Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Effective Discipline

At least... what has worked for us.

Disciplining a child can be so hard, tiring, frustrating, and confusing. When do you use what type of discipline? What should you let slide? When do you raise your voice? How do you stop from laughing when your child has done something both wrong and totally humorous? :) I should start by saying that we are a no-spanking household. I have also read almost no books on the subject. The only book that I have read that even touched on discipline, but not really, is Raising You Spirited Child. I didn't even read all of that one, just touched on some of the topics I was interested in.

The number one mistake that I have seen other parents make with toddlers is that they overuse discipline. Especially time out. The reason that it is over used can boil down to one thing. Make sure you REALLY have their attention before making your demand and consequences clear. Many times they are watching TV, playing with a toy, or focused on something in the distance and we yell and assume since our voices are loud that they must hear us, understand, and choose to disobey. That is where we go wrong. Like a man watching a baseball or football game or when we are intently trying to solve a sudoku puzzle or crossword puzzle, we don't always hear anything else that is going on around us no matter how loud. Especially if we are yelling because we are in an already loud space so our yell is just more white noise. The thing I found that has been most effective to avoid having to discipline at all is that I ALWAYS make sure that Ari hears and understands what I am telling her before I issue punishment. I will literally get down on my knees at her level, grab her chin and turn her face to mine or pause her show or turn off her computer monitor if I need to to get her attention, then, once I see her looking at me and focusing on my face, I state what she is doing wrong and what the concequence will be if she does not do what I ask. This is KEY! Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, once Ari understands what is being asked of her and what will happen if she doesn't comply, she will comply.

Now the other side of that coin. Why does she comply? Because when she doesn't I ALWAYS follow through. ALWAYS! Do not say anything absolute, as a parent, unless you mean it. Sometimes I have to say, "You are not doing anything else until you get dressed." I used to say something like, "You won't do anything else until you put this on." That, I have learned, was a mistake. The reason being that the first statement gets me what I want (her dressed) but allows me to teach her about compromise and hope that if she gets some compromise, she will give in sooner. "If you don't want to wear what I am holding then choose something else, but as I said, you will not do anything else until you are dressed." The second statement locks me into an outfit and when she tries to compromise with me, "but I don't want to wear that one, I want to wear the other one", I can't give in, because I've already locked into this clothing. By always sticking to exactly what I say, I have taught her that when Mommy uses that type of tone and statement, there will be nothing else that happens until my demands are met. I never back down. If I feel I was wrong or too harsh, I find ways to stay within whatever it is that I stated as law and alter it minutely to make it make more sense or be more flexible. What I don't do is back down. This applies to more than just disipline, I also don't promise anything I can't deliver and always deliver what I promised. If we promised her a lolipop after she ate her dinner but we all forgot about it, after breakfast the next day, I make sure to give her one whether she remembers to ask for it or not. I will, as I give it to her, tell her how I promised and we all forgot about it the night before, but I remembered today and since I promised, here it is. She has learned to trust my statements to be true. True when I require something from her and true when I promise her something.

Never backing down from a stated demand sounds totalitarian, doesn't it? Hehe... This is where giving them a lot of times to be the boss helps. If you are always telling them what to do, they either lose there own free will to yours or make life miserable as you are constantly fighting. Make sure to give them LOTS of options, choices, and times of control throughout the day. That way, when you are pulling out the "I'M BOSS" card, it isn't so bad. During those times I have to be stearn, I also make sure to point out the other times to her so she learns there is balance. I will tell her, "Mommy always lets you choose the music we listen to in the car, and you got to choose your clothes earlier, and you even chose to watch a show instead of play a puzzle while we were playing."

Another example of time outs being over used is when there are other more related types of discipline available as an option. If they are playing with something in an inappropriate way, the discipline method that will make the most sense isn't to be put in a corner for a few minutes, but instead to be told, "you play with it like that again, and mommy will take it away." Taking whatever it is away is very direct and very simple so they can understand it very easily. Another direct discipline is to not allow anything except what you need to get done, to be done. When Ari was younger and we played with something like legos and I wanted her to clean them up, if she said, "NO!" then she was to sit right in the middle of the legos playing with nothing else until they were picked up. I always tell her I am happy to help, but since she made the mess, she needs to clean it up. She eventually gets bored and cleans up. If she got something else in her hand to play with, I would take it and put it in the closet. She didn't like losing her toys to the closet, so she eventually would stop grabbing at other toys. Time out should really be saved for those times when there is no direct consequence. An example would be behavior problems like hitting, not listening when there is no object involved, etc. Also, I should mention that when I give her a "you'll sit here until x," there is no time limit to sitting there. There is just do as I ask or don't. Time out needs a time limit by age because it is supposed to be "punishment" there is a difference between "punishment" and expecting a child to do as you ask. With one they are getting into trouble, with the other they are just expected to behave in a certain way. They WILL see it differently and the less you have to "punish" them, the better.

When you start with all this, there will be marathon 45 min - 1hr tantrums, but eventually, if you always stick to your statments but show them they have their own choices and opinions and that you are willing to be reasonable and compromise, they do learn to be more flexible and to believe you mean what you say so they may as well do it and move on faster. :)

I'm sure I've forgotten some things, but if anyone wants to know more or has any questions, feel free to ask me. This is just me trying to be helpful after all. :)