February 8, 2007


One of Rachel’s recent posts reminded me of my years working with troubled kids. For three years between my time as a hairdresser and going to grad school for graphic design, I worked in a residential treatment center.

When I first started, four of my five shifts were with Mrs. CityName. She was a gruff older black woman who’d worked in the cottage for 17 years. For the most part she completely neglected to train me. Her methods of discipline were based on her personality. When she yelled, “You’ve got three seconds to get back up these stairs…1…2…”, kids jumped. If I tried it they laughed and kept going.

In the midst of shifts from hell when she left me alone so she could 'drive to Dunkin Donuts' (i.e. take a cigarette break), she did teach me a key life lesson.

One afternoon, NoRs and I were in a conflict over her taking a time out.

“Yes, you will go in the time out room.”

“No I won’t! Youwha howible pehson and I hate you, bitch!”

“If you won’t go in there, I’ll have to make you.” I threatened as I stood up.

Mrs. CityName finally intervened. “That little girl has you going. You need to stop the power struggle. Just step away.”

“You gotta give the kid a choice," she continued, "Make it between what you want and Hell, but give them a choice.”

She looked across the room and growled, “Time out room for five or your room for fifty.” NoRs stomped into the time out room cursing us the whole way.

I think the thing that bugged me about the whole incident was feeling that by not forcing my will, I was being weak. That little girl just cussed me out and didn’t have consequences for that?! What I had to learn was that anytime I reached a ‘yes you will’ / ‘no I won’t’ stage, I’d cornered both of us into a losing situation. The challenge was (and is) figuring out viable ‘choices’ before getting into the conflict.


Everblest said...

Oh I live that!

Beloved said...

Boy, can I relate! The word viable is key here.

I once was with a mom who was trying to get her very rebellious and resistant teenage daughter to leave a restaurant (where she was hanging out with a friend). After nearly 1/2 an hour of negotiation, it came down to, "You'll either come out to the car in 5 minutes or I'm calling the police." Well, 5 minutes later there was no daughter in sight and the mom asked me what to do. I told her I thought she'd better call the police. Well, that didn't happen and that probably gives you some idea of why we were being manipulated by a teenager. I wish more parents would realize that if they give an ultimatum (not really the same as choices, is it?), they'd better follow through.

In less extreme situations, it really is amazing how well kids respond to choices. When they don't want to do what you're asking them to, giving them a less desirable option makes what you're asking seem that much more appealing!

Snickollet said...

You were a hairdresser!? I had no idea!

While there are very difficult things about the baby stage with my kids, I am leery of the whole discipline thing that comes along when the are walking and talking. I know I will have a lot of lessons to learn. Thanks for this insight.

Anonymous said...

I agree on the choice, with my oldest, Emily, 8 going on 22 right about now, we've used choice a lot, recently she'll respond, "well, I don't like either of those choices though, I need one that I like", the first time she said this I was dumbfounded, caught flat-footed, nothing to say. Now I just repeat the prior 2 choices like a broken record, and sometimes if feels like the 2 choices are my will or Hell, but sometimes, I don't have much option on that, being a mom is tough, but I know she needs a mom, not a friend. Follow through can be hard to, when they were younger it was easier b/c a choice could be a little unrealistic yet believeable, now the options really have to make sense, and very doable, else I've failed before I start.

You always get me thinking, hope you're well!