Writing lines: Ancient torture or modern miracle?

I have vivid memories of watching “Little House on the Prairie”back in the day and wondering why Willie Oleson consistently was shown in the little one-room school house writing lines on the chalkboard.

Now I know the answer.

I was having a problem getting my children to listen and to follow the house rules. It seemed that no matter how positive the reinforcement, no matter how many days they were grounded from media or going outside, my kids seemed to ignore my sweet, logical and clearly communicated wishes.

I asked them to hang up their coats, pick up remotes from off the floor and put away their toys. Little things, right? There were countless discussions about how they needed to follow the house rules because when they didn’t, it took away from our family time. They still didn’t listen. It was getting more and more irritating and really wearing me down.

After some of my best “There she blows!” days, the behavior would improve for a little while. Then, just when the “Serenity Now!” smile would slowly start to creep across my tired face, I’d spot it. A sweatshirt on the stairs. A remote on the floor. Really? REALLY?

That’s when Willie came to me in a dream.

The next time, and oh yes, there was a next time, I tried a new approach. Writing lines.

The rules went like this: My fourth-grader had to write a page full of lines on a sheet of notebook paper. “I will hang up my coat.” Second offense, two full pages.

My first-grader only had to write 10 lines until her little competitive spirit decided that she had to “beat” her big brother by completing a full page faster than him. So I upped her number of lines. She cried about the unfairness of it all.

“Well honey, if we lived in 17th century China, your feet would have been bound by now, and that means I would have been the person that broke every bone in your feet so you could fit into those teeny-tiny shoes we always see at the Field Museum. This really isn’t so bad.”

And you know, it’s not. I’ve gotten some tsk-tsking from some of “those moms.” I’m OK with that. Writing lines has avoided conflict about the house rules almost completely. It’s taken the struggle out of getting those little things done. Do they sometimes slip up? Of course! When they do, I stay consistent. I can feel their frustration if they have to write three pages of lines. (It rarely happens.) They’re near tears and they get mad. In the long run, I hope they’ll appreciate their American Girl- and Lego-centric lives and understand that writing lines was effective and humane.

Long live Little House!

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