The other day, my friend’s 4 year old was playing with his 3 year old sister and my 2 year old in their carport. His mom and I were chatting away about our husbands’ work life, when suddenly, the little boy came up to us and threw a dustpan full of leaves and dirt straight in his mom’s face, covering her chest and filling her cowl neck and eyes and mouth with leaf dust. Her eyes threw a hurt look his way, but she said nothing. I could tell she was upset, but she didn’t do anything to punish her child. I think she was actually in a bit of a shock. She shook the dirt and leaves off as best she could, and asked me . . . “well, what would you do about that?” – She is always curious about my peaceful discipline techniques because, though we have agreed to disagree about the way we discipline our kids, she tries to understand my methods since our children play often together.
I told her that I wasn’t sure exactly what I would do, or what gentle parenting philosophy would have me do… but that I was pretty sure she did an effective thing by letting her son know that she was not happy about the “leaf attack” without scolding with words.
“I would think that the main idea to convey to him is that actions like throwing things in people’s faces is inappropriate and hurtful – and you already did that clearly with your expression. He’s not even 5. . . he hasn’t formed in his mind what right and wrong are yet, so to punish him for doing what he saw as play would be useless and hurtful. Maybe you can talk to him later about what the dust pan is and isn’t used for. But he didn’t mean to hurt you.” My friend seemed satisfied with my answer. . . but if she reads this post, I hope she’s more satisfied now that I’ve typed it out and followed up with a bit of research.
Jan Hunt writes in her article “22 Alternatives to Punishment” on the Natural Child Project webpage that one of the most important things to remember is to “give your child time, and give yourself time.” In my friend’s situation with her four-year-old’s random leaf blitz, that’s just what she did by staying silent and not yelling or reacting with punishment. Many other parents would have grabbed the child in anger, spanked him for disrespect, and scolded him for being bad. Traditional discipline would have us at least do something immediately, because if we wait a while to scold, the child will have forgotten what he is being scolded for. But the healthiest option for both parent and child is to take time, even if is only a few seconds, to stay silent, calm down and think of how to approach the situation appropriately.