If we set a clear boundary in place and our children either sneak across it quietly or march defiantly over it, it is vital that there are consequences. If we simply turn a blind eye our children will soon come to believe that we don't say what we mean or mean what we say.
I remember learning that lesson from another mum. Our eldest child, George, had been to play at a friend's house and in their living room were two enormous beanbags, full of polystyrene balls. A recent visit to see Father Christmas had evidently kicked the two boys' creative genes into overdrive and inspired them to invent a wonderful game. They had opened the beanbag, tipped out all the polystyrene balls and made what they called a 'Winter Wonderland'.
Under the misguided belief that they were happily occupied playing Lego, my friend had enjoyed a moment of peace and quiet, and when she put her head round the door later was ill-prepared for the re-landscaping of her living room that had occurred. Kirsty Allsop would have been proud. Several hours later the Hoover had made little inroad into the scene of devastation, as the polystyrene balls gained a static electricity of their own. She was definitely not impressed! She let the boys know in no uncertain terms that this game was never to happen again and, in fact, if it was repeated, George would be sent straight home.
A fortnight later, when they were playing together at the same house, the boys decided to take a chance. They opened the beanbags again and a second snow scene was created that was even more splendid than the first. But this mum had set a boundary and had spelled out the consequence of crossing it. Before the boys could blink, she terminated the game and returned a shocked and sheepish-looking George to our doorstep. That day those boys learnt that when that mummy said something, she meant it. Although there were many more moments of creative play that often involved duvets, towels, chairs and the contents of the food cupboard, they never did open up the beanbags again.
We were at a neighbour's lunchtime birthday party just after Christmas. A young mum, Anna, had been invited along with her three children, a six-year-old girl and twin four-year-old boys. The number of people meant that the party overflowed into the garden, and we gathered around an open fire, which provided welcome warmth in the sub-zero temperatures. As we chatted, Anna's twins came running towards the fire. She caught them by the hand, bent down to their level, looked them in the eye and put on a very solemn voice.
She showed them a line on the paving stone on the ground and explained to them they could go up to that line, but not an inch further. If anyone went over the line, they would have to leave the party. Two little red heads nodded in agreement. One twin stayed firmly where he was, but the other looked her straight the eye and deliberately put the toe of his trainer a centimetre over the mark. That little boy was saying to his mother, 'I wonder how much you really mean what you say?' And fortunately for him, he discovered she did. For that four-year-old, the party ended early that day.
One mum contacted us at Care for the Family and told us about a time when her daughter had been misbehaving, and she turned to her and said, 'If you do that one more time then we won't be going to The Lion King. Her daughter did it again. That mum then had a problem. They had already bought tickets for The Lion King, they were going with another family, and they were booked on a coach to London. As they arrived at the theatre and her daughter made her way down the aisle with a large bag of sweets in one hand and a bucket of popcorn in the other, she realised that it had not been the most effective consequence she could have come up with!
Say what you mean and mean what you say - and just make sure you can really follow through on the consequences!