Several years ago I was driving through Pennsylvania with some friends and we stopped near the most gorgeous old farmhouse. Inside its large and fabulous yard there were a bunch of hilarious chickens running around. They must have been a variety of heirloom breeds – the colors and hairdos and feather leg warmers were just a little too outrageous for normal chickens if you know what I mean! Anyway, we walked over to see them and they ran to us (presumably thinking we would offer them more than praise). But as soon as they got close, they were no longer the cute stuff. All of them had bald and bleeding spots where they had been picking one another’s feathers out, the nasty little things.
These chickens came to my mind suddenly one day while I was trying to explain to my little girls why they may not fuss and bicker at each other, and it has since become its own offense in our home – being “picky chickens.”My girls are of such an age that they getÂ a big kick out of apologizing and returning feathers to each other. They actually have to say something like “I love you because you are a sweet sister – I’m sorry I was picking at your feathers – here you go” and they exchange and return feathers and compliments. It has been our most successful picture of infighting, and a great tool for seeing themselves in their actions. I mean, honestly, who really likes the idea of being a mean chicken?
One of the funny things about having children is that you constantly convict yourself by teaching them. If you are addressing their problems honestly, and if you double check yourself, you will almost always find a little something to think about.Â Have you ever been frustrated by something your kids did? For me it is usually something I was not expecting – when the disobedience falls suddenly outside the normal range. Like filling up the bathroom sink with toothpaste and soap and shampoo.Â The need to correct is real, but so is the desire to pick a feather out while you are at it. Do you really want to be the fastest, biggest, pickiest, meanest chicken in the barnyard?
So think about your language with your children. When they disobey do you talk about your own hurt? Are you pointing to all the work that you have to do now that they screwed up? Do you want to elaborate at all on how bad, bad, bad that particular thing was? Do you want to see them feel bad, or see them with a clear conscience so you can have a little snuggle tickle-fest?
I think we can all picture the kind of mother that sets a beautiful dinner on the table, and then brings down all the people gathered around it with her nasty comments. Now tryÂ thinkingÂ of discipline as a different kind of nourishment – a sweet means of grace to your children. Bring that to the table with a smile and a wink – a means of building up little people, not a means of bringing them down. Make a point of telling them all about how you love them – with a lot of good solid points. Leave that table refreshed in your love for one another, and happy.
Of course life is real and life is earnest, and sometimes you just don’t have time for a big chat over discipline because you are pretty sure you can hear someone playing with the microwave. But it doesn’t take long to fluff feathers – you can do it on the go. One of the favorite techniques in our house is to periodically startle the kids by yelling “uh-oh!” and when they all look at you with concern you yell “I love you!” – it is funny every single time, and the kids know you wouldn’t act that stupid if you didn’t love them.