Testing Our Limits

This is Brianne’s third week here, and although the girls have been splendidly wonderful for the majority of the time, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows over here every minute of the day….

The girls got up extra early this morning and came hurdling into our bedroom with their candy bags.

“Can we have marshmellows?” they asked excitedly.

Alan and I looked at the clock groggily. 7:30am. Marshmellows for breakfast? No way.

We told the girls to put their candy bags away for later, in which they obediently agreed to. We got them cheese sticks and yogurt for breakfast instead, and then went back to bed, desperate for just a little more sleep.

Fast forward an hour later, I finally got out of bed and went to give the girls their morning hugs and kisses. As I pulled Bridgette’s face towards mine, I saw some raspberry syrup at the corner of her mouth. It was an obvious evidence that they had indeed eaten the marshmellows (which has a raspberry filling inside). I knelt down until I was at their eye level and spoke in the firmest voice possible.

“Did you eat the marshmellows?” I asked.

It was very interesting for me at that moment, to observe the differences in Brianne and Bridgette when confronted about their sneaky behavior. Brianne refused to have eye contact with me, timidly looking at the ground. Bridgette looked me straight in the eye, but with a clear sense of fear. She contemplated just for a minute before nodding her head. That caught me off guard a bit. From the look in her eyes, I was almost sure she’d lie to me in fear of being punished. I’m really glad that she chose to tell the truth instead.

At that moment, I was trying to recall all the books and articles I read about addressing such behavior. A few key points came to mind:

{Address the behavior, not their personality}

“Brianne and Bridgette, what you did was unacceptable to us. We specifically asked that you do not eat the marshmellows, and yet, you decided to eat it anyway, behind our backs.”

I asked if they understood that such behavior was wrong. They nodded guiltily.

{Enforce punishment, so that they understand there are consequences to misbehavior}

“Because what you did was wrong, we will now have to punish you for your behavior. You will not be allowed to play any type of dress up for the next two days.”

I actually had to bite back my smile when I said that. The punishment seemed so silly, but I knew that they would perceive that has a major punishment. Not long ago, I gave up on the ‘time out’ method, because the girls are smart enough to know that being timed out for a few minutes merely means a ‘quick break’ from their play, and nothing serious. Therefore, I needed to think of a consequence that would really mean ‘punishment’ to them, and this was it. The minute I announced the punishment, their faces fell, and it was obvious that they knew this was serious.

I talked to them for a few more minutes to make sure they understood the misbehavior and why it was wrong. Then, I gave them both hugs and kisses and told them I still loved them. They promised they would never do that again.

I know the ‘misbehavior’ was really minor, but it marked a milestone in our household. We realize that the girls are now old enough to test our limits in different ways than before. As babies, they may throw food from their high chairs to see how we’d react. As toddlers, they would walk that extra step towards the top of the stairs to see if we’d stop them from toddling further. Now, as 4 year old girls going on 5, (is there a name for this age group?) they will attempt to lie, or to violate house rules, to see how far they can go without being caught or punished. I think it is so important that we, as parents, recognize the different stages our children are in, so that we can react appropriately. They won’t stay babies forever. Their intelligence level increases day by day. The same ‘formulas’, same ‘rules’, will expire, and it is our responsibility as parents to continually renew them for our children.

Alan and I are far from being perfect parents, but we do enjoy this journey of learning how to be good parents. It’s a balance of trusting our own instincts and judgement, as well as learning from others’ mistakes and successes. Parenting is undoubtedly the hardest thing we have ever done, but it is also the most rewarding. It is through parenting that we both learn the true meaning of ‘unconditional love’, and that, is a very beautiful thing….

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