Everyone has particularly memorable moments, events never forgotten or lost sight of throughout the years. The following is one of mine.
As a child-care provider I have often failed miserably when attempting to bring about behavior change and teach appropriate life lessons during times of discipline. But thankfully, on this occasion I believe I got it right. And I’m grateful to the Lord that I did, because there would have been no second chance.
His name was Andy. During the hours his mother worked, Andy and his little brother, Cory, attended the child-care center where I was both assistant director and a child-care provider. I spent more time with Andy than I did with Cory because Andy was in my 4- and 5-year-old group.
Everyone should be so blessed as to know an “Andy.” He was a delightful blend of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger. He bounced and pounced like Tigger and was even more huggable than Pooh.
The other kids, who were the recipients of Andy’s pouncing, were not always as appreciative as Andy assumed they would be. After all, he usually pounced on his “favorite friends.” Andy and I had talked often and seriously about this problem, and Andy was improving in “pounce control.”
Then came our rainy season. Day after day it rained and rained and rained. The kids became more hyper, the adults became more edgy, and still it rained. Have you ever wondered about the dispositions of Noah and his family members when they were inside the ark for such a long time? It’s not as if they could take a break from the noise. I can imagine their having stress headaches by the third day. I can’t bear to think of what it might have been like beyond that point, considering how bad it was even for us at the day-care center.
One afternoon the rain stopped briefly as the sun cautiously peeped out from behind a cloud. “Let’s line up quickly,” I instructed the children. “Just leave the toys out, and we’ll clean up later.” Outside we found the driest place, and my eyes moved in every direction as the little energy-fueled bodies scampered over the soggy hillside. Then the happy atmosphere was quickly broken by angry yells. I turned to see Andy, with an enormous grin on his face, sitting on top of a friend.
“Andy! Come right here beside me,” I commanded in my best no-nonsense voice. His grin vanished, but he obeyed immediately as his now-freed friend ran off to play.
“Do you know why you’re here with me instead of playing right now?” I asked. Andy nodded as he fought back tears. For a short time we stood silently. I’m sure it seemed like an eternity to Andy. I looked at the black clouds moving in our direction before breaking the silence.
“It’s going to rain again, Andy; we can’t stay outside long. Can you play without pushing anyone or pouncing on anyone?”
“I’ll try real hard,” he promised, his beautiful eyes beaming with joy.
In classic “Tigger” style he started to bound up the wet hillside, but turned suddenly and ran back to me. “I love you!” he declared, hugging me tightly. I hugged him back. “I love you, too. You’re precious,” I said.
As Andy turned to leave, another boy spoke up. “He’s not always precious. Sometimes he pushes. He’s mean!”
Andy, a short distance away, stopped and looked down as he gently kicked the soft ground.
“No! Andy is not mean,” I defended. “Sometimes he forgets, but he’s doing better every day. He has a great attitude. Did you see how quickly he obeyed when I called him? Did you notice that he didn’t yell or fuss when he couldn’t play for a while?”
Andy was starting to smile again, so I called out in a louder-than-usual voice, “I love your attitude, Andy.” For a brief second our eyes met. He didn’t answer verbally because he didn’t need to. His eyes, his grin, and his body language all yelled back, “Thank you for having confidence in me.” Then with head held high and grinning, he skimmed the hill as though it didn’t exist.
A substitute teacher took charge of my classroom for the next few days. I worked on charts and records at home, where it was quiet, while I prepared for annual licensing. One night after going to bed early I found myself thinking about the different kids at day care. Paperwork was completed, and I would be going back to my group the next morning. Listening to the rain, the last thing I did before falling asleep was to ask God to take care of Andy, Cory, their sister, and their mother.
While I slept, Andy’s family was returning from a local shopping center, but they didn’t reach their home that evening. Andy, Cory, and their mom were killed in a car accident.
As I viewed the bodies of Cory and his mom at the funeral home I noticed how sweet and peaceful they appeared. Cory looked much like he had so many times as he napped at day care. Seeing Andy in his small coffin was much harder. He was not supposed to be still! Why, a foot or arm had always been moving, even on the rare occasions when Andy did actually sleep at naptime. Overwhelming grief gripped me as I remembered my last day with Andy, when I had called him to stand beside me, thus reducing his precious outside playtime. I felt angry that it had rained so much, angry that Andy could no longer pounce, and most of all, angry at myself for putting Andy in time-out.
Quietly, as quiet as Andy now was, another memory came to mind. Time-out was not my last experience with Andy. I had told Andy that I loved him and that he was precious. We had hugged. We had made eye contact and grinned at each other. Remembering the follow-up to Andy’s time-out brought comfort and peace to me that evening at the funeral home. It still does.
So, fellow parents and child-care providers, Do we discipline? is not the question. We must, in fact, be constantly training, guiding, and teaching children. Rather, the question is How do we discipline?
I pray for a portion of His love and wisdom as we teach and guide the children He has entrusted into our care.