Monday, May 17, 2010

Discipline Dilemmas

We've reached that stage in parenting where we call our parents to tell them about Kate's most recent behavioral antics, and they just laugh and laugh. Payback time.

Kate has always been a very physical child--climbing anything she can, picking up objects as big as herself, etc.--and sometimes she is just plain wild. She's just having fun and exploring her world and what she can do, but like any child can push the boundaries a bit too far. She throws food from her high chair, she runs toward the street, she flings books from their shelves. It is starting to go beyond innocent exuberance toward willful disobedience as we sense she understands our reprimands and yet continues. It seems we're treading into that complicated land called Discipline.

This weekend, we had to start getting tough. She flung food off her tray at every meal, to the point I had to start taking her tray away and saying "mealtime's over!" She loves to climb up on the hearth (see pic at right for reference), stand where the stuffed puppy is, and shake that metal rack until the pile of cookbooks falls off. (The rack is tethered to the wall so she can't pull it over.) She would climb up there, grasp the rack, look at us mischeveously, then start shaking. This happened over and over. Attempts to redirect her to other toys were scoffed and our stern "No!"s were met with laughter!
Though she seems too young for "time-out," we did start taking her into the other room to remove her from the situation. She was definitely unhappy when I would sit her on a stool and trying to hold her still while saying "We don't knock books off the shelves." Nonetheless, she would run directly back to the hearth and do it again! It seemed to be a game, and this cycle continued right up until bedtime last night.

This morning, she was right back at it, such that Matt was at his wit's end by 6:30 am! He commented that she seemed to be doing it for the attention, and while we definitely pay her plenty of attention otherwise, it was clear this trick was a surefire way to get both Mommy and Daddy right on her in a second. So, we changed our tack. We moved the cookbooks (so that the destructive part of the action was gone) and just ignored her when she shook the rack. And, sure enough--she has started to lose interest in that particular naughty behavior!

The overall problem still remains, of course. How do you discipline a toddler who can sort of grasp the notion of disobeying Mommy and Daddy, but can't really understand consequences?

I've read that the reason the "terrible twos" are so difficult is that children feel so out of control. They are constantly told "no" to what they want to do, and forced to do what they don't want to do. So, the secret (so I've read) is to give kids a safe, kid-friendly environment so that there are fewer things you would have to say "no" to, and save "no" for really serious things--a child about to touch a hot stove, for example--and use redirecting language otherwise. "Eat your green beans," rather than "No! Stop throwing the green beans." Be calm and serious, not letting the child get a rise out of you, which they may find entertaining or affirming.

Matt and I have valued "calm" as our parenting mantra from the beginning, and it has served us well so far. We don't freak out when she cries, we don't coddle her to sleep, and we try to let her explore her surroundings freely--even when she's a bit rowdy. We're glad she's "high-spirited" and "strong-willed," so I guess "hard-to-discipline" is the trade-off we'll have to make. I only had moderate success with the calm redirection method when addressing Kate's cookbook-demolition activities, but in principle, it seems good. Time will tell, and I'm sure we'll have plenty of practice!

3 comments:

mmr said...

give all those books (and the rack) to the poor, obviously. xo

SpeasHill said...

And this is why I see Becca and Kate causing such trouble in the future. Oh, those strong-willed girls! We have started time-outs, for a very few specific offenses (like drinking out of the dogs' water bowl). We've got a set-up where she can see us but can't escape, and that corner is only used for time-outs (not eating, sleeping, etc.). We go with the one-minute-per-year-of-life rule of thumb, so right now she's in there somewhere between 1-2 minutes. I'm not sure she understands consequences, but I do think that she has made an association: playing with the dog bowls (and getting caught) = time out. But we still see that mischievous grin..."look at me about to disobey you!'....stinker.

Katie Bug said...

We're there, too.
Good move on taking the books off the rack! Whenever we can, we try to take away the temptation to disobey, too. Lifting up the toilet seats is K's favorite not-allowed activity right now. I guess we should remove that temptation by getting locks for them.
We are also trying to reserve "no" for bigger behavior problems, as well. I think that does help keep K's frustration level lower, and it lets her know what we do want her to do...not just what we don't want.
At K's 15 month appointment last week, her pediatrician said that now would be a good time to start time outs. She recommended using a pack and play or gating in a small hallway as the "time out" area since there's no way she would sit in a chair for a minute and a half (using the one-minute-per-year rule).
I agree with the commenter above about young toddlers being able to associate behavior Mommy and Daddy don't like with a time out or some other consequence. And in that regard, I feel like Katelyn does understand consequences.

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