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Wednesday, June 11, 2008


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Daniel is almost three and I still hate disciplining, especially since he's behind verbally and very, very strong. We can't do conventional time outs (especially when we're out somewhere) because he just doesn't understand them and the times I tried, I ended up having to pinion him in his seat for two minutes, which strikes me as ... counterproductive. So if he throws a tantrum because he wants something, my approach now is to say that I can't understand if he screams, and just go about my business for the time-out time. He's gotten much better about tantrums since realizing that a dramatic kicking and screaming episode does not mean that he gets extra attention or a cookie :).

I think the toughest "We mean what we say" is the standard threat of "If you don't stop misbehaving we're going to leave right now!" I've had to follow through on that a number of times and it does make me a little sulky because hey, *I* wanted to be there! On the other hand, it doesn't do him any good to learn that his parents are too caught up in the present to actually follow through on what they say. And yes, we do give the occasional swat on the diapered bottom, but that's reserved for stuff that's dangerous (trying to run into the street, etc)

Discipline sure has been the hardest thing yet to figure out with these little beings! Our parents made it look so easy. But maybe that's because by the time we were old enough to remember being disciplined, they had enough practice so they had it down pat. Let's hope that happens to us too! :)

The most difficult time we have is not LAUGHING at B's response to our "discipline"--she is so very impish. Yeah--disciplining toddlers. Quite the task. It comes down to a battle of the wills. Woe be to me when she discovers her will is much stronger than mine. I'm done for.

For now, I feign fierce and mighty.

I babysit for a friend's children once a week, so I'm getting to practise my disciplinary skills. One day, I will be able to keep a straight face when the request, 'Please put your shoes on,' is met with, 'You can't make me, Mrs Bumhead'. For now, I shall continue to turn around and count to ten before responding, so I can do so without getting the giggles. Hopefully, by the time I have one of my own, I'll be there.

This is a tough age for discipline, for all the reasons you cited. I don't know if you spank or not, but I recommend not. As you probably know, not spanking (and not yelling) involves getting out of your chair or interrupting what you are doing, but it's really worth it down the line. We did not spank our son, and the difference in behavior between him and cousins who were spanked is stark. The cousins do a lot of hitting and fighting and screaming. My son does not. And if you can successfully discipline a child without inflicting pain, why would you ever want to?

Regarding time outs: the proper way to give a toddler a time out is to wait until he/she is done with the tantrum, then insist that they sit quietly in the time-out chair for the duration--one minute per year of life. It may take half an hour, forty-five minutes, or an hour for the kiddo to stop throwing a fit. You just need to wait it out. If he starts screaming and crying during the time out, then wait and start over. After this happens a few times, time-out gets easier.

A lot of parents feel that their toddler is too strong willed or too physically strong or whatever to discipline properly. Believe me, you need to figure out how to do it, because before you know it, that kid is going to be a lot bigger and a lot smarter. (Anyone who thinks a two year old is "terrible" has not parented a four year old.)

As a last comment, they will outgrow 90% of the silly behavior, so try to ignore as much as you can. Stuff like throwing food onthe floor to watch you pick it up--just ignore it--"I guess you're done eating, now!" Model good behavior, have patience, be consistent. It gets easier.

I so hear ya!

My issue is when both (dd 1yr, ds 3yrs) are "pushing buttons" and I try to keep my cool just as one of them stomps my foot (unintentionally), the cat pukes, etc. I have yet to find a way to keep it together in such a situation. I keep trying to remind myself that the good far outweighs the bad for my behavior and no one is perfect.

I definitely concur. There has been more than one occasion where I wish I had not told him not to do something, because now I have to FOLLOW THROUGH. Sigh. And there have been even more occasions where I pretend I do not see him doing something essentially harmless, such as eating food from the floor. Yes, I do not want him to think he can eat food off the ground whenever and wherever he finds it, but no, I am not worried if he eats this morning's Cheerios at lunchtime.

Also, I know some people who constantly threaten their kids with punishments but then don't follow through and it drives me bananas. "That's it, you're going to bed," they say. And then do nothing. ARGH!

Oh, it's hard, when all you want is to cave, cave, cave! But you're right, show them you mean what you say (so don't say anything you don't mean!!!Hard!).
The other part is repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, with patience. I know it will pay off.

Having raised a few kids myself, I wasn't in the least shy to spank them - even toddlers. It usually didn't take much - a swift swat usually did the job - but the value of making a consequence immediate to a mind that couldn't yet understand more involved consequences. Never bothered with timeouts, since it was too easy for the kids to turn that into a quiet rest time instead of a discipline. And the spanking went especially for any tantrum throwing. Any of ours who tried throwing tantrums swiftly found that it was a very high-cost behaviour that was best avoided. That may explain why we had so few.

