Disciplining my Cinderella

I wish I could tell you it’s never happened, but it has. I’ve rounded a corner to find my two-year-old daughter about to start dancing on the counter. Yeah, she’s that kind of kid. Wow, do I love her for that!

I figure it’s all a part of the plan. God decided, “Since I’ve decided they’re only going to have one child, I’m going to give them one that’s going to thrum with life.” And she does. She lives life to the hilt. I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s not really living unless she’s somehow perched three feet off the ground.

What do you do with a daughter like that? Sometimes I just grin when I see her antics. How can you not when she looks at you with her big blue eyes and her classic, “What, Dad? This is totally safe,” kind of look? Other times a grin couldn’t be more out of place; where there’s something far more insidious going on; where we just know. We know it’s more than just innocent curiosity and it’s more than just vibrant wonder. When we see the look that says, “Dad, I know you told me not to and I don’t care,” we know it’s open rebellion.

For us, how we discipline is often decided by her attitude—the why behind it all. We have lots of patience for her fearless approaches to whatever climb she’s after next—metaphorical or otherwise. We’re happy to teach and guide with all the gentleness and tenderness we can muster. And we’re happy to parent her like that as long as she is innocently learning her world, but never when she’s trying to overthrow it. When she becomes self-willed, “whys?” us to pieces, or has that rebellious glint in her eye, we never tolerate it. We move swiftly and firmly to let her know that’s never okay. We love her too much not to.

I suppose everybody’s anxious to know what that looks like. In my experience, it always looks different. I’ve found that it’s a judgment call based on 1) the danger level of the activity, 2) her level of understanding about that activity, and 3) her attitude about whatever it is that she’s up to. Once I’ve ascertained those things, I’m ready to discipline her.

What is the right way to do that with your two-year-old? Yours is different than mine so I can’t tell you. Does any open rebellion demand some sort of physical reminder? Is a time-out the most attention grabbing strategy? Do you have a tender little conscience in your care that only requires a verbal reprimand? I’m not sure. And what happens when your two-year-old becomes a more nuanced and sophisticated preteen? What does discipline look like then? Ah, somebody help me!

No matter what you decide as a parent, we’re probably after the same thing. We want our children to “get it” when they sin so that we can comfort them with the gospel until they “get” that too.

In moments when my little girl grasps the seriousness of her situation, there’s no greater joy than asking her in that same moment, “What did Jesus do with your sin?” and having her respond, “He wash it all gone.”

I’m convinced that’s why Elliana lives with so much pep and confidence. Sure, sometimes I’ve rounded a corner only to find her expressing that gospel confidence with an attempted counter dance, but, hey, that’s in the job description too. I’m always more than happy to grab my little Cinderella, explain the danger in a clear and animated way, and be her Prince Charming by dancing with her on the living room floor.