When to let your kids misbehave

Silence means trouble. Your children are playing in the next room while you work/talk-on-the-phone/whatever. Time has passed, and you realize that you’ve been working/talking/whetevering for a while. You haven’t been interrupted once. You stop to listen. You hear nothing. Uh oh. What are the kids doing? How much money, time, emotional/physical pain is this lapse going to cost you? You go out to the room where they are supposed to be playing and they’re gone. As you walk around your house, you see a small grayish-black square with a small letter J on it on the floor. You hear some little feet running somewhere in the house. As you follow the noise you find a letter U, then a K.  You hear some giggling and follow it into the master bathroom and almost begin to cry. Your laptop, with you iPod still attached, is in the bathtub. Most of the letters have been picked off of your keyboard. You son and daughter are playing some elaborate form of scrabble for illiterates on the floor. They look up at you and begin to laugh hysterically.

This story is not entirely factual. (it’s not exactly fictional either; our keyboards are missing letters.) I’m sure all parents have experienced something like this. (Feel free to share your stories below.) Although I still usually dread these dangerous silences, the dread is now mixed with an excited anticipation. These silences may be costly insome ways, but sometimes, in other way they’re priceless. These silences mean trouble but they also mean something else: My kids are getting along.

As a parent, nothing makes me happier than seeing my children get along. Much time is spent encouraging them to help each other and they receive very strong positive reinforcement when they do so. Sometimes this reinforcement is given, even when my children are misbehaving:

My wife likes to bake with children. Last week my wife baked cookies with them. Somehow or another I ended up supervising the children while they decorated the cookies exactly when the baby needed a nap. I took the cranky six-month-old upstairs and left the other two children downstairs putting sprinkles on their cookies. They were told to keep quiet because the baby needed to fall asleep. Fifteen minutes later, I came down to find that my children had been very quiet. Perfectly silent. Flower was everywhere. Their faces where covered in cookie batter. They were picking cookie dough off of the rollers, and eating sprinkles by the handful. They looked up and smiled. “We finished putting sprinkles on all of the cookies,” my son said with chocolate and sprinkles all over his hands and face. “Yeah!” exclaimed my daughter, who also had chocolate in her hair. Had my children been fighting over the sprinkles, I would have been furious. But as things were, I was laughing. I was very proud of my children. I let them continue, and when to the other room to get a broom with a smile on my face.

God wants us to get a long. In Parshat Noach , we have two stories of people who angered God, with God reacting in drastically different ways. In the first story, God destroys all of humanity, save one family, with a massive flood, because people stole from one another. In the second story, God disperses a nation that sought to wage war against the heavens by building a giant tower up to the sky, by confusing they’re language. Compared to the story of the flood, this story is extremely short. When I read this story, it almost presented as if God thought it was cute, and the way that the people were punished seemed relatively painless, and actually kind of funny.

The greatest joy for a Father is to see his children getting along. As long as the kids are getting along, a good Father won’t mind the mess.

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One Response to When to let your kids misbehave

  1. I wish I could get past the mess when things like this happen. I rarely can. Good on you for being able to.

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