Monday, August 15, 2011


 Marlin and I look forward to our relaxing camping getaway every summer.  We’re sitting under the tall trees reading and chatting, thinking about starting dinner, when new neighbors arrive.  A minivan pulls into the empty campsite next to us. (Let's call them Family A.) Mom and Dad start getting organized, while a four year old boy and a six year old girl check out their surroundings.

Here are some bits of conversation that I overheard:

DAD: Hey come help me set up the tent.  Here hold this for a minute, ok? Let’s pick a good spot for the tent. 

4-YEAR OLD:  Ummmhhh, over there!  (Points to an uneven spot with lots of bumpy tree roots.)

DAD: Well, that might be a little bit bumpy for the tent.  How about over here, where it’s smooth and flat.  What do ya think? 

4-YEAR OLD:  Ok!

DAD: You decide which way we should make the door face.  Like that?  Ok.  Good idea.  That way we can see the campfire from the tent doorway.

4-YEAR OLD:  Are we gonna build a fire right now?

DAD: Later we’ll work on it. Maybe when it’s getting dark. Ok, you take this corner and give the other corner to your sister. Right.  Now you can each take one tent pole and put it together like this. Good!  Yeah, it’s big but you can handle it. Remember how we did it last night at the other campground? Now- do you see where it goes through the loop?

6-YEAR-OLD:  I’ll hold this end and we can do it together, ok?

DAD:  Teamwork!  I love it!

4-YEAR OLD:  Mom!  Why aren’t you giving me milk?!? 

MOM: Are you thirsty?  Help yourself to some water if you like.   I’m making a quick dinner right now, and you can have milk in a few minutes if you still want it. I could use some help.  Would you like to set out the silverware, or put these carrots in a bowl?

DAD: Tent’s all set up! I’m glad I had helpers. Tents are hard to set up alone.

SIX-YEAR-OLD:  Mom, look!  I climbed!  I climbed as high as I could!!!

MOM:  Wow- that IS high. I remember when you were too little to do that, and now you can climb way higher than your head! 

4-YEAR OLD:  I need to go pee!!!!

MOM:  Remember where it is?  You can go by yourself if you want to. It’s so close I can watch you walk there while I’m cooking. 

SIX-YEAR-OLD:  I’ll go with him!

MOM:  Thanks!  Your brother will probably like the company.  Ask him!

FOUR-YEAR-OLD: Yeah, come with me, and let’s pretend we’re hikers lost in the woods!

MOM:  Dinner’s ready—I hope the “lost hikers” hurry up and get found so we can eat while it’s hot!  There will be plenty of time to run and climb between dinner and bedtime. How does that taste?  I’ll bet you’re hungry from all the fresh air and all the exercise! I know I am!

SIX-YEAR-OLD:  Let’s go on a hike after dinner!  We can find the perfect walking sticks first, then explore!

DAD:  Whew- I’m tired, but I think you’re right:  a short hike would be fun.  Just give me a few minutes to rest first, ok?

Oh dear……even though I’m on vacation, I’m in Teacher-Annie-Mode anyway, as usual.  I can’t help thinking about what an excellent example of Positive Discipline this family is demonstrating. Mom and Dad must be tired:  a camping trip with little kids?  Exhausting. I remember it well.  But they seem calm and happy, and so do the children. They are fully connected to their beautiful surroundings, and enjoying being together. 

What a contrast from the other family I eavesdropped on yesterday. Let's call them Family B.  Here are some tidbits:

MOM: Don’t go so far away—I’ve told you a million times. You’ll get lost in the woods and eaten by bears.

FIVE-YEAR-OLD-GIRL:  No I won’t!  It’s boring over here. You never let me do anything.

MOM: Don’t touch that:  it’s dirty.  Why can’t you just play and leave me alone so I can cook dinner?  I’m tired enough without you making everything harder.

FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL:  I’m Dora!  You be Diego! C’mon!

SEVEN-YEAR-OLD-BOY:  No, Diego doesn’t climb trees. And that stuff is just for babies like you, anyway!

FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL:  Mom!!!! He’s calling me names!