Of course, our kids are mostly grown now, and probably emotionally scarred and stunted, but hey - we had an easier time raising them ;)

PrinceOftheWest I totally concur! Spank early, spank often and then you will rarely have to spank at all!

Well, I found it a bit more involved than just "spank" or "don't spank". Even when they're very young and can't understand anything but the most immediate consequences, spanking isn't always the first thing to reach for. The whole purpose is to make consequences readily apparent, so they'll understand that negative actions do bring them. That might be a swift swat, or it might be being sat firmly in a chair, or it might be being made to pick up a mess, but the point is that the consequences are immediate and inescapable.

One thing that was something of a discussion point among parents when we started our brood: whether to spank with the hand or with some tool like a wooden spoon. Some offered the argument that the hand should always and only be used for loving and nurturing, so some other tool should be used for discipline. Without going into the pseudo-psychological and philosophical rationale of this, I always thought this poppycock, and spanked with my hand. There was a very practical reason for this: it insured I didn't hit too hard. Posteriors can take a pretty firm slap without doing any damage, and I found that my hand usually suffered at least as much as the backside in question. The pain served as a built-in governor.

Wait a minute, you mean Camilla isn't just naturally perfect? She sure had me fooled!

PrinceoftheWest - I'm glad to hear that worked out for you, since your approach sounds very close to the one I'm taking (or trying to :)). If you spill it, pick it up, if you throw the toy deliberately, it disappears, that sort of thing. The main thing I have to remember is that it has to be *now* - he won't remember ten minutes later what he did that was bad.

Catherine - I'm sorry to hear about your son's cousins, but are you sure it's a spanking thing entirely? The five of us were spanked when we were small and we got along well and non-violently except for the occasional pretend swordfight when we were being medieval knights :). It isn't at all that I think my son is too strong or too wilful to discipline - I just think that time-outs aren't the right way to discipline *him*. I tried very hard - one minute per year of age and all - and the results weren't good.

My experience on the discipline delivery side of things isn't going to start for a while - he/she'll have to be a bit bigger than 2" long, for one thing...

The general approach that we're planning to take for discipline, though, is best summarized by my dad: "swift, painful, non-injurious, and smothered in love" (& my parents also thoroughly communicated that it was for our own good). I'm definitely not opposed to spanking - spanking the way my parents handled it: not in front of other people (including siblings), not out of anger, and it was reserved for deliberately disobedient/defiant behavior. They would always make sure that we knew why we were being spanked (& inevitably we did - we knew when we were crossing the line & heading for a spanking), we would have to ask for forgiveness for what we'd done, and they would hold us & give us a hug & tell us that they loved us afterward. (Obviously we were a bit older than Camilla at this point.)

In my family's case, it was our unspanked cousins who were the little terrors... I don't think spanking is the only form of discipline or the first thing to reach for necessarily (we were spanked, but not often), but my sisters & I thoroughly agreed (even as children - I remember my parents discussing it with us) that while we were young enough to be spanked, we would rather be spanked than the alternatives - it hurt, but it was over quickly.

I am going to be the contrarian here. :-D

First, I'll recommend to everyone the work of Gordon Neufeld who is an attachment theorist and psychologist who's got an amazing book called 'Hold On To Your Kids'

He's also got an even more amazing DVD series (8 sessions) called Power to Parent (a tad pricey, but worth it's weight in gold).

The basic thesis is (sorry in advance for the extended quotation)..
"Parenting should be quite natural and instinctive. Like most deeply rooted instincts, however, the right context is required to 'push the right buttons' in both parents and their children. Science has revealed this context to be the child's attachment to the parent. When a child is in right relationship to the parent, not only is the child rendered receptive to parenting but the parent is empowered to do the job. The key therefore to effective parenting lies not in what we do but in who we are to our children.

It is the role of culture to create and preserve this context of connection between children and their parents. Unfortunately, today's society has taken an economic turn and no longer serves this vital function. As the context for parenting is being eroded, parents are losing the natural power required to fulfill their responsibilities.

The antidote to our present predicament is to become conscious of attachment and to make sense of our children from inside out. In this way we can restore natural intuition and interact in ways that support healthy development. If we fail to do this we run the risk of becoming more reactive, or alternatively, becoming more contrived in our interaction as we follow the cues of advice-givers rather than finding our own intuitive path."

