During the summer a number of years ago, I traveled from Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA, to New Windsor, NY to meet with the Rosh Yeshiva and Menahel of Mesivta Ohr Naftoli to interview for the job of the yeshiva’s general studies principal. The meeting went well and we agreed to meet again. I left the yeshiva happily and began the long trip back to camp immersed in my thoughts. I failed to notice that there was a speed trap, where the speed limit suddenly dropped as the highway passed through the village of Highland, NY. The cop who was waiting for me didn’t make the same mistake I did.
I tried to explain to the officer that it was my first time driving through the area and it was an honest mistake. Surprisingly he was unmoved by my eloquence, and he issued me a ticket. A few weeks later I found myself back in that village to plead my case.
The Town Hall was in the middle of the block on the second floor of the building. The prosecutor offered a plea of parking at a fire hydrant, which would mean no points and a reduced fine (which coincidentally just happened to go to the village and not the state). When I entered the courtroom, I realized that almost everyone in the room had agreed to the same plea. I am pretty convinced that the whole village only had one fire hydrant, so we must have all lined up waiting for the opportunity to park in front of it.
The judge accepted the plea and I turned to the clerk to pay the fine. When I handed her my paper, I was in for an utter shock – she was cordial and pleasant! I was under the impression that to be a court clerk you had to be nasty and impatient. Yet here was a clerk who smiled, was affable, and said thank you and wished me a good day when I handed her my payment. When I told her how appreciative I was of her pleasant demeanor, she replied that I wasn’t the first person who had told her the same thing that day, but that she didn’t understand why she should be thanked for it. I assured her that if I was ever going to speed again, I would make sure to come to Highland, NY to do so.
When it comes to both parenting and teaching, we don’t like to watch children make mistakes. We also don’t like having to take the time and energy to enforce the consequences of those mistakes. So instead, we scream and threaten, and hope it “works.” In other words, we hope our screaming forces the kids to behave the way we want them to. When it doesn’t (which is usually), we scream some more – and then, our screaming becomes the consequence itself. So what is the better option?
The “Love and Logic” program (in which I am trained as a parenting facilitator) espouses that the best idea is to “Let the consequences do the teaching.” We do this by getting our emotional anxiety out of the way in order to let the consequences do their job. When our children require discipline, we can calmly tell them that there will have to be a consequence for what they did. We need not tell them immediately what the consequence will be, as doing so usually causes us to exaggerate and then make the tragic mistake of backpedaling and not following through.
When we present the consequence – at a time and in a way planned beforehand that we know we can follow through – the biggest mistake we can make is to lecture, threaten, warn, or become angry. When we do so, the child’s focus is no longer on what he or she did but upon our emotional response, which often leads to a power struggle. But when we are able to keep our emotions out of it by having confidence that the consequence we carefully imposed will do the teaching, the child’s focus will remain on his or her own foolish decision.
Normally when people walk out of a courthouse they are focused on the judge, clerk, or cop, thinking about what terrible people they are (not that I would know, but people have told me). When I walked out of that courthouse in Highland, however, I wasn’t angry at all. What’s more, the next time I drove through the town, I wasn’t even resentful when I slowed down. And I didn’t park next to the fire hydrant!