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Blind Rage Over Goldfish Crackers: How Not to Punish Your Kids

English: An image of a Common goldfish

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I pride myself on being able to control myself fairly well with my kids, even so much as to say I have never “punished” them and I rarely use the word “discipline” because of its negative connotation of control. That is, until this weekend when I thought I might come absolutely, 100% unglued at the seams with one of my daughters.

I was enjoying my afternoon with a book in hand when my daughter ran to me dramatically yelling, “Ayla braided goldfish into my hair and I can’t get it out!!” That’s right; her sister had braided, into her hair, goldfish crackers.

Being annoyed as I was, but not willing to manage this situation for them, I simply told her, “Go tell your sister to unbraid your hair and get the goldfish out.” To which she exclaimed very loudly and with enthusiasm, “SHE TRIED!! SHE CAN’T GET THEM OUT!” And so I said again, “Go get the goldfish out. Figure out how to do it.”

In my mind I could come up with at least three very good solutions right off the bat for getting those goldfish out of her hair. However, the very choice I hadn’t thought of was cutting the goldfish out. So, when I saw goldfish, and locks of hair, lying on my kitchen counter next to a pair of scissors, I all but lost myself! I felt myself slipping into a blind rage, feeling like I was about to HURT one of my children for this very stupid mistake they’d just made!

Luckily, I had the wherewithal not to take any immediate action, and instead entered into a chat conversation with the one person I knew could tell me EXACTLY how to implement the best possible punishment for this extremely stupid action, my husband.

The conversation was short and it went exactly like this:

ME:  I am SOOOO mad!! Ayla braided goldfish into Lily’s hair, and then when she couldn’t get them out, Lily CUT HER HAIR. I am SO MAD at both of their decision.

HIM:  goldfish crackers? 

ME: Yes, goldfish crackers. 

HIM: That is bizarre. 

ME:  I don’t even know what to do. Reward them by going to a movie?? (I had already purchased tickets for a movie we were all going to as a family that evening.) 

HIM: This is why we can’t have nice things. Like hair. (Total smartass.) 

ME: What should I do? 

HIM: I don’t think there’s any reason to punish them…Lily is the one that has to live with her cut hair. I’m sure she wasn’t trying to be bad.  Are you going to punish her for having the reasoning skills of a 7 year old? 

ME:

[total silence]

His words cut me to my core.

The word “bad” hung in the balance. “Bad”? I mean, are any of our kids really trying to be “bad?”

This is why I love my husband. He puts things in perspective when I’m about to flip my lid. Our kids aren’t bad. I don’t think I would call any child “bad.” That’s a horrible word. We punish kids because they are bad. This is precisely why I don’t punish my kids. They aren’t bad.

Lily made a poor decision, but that doesn’t make her bad. Consequently, is that poor decision “bad”?

To drive home the point further though, my husband said simply, “Are you going to punish her for having the reasoning skills of a 7 year old?”

I didn’t have a response for that. Damn him for being correct. But, he absolutely was. I wanted to be REALLY MAD for what happened because I didn’t want Lily to cut her hair. My desire was for Lily to not have short pieces taken out of her hair. But that wasn’t Lily’s desire apparently. And, if she didn’t realize what she was doing, she does now. She now sees the impact of using scissors on her hair. I didn’t need to punish or discipline; I just needed to have a conversation about choices.

I’m a self-proclaimed helicopter mom – a highly involved parent, and I don’t apologize for it. While some parents may punish for many actions, I do my best, with the help of my husband, to put their actions into perspective. We can’t assume a 7-year old is going to make the decisions of a 15 year old or even an adult. It just isn’t going to happen.

This was a reminder for me, and hopefully a reminder for all of us – our kids are not ours to control; they are ours to guide. Choices are made and character is built on trial, error, and mistakes.

I think Lily saw how angry I was, and she also heard me tell her that her choices were her own. We talked through the other options she may have had with the goldfish crackers to get them out, and hopefully next time she’ll be able to think through all of her choices before choosing the first (dumb) thing that pops in her heard. This time, they didn’t have to hear a Mom that was an irrational yeller, screamer or disciplinarian that could have ultimately crushed her own willingness, strength and courage to make her own choices.

Photo credit here.

About the Author:

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer has spent over 12 years in private practice working with individuals, couples, and parents who are faced with kid-drama, mamma-drama, and family-drama, and she claims that although some stories make a grown woman cry, she loves it.
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