I recently joined my firiend, Tim, and his 4 year old son, Owen, at the sandbox in Riverside Park. It wasn't long before sand was flying in every direction! This was little Owen's solution to the frustration of not being included with "the guys". Dad's solution, in turn, was to impatiently assign his furious youngster a "time-out" on a nearby park bench. Both sat, fuming angrily.
A discouraged mom recently told me how she had similarly solved the problem of her 13 year old daughter, Jessica's skipping classes in June. She had assigned her daughter to an extended "time-out", better known as "grounding", for a good part of the summer. Both mom and daughter ended up frustrated.
This parenting is hard work, isn't it? It is probably harder than it ever has been in the histroy of parenting. There is too much information, much of it contradictory. There are too many demands. There is never enough time. And we are,generally, all working too hard.
People often joke that children don't come wtih manuals. The other side is that when a child is born,. a new parent is produced, a parent as new to the game of parenting as their child is to the game of living. The parents, in my stories, while struggling to do the right thing, missed an opportunity to teach their children how to live wisely.
What if, instead of punishing Owen, Tim had quietly removed him from the scene of the mishap? What if they had put their heads together, and come to the conclusion that walking away to play on the swings or to find another playmate were better solutions? What if Tim had consoled Owen that making a mistake was indeed the best way to learn and that he could start all over again!
What if Jessica's mom had also carefully listened to her daughter's side? What if they had brainstormed to find healthier ways of combating her fears and anger? Perhaps, in this case, mom and dad needed to intervene over a poor grade that might have lead to her skipping classes or to just talk things out with the principal. Maybe, a tutor could have helped with unfinished assignments and relieved some of Jessica's pressure. The options are endless when looked at from supportive and collaborative perspectives.
Perhaps it is a good time now, to step back and catch our breath as we enter a new school year. Perhps it is time to think about what we wish we had been taught about problem-solving as kids. Perhaps we can give our children skills to move forward, taking care of themselves in a healthier way than we ever imagined possible for our own selves. Perhaps there are better solutions than punishments, which often just create resentment and frustration.
Our highways and work places will be different when we teach the next generation how to negotiate, how to problem solve, how to make life work better. In short, life is easier when we all become emotionally intelligent.
And really, wouldn't the sandbox be a different place?