Written by Angie Nixon
Last night we came home with a gallon (a few) of paint for our house; the entire house is in project status. I left it near the wall I was testing it on, after having opened the can to obtain a bit of paint to conduct the test.
My daughter watched me. She is 39 months.
A few minutes later I hear Papa putting a stop to some urgently concerning activity, and when I ventured around the corner to discover the plot, I found my daughter with cream colored fingers, a paint can that was expertly opened and only a tiny bit of paint where it didn't belong. I also found a little girl in a state of confusion.
|Image: Ingvar Kollesdal|
In our house, we don't believe in punishment the way most people understand it. Naturally occurring consequences are one thing, but punitive reaction isn't something we have chosen to pursue in our home. As such, being "in trouble" isn't something our daughter has any comprehension of, except if she's stuck in a bucket or has literally found herself in a sticky situation - that might seem like a problem or trouble.
So, in the split-second-moment I had to determine my response, I was fortunate enough to see a glimpse of my daughter's world through her eyes. I instantly became aware of her sense of accomplishment, pride in doing what Mama did and not making a mess of it, and her confusion in her activity being abruptly halted by her Papa (and then Mama). In her eyes, I saw her need for my appreciation of her curiosity, and her need for my respect of her, and her autonomy.
Instead of telling her to not touch, leave it alone, that what she had done caused a problem for her adults (parents), or some other form of scolding or admonishment, I decided to approach the situation on her level, as an equal. If I can have fun and indulge my need for a creative outlet through this method, why shouldn't she be able to as well.
I spoke to her gently, without even a hint of humoring or thinking "how cute she is, she's copying mama". I asked her if she thought it was fun to paint, and what else she thought/felt about her choice to take on the same task I had. I told her I really enjoyed it too, and that it was something we should and could do. Together.
I explained that using "that" paint was something that she should do again, but that I wanted to have fun doing it with her, that it was one of those jobs (a term we use that I can explain further if desired) that works best with a Mama included and that in the future, she must wait until we can do it together. She is young enough that I don't have to expound that statement. She doesn't know she is too little to handle it alone without making a mess (and honestly, she likely could handle it just fine, if but for my carpet), and I don't want her to think that I view a mess as a bad thing anyway.
Now, when I resume my efforts painting that (or any other) wall, I know that there will be no negative association for her. It won't bring up a difficult memory. This is the positive outcome instead of the alternative: Her associating disapproval, discouragement, diminished value, or other damaging and/or negative association inside upon the next time she sees me paint.
And you know what, I will quite likely hand her a paint brush the next time I pick one up myself, and let her go to town.
Angie eats a lot of cinnamon granola, which has turned her into a bit of a crunchy, spicy Mama. She's is also a musician, web developer, perpetual student, and is married to a musician and engineer. Yes, we
have fun. Together with her partner, she has set out to guide the exploration of a new little person, create music to tell about the journey, and find out just how far their collective creativity can take them.