Jellyfish, Brick Walls, and Backbones

A few days ago I attended the monthly meeting of a support group for grandparents raising children and the topic of discussion was the discipline of children.

Now you might think that because one is a grandparent raising grandchildren that he and/or she knows everything there is to know about discipline and parenting.

You might also assume that because grandparents have already raised children and this is our second time around, we already know how to do the parenting thing.

But you could just as easily conclude that because one is raising his and/or her grandchildren, some of us might not have done a very good job the first time around and so that is why we are having to raise our grandchildren.

(I’m not making judgments about myself or anybody else, but “What did I do wrong?” is a question I often ask myself.)

Probably one of the greatest challenges for grandparents administering discipline to grandchildren they are raising is to make the distinction between being the child’s parent and grandparent.

When my kids first started bringing my grandchildren into the world, I told them that it’s my job to tell the children “Yes” and their job to tell them “No.” So it’s an adjustment, at least at first, to tell the grandchildren in your care “No,” “Stop,” “Quit.”

Just because I’m a grandparent raising grandchildren, I still think I have a lot to learn about parenting. And there’s more than a few things about parenting I need to unlearn!

When the discussion turns to discipline methods, I need all the help I can get. You see, parenting skills was Nanna’s area of expertise. She was a school teacher and counselor and a great mom and Nanna and knew how to handle any situation that required discipline.

So back to the grandparent support group discussion about discipline. Barbara Coloroso, in the book, Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, assigns the imagery of Jellyfish for an Indulgent or Permissive parenting style, Brick Wall for an Authoritarian parenting style, and Backbone for an Authoritative parenting style.

When a situation requiring discipline arises, the parent responds according to his or her parenting style.

So in the handout for the discussion we were presented with this scenario: Your child pours his milk out in his dinner plate. How do you respond? And the three alternatives are:
1) You ignore it (jellyfish);
2) You slap his hand and tell him no and remove his dinner plate (brick wall); or
3)  You replace his plate with a new plate containing a small amount of food and take the milk away away and say he can have his milk back after he finishes eating (backbone).

Of course, the backbone response is the best alternative.

This scenario is, I think, a good one because it’s realistic, it’s authentic. It could really happen with children, and, coincidentally, one that was recently played out at my house soon after the grandparent support group discussion.

However, there are a few more details I must add to the scenario for the sake of accuracy with how this actually occurred at my house. So let me restate the scenario in the context of what happened at my house and maybe you can tell me how I should have responded.

The toddlers are at the table eating dinner. It’s a dinner that I believe has a low potential for making a mess–pizza and fruit with a juice drink in a squeeze bottle.

So I’m standing around the corner from the dining area looking through the mail when I hear Kenzie say to Kaleb: “I’m fixing my hair with juice.”

Horrified, I dropped the mail and raced around the corner to the dinner table to find that Kenzie had squeezed all the juice out of the bottle into her plate. The first thing I see is pizza and grapes floating in the juice in the plate.

The next thing I see is both of her hands dipped in the juice in the plate.

When I looked up from the plate and looked at her head, I could see that she had been texturing her hair using the juice as a hairstyling mousse!

Here’s what her new juicy hairdo looked like:

So I’m looking at this mess and thinking: Jellyfish? Brick Wall? Backbone?

Do I ignore it then slap her hands and tell her no and take her plate away?

No, that doesn’t make sense. I should slap her hands and then ignore it?

That can’t be right. I’m not supposed to ignore it. And I don’t think I’m supposed to slap her hands. So, should I take her plate away and send her to bed early?

I don’t remember anything about going to bed early!

I know, I tell her she can never have juice to drink again in her whole life. No, that can’t be right either!

Why didn’t I pay better attention during the discussion instead of making wisecracks?

I can’t believe this is actually happening just like we discussed in the support group and now I don’t remember the correct response!

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