The other night at dinner started fantastic. Grace sat with her face scrunched, her eyebrows as deep down as they could go, and in her scariest voice told us stories about a haunted house. Then three-year old Luke would chime in and say "scary shadows," while mimicking Grace's scary face. It was hilarious.
After her story she decided to not only drink milk from her cup, but to also practice her balancing abilities while at it. She only used her mouth to hold her cup, not unlike a seal trying to balance a ball on it's nose, and it was about as messy. She was told that her drinking method was unacceptable. As she is an alpha female in a five-year old body, she decided it was as good a point as any to stand her ground. She was asked to leave the table but refused, instead she grabbed onto her chair like it was a life preserver on the Titanic.
"Uh-oh," I said, using our key word for, "This is about to be a problem...for you." She didn't budge. "You can walk to your room," I said, "or I'll be happy to carry you." She was still holding her chair. When I picked her up to carry her she grabbed onto the table cloth, spilling all of our dinner onto the ground.
My husband Chad and I wanted to find a consequence that would teach, rather than just punish, but we didn't have any idea what that might be. So we did what most good parents do. We googled it. Thankfully "Love and Logic" had just the right solution. An "energy drain." An energy drain is whenever a kid zaps your energy with their bad behavior and they are then responsible for helping you get it back. It's always at a personal but a fair cost. And always with empathy and kindness when the verdict is delivered.
Because Grace made our dinner so unpleasant, we decided that we would need a grown-up dinner at a nice restaurant without kids to get our energy back, and that Grace would pay the baby sitter. Luckily, her babysitter accepts toys and allowance as payment (we paid her in cash afterwards).
When Grace was allowed out of time-out we told her the consequence, and that she would need to pick out a toy to pay the babysitter with. We were expecting a major meltdown at the news. But as always, Grace completely surprised us. She picked out her newest and most favoritest Elsa doll that she had just spent the last ten weeks saving up for. We explained several times that it didn't have to be that doll but she felt strongly that it did. She even went as far as to gift wrap it and colored a card to go with it.
She wasn't upset at all, in fact we suspected that she was secretly feeling really good about it. (She mentioned the next morning that we were mean for making her get rid of her doll, but I told her that most parents would just yell or spank. After that she didn't complain again.) Chad and I think that kids have a more intense sense of "fair" than we do, and when they know that they are making it right again, they feel good about it. Grace is young but smart and she knew she really blew it that night. We think she was happy to have a way to put things right.
The next night Grace decided to test her limits with extremely bad manners again.
"I'm so happy," I said to her complete astonishment. "I really had a great time with your dad last night at our dinner. Will you be paying for another babysitter tonight?"
The bad manners totally stopped. Instantly. The best part was that I didn't have to yell or even get mad. In fact I was a little disappointed she cleaned up her act so quickly. I was secretly hoping for another night out. It turned out our family dinner was nearly just as nice at home that night, even though I had to clean my own dishes afterwards. And Grace learned that if she makes a mistake can feel good about herself when she makes it right.