Yesterday after church we went to grab fast food before my boys got in the car with my mom and sister to make the 8 hour drive home to spend the week with their adoring grandparents and aunt. Of course, the point of fast food was that...it's fast. And with a long drive ahead and already no way to make it by bedtime, fast was important. The service was questionable, the food was semi-fast, the eating basically went well. That is until the two-year-old knocked over his chocolate milk. Some dozen or more napkins (and several minutes) later, the mess was cleaned up.
As parents in the middle of a restaurant with chocolate milk working its way toward the edge of the table, dreaming of rolling on to the floor, we had a choice about how to respond to the two-year-old who caused the spill. And I believe these moments are important. So, what were the choices?
1) Yell at/scold the child for his carelessness (perhaps followed by telling him he won't get to drink chocolate milk again until he is 15). After yelling/scolding - clean up the mess. (This is often the easiest response to anything out of our control - get mad at someone)
2) Get napkins. Let the clumsy two-year-old help clean up mess. Name it what it was - an accident that he has to take responsibility for. (This is a more difficult response because sometimes a two-year-old cleaning is quite messy and it takes the discipline of not only responding to the event, but also to the intent)
3) In addition to whichever choice is made in the immediate reaction, consider whether the next time we're drinking chocolate milk at a fast food restaurant it should first be put in a spill-proof sippy cup!
I really believe that intent deserves consideration, even as I am aware this takes more energy. I do think the response to my two-year-old who accidentally spills his milk should be different than when he defiantly throws it (yes, that occasionally happens, too). I do think that the response to my four-year-old who accidentally knocks down his brother when they are playing should be different than my response when he knocks him down out of anger (yes, that too occasionally happens). And even when the acts happen intentionally, I do believe my response should be bathed in gentleness.