The Parenting on Track Car Playout

Last week, I described the plot my friend Mimi and I laid to get my three littles to STOP MAKING ME CRAZY in the car.  How did it play out?

So far, so damn good.

I’m always a little embarrassed when these very simple things–courtesy of Parenting on Track–work over all the far more complicated strategies I’ve tried, and for the car, I’ve had more than a few. Let’s see, there were the stars that I took away for fighting or screaming. The countless times I’ve pulled over. The kids sent to their room when we got home. The times I’ve actually left the car until they stopped. None worked in the long run.

Granted, we’re not to the long run now, but I’m optimistic. Even a return to the removal of the privilege is EASY compared to all that stuff.

In truth, they got off easy–because after imposing “five days” on Tuesday–we were saying I would release them Monday, Tuesday for Lilly and Rory who blew it–on Saturday I forgot, and sent Wyatt home from skiing (around here that’s the equivalent of sending him home from the park) in the car of the very same friend I plotted with in the first place, to play at her house. (Some “friend!”) Rory wasn’t there when he left, but when the rest of us went in to lunch, eventually (after a rather embarrassingly long time) some kid or another noticed he wasn’t there, and said, “Where’s Wyatt?” “Oh, he went home with Trevor (Mimi’s son).”

Rory slapped her chicken finger down. “But you said we not ride in anybody else’s car until MONDAY!”

Oops. I’m very impressed by how quickly she caught me, though, and how that proves how well this was working. I have no doubt now that she totally got this. Lily chimed in, and I apologized, and released them both, too–with the caveat that if they don’t act in my car like they would in a friend’s car, it’s another five days.

And so far, as I said, so very very good.

I’ve been thinking about why this works. I’ve always said I couldn’t possibly parent without bribes and threats: wouldn’t even want to try. What this is, it strikes me, is bribes and threats inverted. I’m requiring that they bribe me. I’ve had good luck with threats, actually, but only because I’ve been very willing to carry them out–and that’s like this, only with a whole ‘nother painful step. Picture this: Wyatt slugs Rory in the car. I tell Wyatt, “do that again, and you can’t ride in anyone else’s car for five days. Same goes for all of you.” Now, I have to remember this and enforce, which I’m usually good at–but say Rory is the next transgressor. She’s punished. No one else is. That feels much more unfair. Plus, say the behavior wasn’t a hit, but a scream, or Lily’s patented I-won’t-let-you-get-into-the-car move. That wasn’t in the threat! But it’s just as bad. Maybe worse, from a problem-for-me point of view (and it’s all about me, right?). Eventually, it would work, or they would all grow out of it. Something.

But this? They all earned the privilege at the same time. (I kind of planned that–they were so bad so often it was easy enough to nail them all at the same time, which I guess might have worked with the threat too–but then there’s so often a single WORSE transgressor, and delivering the same punishment is not good. I just planned to have them all ask for the privilege on the same day, one way or another, and be denied it.) Now, they can lose it separately–but that will feel much more fair. And it’s not a punishment. It’s a loss. It’s not grounding, not a “consequence” but something just that little bit different. And it clearly makes sense to them. Of course they can’t hit their friends in their friends’ cars, or prevent their friends’ younger siblings from getting in the car. I mean, who would do that? It’s so obvious! And, “click,” they get it.

My life is so much better now. Thanks, Vicki (who I know swings by here occasionally, although I haven’t yet emailed her to say howdy. I will, I will!)

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