Problem Solving Is Child Discipline
Took me three weeks, but I finally figured it out.
In the past three weeks, I took a big hit in productivity. My writing took a dive. I lost time at work, at home, and in my head due to a change that I had made to my schedule. See, my elder child wanted me to walk with her to the bus stop before school. Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem, I thought. I was unprepared for the adventures that lay ahead for me.
So about a month ago, I asked my manager if I could move my schedule back one hour to start work at 9. This seemed like a great idea. There was a business case for the move since they need someone to help with closing for the day. I liked the idea of having more time in the morning to write and be with the kids while they were awake. I also wanted time for a walk in the morning and I even invited my elder child for a walk.
But something else changed and I wasn’t sure what it was. I’d wake up my daughter, get ready to go out, go for a walk with her, and then come home for breakfast so that she could eat before school. Then we’d be ready to go to the bus stop and she’d freeze. We’d be almost at the bus stop and then she’d freeze and turn around.
“My tummy hurts.”
“I gotta pee.”
“I don’t want to go to school.”
With each passing day, the battles became more intense as my daughter engaged in a power struggle over school. I was late to work a few times, but managed my schedule to compensate. I made up the time later on. I maintained close communications with my manager to keep things steady.
The power struggle went on for two weeks. I was kind of getting depressed over it. I went back over the events in my mind. My daughter asked me to walk her to the bus stop. I complied. But with that compliance came nothing but trouble. Things really escalated over the last weekend and then my wife and I had a big argument over this. The D-word came up again. But this is not a reason for divorce, this is just her way of asking for greater commitment.
So I wrote out a procedure. I talked with my wife again. I talked with my kids again. I don’t know exactly when I noticed it, but I began to recall that my wife had been letting the kids watch TV in the morning before school. This change started before I had moved my schedule to walk the kids to the bus stop.
Once I noticed this change, I started to think back. I wanted to go out for a walk with my elder daughter, thinking that’s what she wanted. But all that time, she was thinking, “My sister is watching TV while I’m out walking with Dad. What’s up with that?” I asked her about it and I learned that the entire struggle over the last 2 weeks had about her desire to watch TV in the morning, before school. Mind blown.
Note that what passes for TV for our kids is PBS Kids (KUED) that we get over the air. This channel has 24/7 kids programming, with no commercials, no violence, and no materialism. The programming is all about relationships and problem-solving. I really don’t mind letting my kids watch that in the morning before school.
So I worked out a schedule with my wife. Wake kids at 6:30. Stop TV at 7:30. Get kids front and center at the front door at 7:45. We all walk together to the bus stop and arrive early so that my kids can play a little at the park where the bus stops before they get on the bus. That made them both happier.
All of the shenanigans that pass for “child discipline” could not have arrived at a better solution than what my wife and I did. My wife was more focused on the discipline side at first to be sure, but I was thinking about what problem needed to be solved to get the kids on the bus.
The problems that my kids wanted to solve were simple. they wanted time to play at the park and they wanted time to watch some TV in the morning. But I saw another problem. 30 minutes is not enough time for most kids to make that transition from sleep to sitting on a bus. We had been waking the elder child at 7:30 when the bus leaves at 8:05. I might have been able to do that when I was a kid, but I am a die-hard morning person. My family is not. I think it’s normal to get up at 4 or 5 without an alarm clock. They think I’m nuts.
So now I wake my kids at 6:30 on school days. I get them dressed, my wife makes breakfast. They watch TV. All that light will set their body clocks so that they wake up more or less automatically at the appointed time. An added bonus is that the elder child is falling asleep earlier since she is getting up earlier. Heh. Once we got the schedule down, I noticed that for the last 3 days, my elder daughter found her way out of bed with greater ease.
There is another problem coming up that I must solve. Notice that I’m thinking about problems to solve, not how I can give my kids “incentive” to get their butts on the bus to school. We’re getting closer to the holidays. Coronavirus cases have been spiking. The school is cutting back on class time and moving more towards distance learning or no school days (in the fair Red State of Utah). Maintaining the sleep pattern may be more difficult in the coming days, especially with the holidays coming up.
Even so, I think we have a plan now. My wife and I are partners in getting our kids to the bus stop. My kids are happier than ever because they get a little playtime and they get some tube time before school, and they have more time with me in the mornings. I think they like having both of us there. And my wife and I get some downtime after they’re launched on the bus.
This series of events in my life is just one more lesson, one more reminder that when it comes to power struggles with other people, motivation is not the issue. interpersonal conflicts are prompts to look for problems to be solved, not mind reading to understand why other people offer up challenging behavior when they do. I don’t worry about motivation when considering why other people act the way they do, and that change in perspective means I don’t have to take anything anyone else may say or do, personally. With all that set aside, I can maintain a laser focus on problems to be solved.
The road to happiness is paved with problems that I must solve with other people. No discipline to apply. No minds to read. No indignation to express. I just help other people solve their problems and happiness is mine to hold.