Nothing more, nothing less.
As expected, the roof came crashing down, as if I had told him he would never again in his lifetime, play the George game. I remained calm, no explanation, waiting to see where it would lead. And it came around on it's own to the inevitable, "I didn't mean to have a Sad Face" or something similiar and finally it was my turn to show what I have learned from all the books, magazines, blogs, friends and especially family examples before me.
"Jack, getting a Sad Face once in a while happens. I don't expect there never to be a Sad Face. But I expect you to follow directions and listen to your teachers and that is the reason that you will not be able to play the George game. I love you and I know you can do better. Tomorrow work hard to do better and if you do, you will be able to play the George game again."
I don't know if I explained it all perfectly or in the right words or too many words, but in my heart I knew I did the two things I wanted him to be sure to know. That there are consequences for the Sad Faces, but that it's the actions that matter to me most not the Sad Faces he gets.
And in my heart, I'm jumping with joy for the Sad Face that finally gets me the chance to discipline my kid for doing something wrong instead of trying too hard to be right.