Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Discipline & payoff

My children are playing together, building a creative field to meet minds. This recent phenomenon cannot be taken for granted – any second, it could deteriorate. I listen for the signs: over-excitement, the same phrase repeated several times with increasing intensity, and words like can’t, don’t, but. Those words infect and break apart their shared field. When both have willingness, they often overcome them, so I'll avoid intervening.

So far, there is only one word they have yet to overcome for themselves: No.  When I hear No, I don’t delay. Left to its destructive nature, No can turn a normal day into a nightmare of recurring blowups, touchy feelings and general impatience. The No virus can infect moods for hours. It must be diffused. As fast as I can, I inject a question. A question depressurizes the vacuum No creates. It could be any question. Most often, I ask some variation of “what do you need?”

Our family engages in ongoing practice to remind and help each other keep negating words out of our home and, eventually, thinking.  It’s not just semantics – it’s being more honest. Negating words mean nothing. Absence. Their only meaning is not being what they negate. Naming that factor creates opportunity to deal with it. Without the tool of a negating word, the mind must look a little further to find and name what has been negated, and communicate it.

Here are the words we focus on primarily:

Don’t: I’d prefer
Can’t: Having a hard time
But: And
Shouldn’t: Could  (should also becomes could)
Want: I’d like
Not: Might be
Hate: I wish
No: I need or I’m afraid or Why

No is the most difficult. Sometimes the answer is no. In that case, we use it appropriately by attaching an "I need" explanation and, whenever possible, and helping to identify options that could be yes. We expect the children to use No that way as well – I’d say their capabilities are close to my own.

This discipline has helped our family enormously. When I correct my children from this point of view, I take responsibility to let them know what is expected, instead of being left to decipher expectations from what is not permitted. I harbour great hope that enforcing this discipline now (they are now 2 & 4), when they don’t know better than to adopt it, can help them avoid many of the thinking traps that held me imprisoned as a child. (I require this kind of long-term optimism – it keeps me going, so please avoid poking a pin in my balloon).

Today, I've been writing for an unprecedented 16 minutes, and there has not been one blow up between them. I feel the shackles of baby house arrest beginning to loosen. The discipline is paying off.  Spring is coming, my babies are becoming kids, and maybe, just maybe, I can steal back a bit of space for me me me. Soon, soon, soon.

(as I typed that, I heard them trampling closer, and they surrounded me, shouting over each other happily to share their game, each trying to hold my eyes, absently clawing each other out of the way. Back to it, mom)