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Crayons and Compromise

Jamie is en route to her new home in Pennsylvania and will be popping in here and there for awhile, but we will be a little off-schedule for awhile until she and her family settle in.  If you are interested in writing a guest post for us, please let us know!  Today we are delighted to have a guest post from Lisa from Crayons and Compromise

It’s easy to say you’re committed to soulful, connected parenting, but when situations arise that test your commitment, it can be difficult to live your principles. Sometimes you feel like you have no options that fit into the kind of parenting you want to practice. My son tests me on this every day. He’s supposed to, I guess – he’s three.

The other day, Henry and I were having a lovely time together. We’d printed out some pictures and were busy coloring them on the living room floor. He accidentally made a mark on the floor and I casually said, “Oh, let’s make sure we only mark on the paper, ok, honey?” He got that little rebellious spark in his eye, the one he gets quite often, and started streaking his blue crayon back and forth across the hardwood floor. As you can imagine, the scenario quickly degenerated into my forcibly removing the crayon from him, closing all the crayons up in their box and holding it shut while he climbed all over me trying to get to them, crying and repeatedly screaming, “I want to color on the floor! I want to color on the floor!” I tried distracting, redirecting, providing alternatives – all the gentle parenting techniques we’re supposed to use. “Redirect” is both the most useful and the most useless advice I’ve ever heard, because it makes perfect sense but when a child needs to be redirected most is when he will absolutely have none of it. My son is quite passionate and persistent. When he wants something, he wants that and nothing else.

How did I resolve this dilemma? I could have allowed him to continue screaming and crying. I could have put him in time-out, which makes me cringe and never really works with him anyway. I could have counted to three, but that makes me cringe too. I don’t want anyone counting at me when I’m upset, after all, and I figure a child has just as much right to being upset as anyone else. I simply don’t believe in punishing a child for wanting something, for being upset because he can’t have it. So my answer was to give it to him. Before you think I’m a crazy person who gives in to all her three-year-old’s whims, let me explain. In the crayon situation, I asked Henry if he would like to choose one crayon and make a tiny mark on the floor and then help me clean it up. He stopped crying, said yes, selected an orange crayon (his favorite color), and made a dot so tiny I couldn’t see it. Then we got right back to playing and enjoying our day.

I like to remember that my son is his own person and that he deserves my respect. I don’t want to be the kind of parent who comes from a place of authority in every interaction with my child. I want him to see that when you love someone, you make compromises. You say yes as often as you can, and when you say no it really means something. I want him to know that I care if he’s upset, even if the reason makes no sense to me. When he’s upset, it’s usually about something that seems completely illogical to me, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take his feelings seriously.

Last night, Henry wanted to come back downstairs to play after his bath, and I wanted him to go to bed instead. But I remembered the crayon compromise, and I took a different approach. I asked him what he wanted to play with downstairs, and he said he wanted to ride his horse. So we put on his pajamas, I took him downstairs, he bounced on his horse three times, and we went back upstairs to bed. Simple.

Will every interaction be this simple? Of course not. But it would it be a great deal more difficult if I stuck to my guns on everything, if I refused to back down, insisted that he simply respect my authority and forget what he wants. A three-year-old doesn’t understand why he can’t have what he wants. Insisting that you’re right because you’re the parent isn’t going to make much sense to him. Compromising and coming from a place of love and acceptance but still gently guiding him in the right direction —  that’s how to find peace for both parent and child.

Lisa DeBusk is a mom, piano teacher, and writer. She writes about parenting, religion, health, culture, and politics. You can find her writing about gentle parenting at Crayons and Compromise.

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  1. Love this! My husband and I differ on this quite a bit… I’m much more of a “yes” parent, and he’s much more of a “because I said so”. If our (2 year old) daughter doesn’t do something as quickly as he would like, he gets aggravated with her. It drives me crazy.

    Some days I do this much better than others, but I have found it cuts the tantrums down SO much. And at what loss? So I let her do something her way rather than MY way… as long as she’s not doing some dangerous, it doesn’t really matter to me.

    Oh, and I love your line: ““Redirect” is both the most useful and the most useless advice I’ve ever heard,” PERFECTION.

  2. Thank you, Shaina! It’s so hard for people to break out of the “because I said so” mold, especially if that’s how their parents related to them. But it doesn’t make sense to children, so what’s the point of saying it? You always hear “But they have to learn to respect you,” but I don’t see how telling them they HAVE to do something simply because you said so will teach them respect! Showing them that you’re willing to compromise, that their opinions matter, that you love them enough to LISTEN when they’re upset and to take their feelings seriously, though — that might actually teach them about what respect is.