SEVEN-YEAR-OLD BOY: I just said she’s a baby because she’s acting like one.   And now she’s climbing again!

DAD:  Get down from there:  you’re not allowed to climb trees, and you know it. 

FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL:  I want a soda!

MOM:  Don’t bug Dad right now:  you know how he gets when he’s trying to set up the tent!

FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL:  I want a soda!!

MOM: No soda right now. Leave me alone:  I’m cooking dinner! We’ll never get to eat if you keep interrupting me.


DAD:  That does it!  No more soda for you for the rest of the day. You’ve had enough anyway. That’s why you’re acting like a brat.

MOM:  Lord help me….. Why did I think this trip was a good idea? They’re just as bad as they are at home, only worse because there’s nothing to keep them entertained.


SEVEN-YEAR-OLD-BOY:  Dad, she’s bugging me with all the screaming.

DAD:  Listen. Stop the whining. If you don’t stop messing around and bugging us you’re gonna have a time-out. Ok- let’s have a contest:  whoever can be quiet for the longest gets to have the first marshmallow later. 

MOM:  Here:  just sit down and watch this movie. 

DAD:  Shoulda thought of the movie earlier.  Good thing we brought the DVD player.

MOM:  Thank God for technology.

Big difference, isn’t it?  But why is Family A able to handle regular every-day kid-stuff in a positive way, while everything is so hard for Family B?

Here are some things that Family A did well, and Family B did poorly:
-Involving the children in the work of the family (even though setting up a tent with little “helpers” actually takes longer…..)
-Encouraging teamwork
-Responding to children’s needs and wants
-Setting limits when appropriate
-Encouraging independence and confidence
-Role-modeling cooperation and encouraging teamwork
-Teaching the children how to enjoy the outdoors, by setting an example
-Encouraging imaginative play and physical activity.
-Demonstrating respect for each other
-Giving up on perfectionism

Family B’s approach was almost directly opposite, and the end result is conflict, bad feelings, bickering, impatience, exhaustion, and a very miserable atmosphere. (Not to mention all the negative things the children are learning…..)

And, as you may have guessed, I’m quite unimpressed with the way Family B fell back on turning on a movie for the kids. They’re out in the woods! Chipmunks, trees, rocks, sky, bugs……  everything a kid could possibly need!   How can they think it’s a good idea to distract kids from nature by parking them in front of a movie they’ve seen a dozen times already???? Don’t get me started….. I can’t help but wonder if many of the negative behaviors on the part of the kids AND parents in Family B have their origins in too many hours spent in front of the tv at home. And these kids probably watched movies in the car all day on the way to the campground, so no wonder they’re crabby!  I’m doubtful that these parents have ever interrupted their important tv-viewing schedule with a parenting book, a parenting class, or a parenting blog. I had to wonder how the Family B parents would respond if they were ever exposed to positive discipline concepts. Would they embrace it and start learning the skills, or would they reject the ideas, saying it’s too much work?

I wonder if Family A is always functions this well.   I doubt it.  There’s no such thing as Super Parents, and real life brings plenty of problems and frustrations. But it was obvious that although thinking in positive ways takes effort, these parents were actually finding it a lot easier to camp with kids than the other family. Making the effort to learn and practice positive discipline skills makes family life easier and happier in the long run.

When my kids were young, I remember being in Family-B-Mode way too much, even though I was beginning to know better.  I wish I could have managed more Family-A-Moments, but oh well…..I was trying pretty hard, doing my best most of the time, and learning a lot.  A lot of parenting comes down to just doing the best you can.   But even the occasional good-parent-moment is worth the effort. Success builds on success, and every time we do well in our attempts to use positive discipline, we’re laying the groundwork for another successful moment down the road.

I wonder how Marlin and I will do someday, the first time we take our future grandkids camping. I hope I’ll manage to be a bit more like Family A than Family B.  It’s so much more fun to be positive.

But listen, Emily and Audra:  no hurry on that grandkid thing, ok?

1 comment:

  1. Oh boy. I think I've been both examples. I'll try to keep this in mind next week on our trip to Idaho.


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