My thoughts after having studied his work for several years now, in the light of the catholic faith, is that we have totally gone of track in our very way of approaching parenting.

We get caught up in spank vs. don't spank, timeouts, consequences, and a myriad of other issues as we nibble around the edges of the underlying problem.

That problem? That we live in a culture a that is not only wholly non-supportive of what parents need to be able to parent, but in fact supports things that attack the proper relationship between children and adults (particularly, but not limited to, the relationship of children to their parents).

The reason I post this here is because when I read your posts about your (Arwen) parents, I see a way of parenting that is the closest thing I've ever encountered to what Neufeld lays out.

I must confess it makes me a bit jealous. You must have truly wonderful parents!

Anyway, for what it's worth, my opinion is that timeouts are not a good idea. They are actually worse than spanking (though we don't spank either), because timeouts leverage a child's attachment to the parent against them. They say tot he child 'You can't be in my presence unless you can perform up to my standards.'

Whatever tools we use as parents are absolutely irrelevant if we don't constantly have the good of the relationship in sight.

This does not mean permissive parenting. Rather it means parenting within the context of the good of the relationship with the child.

When we've managed to apply this in our own parenting, our kids are at their best. When we rely on contrived discipline (from spanking, to timeouts, to reward charts, to a host of other silliness), we seem to be in a constant battle with them.

OK...sorry for the absurdly long post. Let the flaming commence! :-P

No flaming from this quarter. I appreciate what you're trying to say, as well as how you (and Neufeld, from the sounds of it) are trying to say it. What it boils down to is that we've been jobbed into thinking there are certain ways to "do" parenting, while the real trick is to "be" parents - make it part of our identity. Arwen's comments a few posts back ("Can I Get An Amen?") put it well: she is comfortable with the fact that she and Bryan just are the best parents for Camilla. She and Bryan be parents, and their parenting activities rise out of that identity.

That's why I've never had much truck with the "formulaic" parenting paradigm. Disputing (for example) timeouts vs. spankings, or whatever, is conducting the discussion on the wrong axis. We never hesitated to spank if that was the best thing in that situation, but I remember times I deliberately didn't spank - because it was clear that my child in that situation had done a mental cost/benefit analysis and had decided that this particular disobedience was worth a spanking. In that case, I found a higher cost discipline. It was all about loving them the very best I could.

One thing that really helped me with discipline: realizing the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is backward looking; discipline is forward looking. Punishment is "getting even" for a past offense; discipline is forgiveness of the offense but concern that it not happen again. Punishment is not concerned with the good of the offender so long as retribution is extracted; discipline is all about the good of the offender, that he might not do that destructive act again. That differentiation really helped me.

The other thing that we learned about discipline in raising our children is that just when you think you have it all figured out with the first child, the second child is completely different from the first one. The tactics that worked wonderfully with our oldest didn't even faze our very strong-willed second one. She would battle over everything. Then the third one came along, and we could just look at her and she would melt. So the method of discipline is a constantly changing target. As PrinceoftheWest said, there is no one "formula" that will always work. You have to discipline with what works for each individual child.

PrinceOfTheWest, I appreciate the distinction you made between punishment and discipline. That's very helpful to me.

The first thing I would ask, Sonetka, is why don't you think that timeouts will "work" for your son. How have you used them, and what went wrong? I think if you talk to people who have worked in day care centers or had experience with a great many children, you'll find that time outs can be used on any child. Children throw tantrums (especially at that age) when they cannot control their emotions, or when tantrums have been successful for them in the past. (Lots of parents end up "comforting" a tantruming child.) This is just something that needs a lot of patience. The fact that the child may repeat the misbehavior later does not mean it "didn't work." Don't discount other methods such as redirection for young toddlers. When he gets a bit older, you can transition to loss of privileges, which is much more powerful than a spanking, let me tell you.

The primary way that we learn to parent is by how we are parented. Most of us have grown up in a culture in which spanking is accepted, and most of us were spanked ourselves and turned out "fine." (I know that's true for me.) But perhaps if you search your own memories of spankings, and how they made you feel, or if you examine your emotions when you are using corporal discipline on your own children, you may see something other than loving discipline--anger, fear, division, broken relationships. You might consider trying a different way. I know I tried spanking a couple of times early in my parenting career, and I did not like the way it made *me* feel--ashamed, cruel, angry. I decided to try another way, and I'm glad.

