Sunday, August 15, 2010

Discipline 101

I got, before I was a parent, that toddlers could be a challenge. I also understood that the "terrible 2's" could start before age two and continue into the pre-k years. I have worked as a babysitter, day care employee, nanny, children's ministry director, Sunday school substitute, Bible School worker, etc. I have, for much of my life, worked with kids.

Now that I have my own child and she is well into her toddlerhood, I have begun to face new challenges. She always was an easy baby---good eater, great sleeper, content to play independently, obedient, and happy. She's still very much the same girl except now, she's stepped up her game and added a new twist---challenger!

Here's how it goes. Miss E decides to bite. We say, "No biting. Biting is naughty." So instead attempting to bite again, she pinches. We say, "No pinching. Pinching is naughty." So then she proceeds with trick #3 (out of her bag of tricks): hitting. Or if it's my husband, face squeezing. (She reserves this trick just for him; we have no idea why).

So, what to do? She's smart enough not to do the same naughty thing twice.

I ordered several discipline/parenting books from my local library in an attempt to broaden my horizons. And the truth is, I'm more confused reading them that I was before! (And honestly, all the parenting info seems to make one's self-esteem plummet---and I'm not sure how that's effective).

You see, so much of parenting to me is common sense. But I get that common sense to me comes from the fact that one, I'm the oldest of three kids and was a little Mommy since I was three, and two, I've worked with kids for as long as I can remember.

But I had to remind myself that perhaps I was missing something, or perhaps there was a new breakthrough method of discipline that I hadn't experienced yet. So armed with my stacks of books, I sat in my bed night after night, pouring over their contents and pondering the author's "expert" advice.

First up was Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay. This book annoyed me from the start. Basically, the authors talk about giving kids lots of choices to help them have power, or something like that. I agree with giving little ones choices, like which color of plate they want or if they'd like to swing or go down the slide, but the number and extent of choices the authors suggested were ridiculous. They do talk about responsibility and letting kids be independent---great. They also talk about having an "uh oh" song...or something like that. Ok, I'm so NOT into songs---like the "clean up" song from Barney. What a nightmare. Plus, this book contains too many "steps" and charts. I want simple and direct. When my child doesn't obey, I don't want to have to pull out the manual, find the right page, and read a chart and ten steps before initiating discipline.

My second read was 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan. The concept is rather simple. The child does an action that isn't appropriate, and the parent says, "Sue, no throwing your toy train. That's one." The child does it again and the parent simply says, "That's two." If the child gets to three, there is a punishment. Either taking the toy away, a time out, or something else. My argument here is that I'm not sure kids should get three chances to disobey. But I love that there is no arguing, no constant reminders, no threats, no emotional responses, no exaggerated reactions---just counting and punishment. I did implement the 1-2-3 idea for just one day, and my daughter caught on right away. The simplicity of the method is fantastic for little ones and parents. But counting has always annoyed maybe that's why I'm struggling to jump on the "magic" train.

Then there's Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Dr. Kevin Leman. He talks a lot about birth order and a child's personality. He explains that there is a difference between being authoritative and being an authoritarian. He uses Bible verses to support his views, which I appreciate. But again, so much of what is shared seems like common sense. I have a few little sections flagged, but thus far, nothing monumental has been revealed to me.

Next I began to read Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel. I love how she has a chapter of examples and explanations followed by a chapter called a "Toolbox"---basically ideas on how to apply her thoughts into everyday parenting situations. I appreciate, like with Leman's book, Bible verse references. However, some of Lisa's "creative" corrections seem rather extreme. For example, if a child slams a bedroom door, he or she should be made to open and shut the door nicely one hundred times. I remember slamming my door as a teenager, and though I'm sure it infuriated my mom, I also think the physical act was a good release for me, it didn't hurt anyone, and I got the chance to then sit in my room and chill out for a few hours, think about what was said, reflect, get over it, apologize to my parents, and then move on. I don't think every act of defiance needs to be punished and/or punished creatively.

Oh, and also, many of these books use various words for punishment. Lisa uses "correction." I think Leman uses "discipline." And so forth. But really, I find this to be a matter of semantics, though they argue it is not.

I also think punishment needs to be consistent for little ones. I don't want to find a "creative correction" each situation---mostly because I believe little children need consistent, expected results for bad behavior. I think creative corrections might work better for older kids, but for little ones, consistent and practical seems to work best.

For us, time outs do work. I think it was Leman or maybe Phelan who said time outs are great because really, kids sometimes just need time to chill out. An all out punishment, a yell from mom and dad, or whatever, rarely helps (it's actually selfish on mom and dad's part because it's for them to release anger, not to help the child)---when the kid just needs a few moments to get it together.

The authors each have their reasons and rules regarding spanking. Though they are interesting to read, it's an age-old argument. To spank or not? What is spanking? How and when to spank? Where to spank? Blah blah blah. They dissect the whole "spare the rod" Bible verse. BORING.

I have tried to have an open mind while reading these books. In fact, I was almost giddy to find THE answer to toddler discipline. I should have known that when there are hundreds of books on the subject, an answer isn't going to be found. (Each book had it's good points, but they were often buried in so much other advice and opinion, that the good parts get lost).

Having a toddler is a challenge. Some days are serene and sweet. Some days are chaotic, inconsistent, and frustrating. But what's so great is that children are forgiving. Even when parents do not discipline the perfect way, the child usually gets the message (the action wasn't good), shows some remorse, and moves on. Meanwhile, parents can reflect on what does and doesn't work, adjust accordingly, and move on.

So for now, I'm going to just do what works and adapt when whatever that "what works" is loses it's power. And I'm going to hopefully keep reading what the best parenting book is of all---The Bible. Because I know if I'm walking with God as I should everything else will fall into place.

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