Discipline is always going to be hard, but in my experience I have known many very successful parents who don't spank (and some people confuse no spanking with no discipline, and some kids are just spoiled), but I would encourage anyone who has ever said or thought or felt, "This is going to hurt me more than it does you," to learn about different ways of parenting. Like I said, spanking is unpleasant for parent and child, and although it's true you can get quick results in the short term, is it really worth it if you can accomplish your goal another way?

By the way, I disagree with SteveG that timeouts leverage a child's attachment to the parent against him/her. That may be true for isolative timeouts, such as being sent to your room--but only maybe. (That would be more appropriate for an older child or teen, in which case a short physical separation is not going to be a big deal.) However, as conventionally taught by most parenting experts, a time-out is only a very short amount of time spent in a particular spot. The punishment is having your desired play or other activity interrupted, and for a very small child, one or two minutes is a long time to wait. It asserts the parent's control in the relationship, and gives the child time to master her emotions.

Okay, just one last comment on this. It is not my intention to push time-outs. Nor do I want to demonize parents who spank. Many loving parents spank with the best intentions,and it's true that in most cases it does no particular harm. I would just like to point out that there is a much wider toolbox available for disciplining children, especially toddlers, which is the time when it's most difficult to avoid physical discipline. If you don't like time-outs, there is the "time-in" invented as a discipline tool for children with attachment disorder--they want most to be left alone, so a time-out is not a punishment. In a time-in the child must sit with the caregiver for the prescribed time. There are also redirects, which are very effective for toddlers, and should be your first response to almost any misbehavior. You may have to redirect twenty times in a row to get the same effect as one spanking, but it's really worth it. It's also valuable to know your child's limits and set them up for success by protecting their nap schedule and giving them a child-friendly environment to explore. I would also like to recommend for babies and toddlers that you can solve many "No!" issues by sitting down with the child and carefully helping them explore the forbidden object or area. My son never bothered the VCR, because when he expressed an interest in it, I allowed him to push all of the buttons and put vidoes in and take them out. Satisfied, he left it alone.

I see your distinction regarding how they are practiced, but in my own experience (anecdotal I realize) most folks do in fact practice more or less isolative time-outs.

Regardless of right practice or not, it is without a doubt that they do leverage the relationship against the child. Your own comment seems to recognize this fact...

"It asserts the parent's control in the relationship, and gives the child time to master her emotions."

...what does it mean to 'assert our control in the relationship' other than that the relationship is being used against the child to show who is the boss.

We either are in control, or we are not. If we are, then we shouldn’t need to assert it through contrived methods. I use the word contrived because a time-out has nothing to do with whatever situation for which the child is being timed-out.

Also, a child has to be taught through example and practice to master their emotions. How does a timeout serve to help in that mastery? I can't see any correlation.

I honestly don't mean this to sound unkind, but the more I ponder timeouts the sillier they seem to me. They are not only ineffective, but totally unnecessary.

And as for having them in our toolkit. In my estimation that view of even having a toolkit continues to feed into what PrinceOfTheWest mentioned as discussing these things on the wrong axis (not intending at all to speak for him).

Reward charts,timeouts, timeins...these are all contrived levers that parents, living in a culture that doesn't provide them the structural support to have natural authority over their children, turn to mostly in desperation.

Our 'natural' authority has been lost because our culture is in disintegration, not because we aren't using the right tools.

I want to be sure that I make clear that nothing I wrote is meant in anything but charity.

In rereading I see it may have come off in harsher tones than I intended. That's what I get for trying to post a comment after lunch hour and rushing to do so. :-P

I certainly don't have all the answers and don't practice what I preach with anything even remotely approaching perfection.

Apologies if I ruffled any feathers.

Wow, glad I got re-directed back to this discussion. I would have missed this:

"Punishment is backward looking; discipline is forward looking. Punishment is "getting even" for a past offense; discipline is forgiveness of the offense but concern that it not happen again."

I'm going to have to save this quote. I've been having issues lately with how we are discipling our kids, and I think this best says why.

My biggest concern overall is the process of attachment and how it changes over time. I feel like I can predict my 1 yr old's every move, but my 3 yr old seems so sporatic. It's hard to see our relationship change when I'm reminded of how close we were. I've read that there are tides to every relationship...

Thank you Arwen for this blog

I really want to recommend again the Neufeld stuff regarding how attachment/relationship works in the older that 3 year old. The dynamics of relationships (all relationships, but with a focus on parent child) is the entire focus of his work. It is absolutely amazing, profound, paradigm shifting material.

I've recommended it to a lot of people and even those who were most skeptical come away from it basically saying 'wow!' in a positive way.

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