Toddler Development: The Trials of Disciplining

Of late it feels as if I’ve been reacting to Gavin’s behaviour rather than disciplining him.  What’s the difference?  The goal of discipline is to educate your child.  Reacting is simply placing a bandaid on the wound without identifying what caused the wound in the first place.  If you don’t know what caused the wound, how can you prevent more wounds in future?

I’d like to say that the reason for this lapse is because I’m tired. No doubt I am, but that isn’t reason enough to stop parenting to the best of my ability.  Being tired all the time comes with the job of being a parent.  If I allow myself to do a half-baked job just because I’m tired, I’ll be doing a half-baked job for the rest of their childhood because the feeling of being tired isn’t going to end any time soon.

Now that we’ve addressed my underlying faults, what should I do about it?  Well, let’s start by looking at what I have been doing and how it’s been going wrong for me.  I think yesterday’s post on Gavin’s acting out in school is quite indicative that something needs to change.  I could start pointing fingers or rant on about how I should have done things differently but I won’t.  Being human means I am flawed so I should just accept that I will be prone to lapses and mistakes and move on.

Lately we’ve fallen back into the pattern of continually telling Gavin off.  Instead of correcting his behaviours, it feels like we’re telling him off more and more.  I recall a time not so long ago when we were having a lot of discipline issues with Gavin and I bought the book “The No-Cry Discipline Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley to get back on track.  I’d even started listing some of her discipline solutions but never finished because we seemed to be getting through the worst of it before the list was complete.

Well, it seems like we’re falling back into the old ways and it is clearly not working for us.  Is it because the “no-cry discipline solutions” aren’t working for us?  To be honest, when I say I’ve been reacting, I mean I have been falling back to the old ways of discipline and losing my creativity with discipline.  Although I read all the solutions that Pantley suggests, I often fail to implement them.  It almost seems easier to get mad and yell than it is to think creatively.  Being mad also lets off steam.  Unfortunately, though it might do something for me, it does nothing for Gavin.

I’ve always known since Gavin was little that the hard approach never worked with him.  The harder you attack, the harder he attacks back.  Sure there have been times when I’ve screamed him into submission and it has worked (not that I’m proud of it), but I know in the long run this method of discipline will never cut it with my son.  Of late, we’ve all be excessive with the negative discipline approaches and I believe it is losing it’s efficacy on Gavin (by negative I mean withdrawal of privileges and instilling punishments as opposed to offering rewards and praise).  The thing about discipline tools is that you need to vary them.  Use the same old tricks over and over again and they’re bound to lose their effect.

For instance, confiscating Gavin’s prized possessions used to be effective in gaining his cooperation.  He gets upset when he loses his toys, books and TV time.  These days, it has so little effect on him it’s almost pointless to threaten him.  It almost seems like a game to him as he crows, “If I don’t listen, I will have no more books, no more toys and no more TV, ok?”  He’s sucked the wind out of my sails.

The other reason why it is not working is because the punishment doesn’t come quickly enough.  Sometimes his misdemeanours occur in the morning just before school.  Even if we confiscate his toys, books and TV, he won’t feel it until he comes home from school.  By then, the misdeeds have happened “so long ago” (half a day is an eternity in a child’s life) that it is difficult for him to connect them to his misdeeds.

Last but not least, Gavin has developed his own ways of dealing with no toys, books or TV.  The other day, he turned the pillows into troublesome trucks and had a gala time pretending to be an engine.  Did he miss his toys, books and TV while he was busy playing engine?  I sincerely doubt it.  Where then is the point in the discipline?

As Gavin grows, he adapts.  As he adapts, we need to change our disciplinary methods.  We can no longer afford to “react” to his behaviours because reacting means falling into the same old pattern of dishing out punishments that aren’t effective in communicating any messages to our son regarding his behaviour.

Well, it looks like that’s all we have time for today.  Gareth is awake and it’s time to sign off.  We’ll look at the solutions tomorrow.  In the mean time, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

7 thoughts on “Toddler Development: The Trials of Disciplining

  1. our situations are so alike. ever since my son was born i have less time for my daughter. i tend to scold or discipline her when she misbehaved. that just made things worse.
    i believe my attitude has a total impact on my child’s behavior, hence i decided to change myself. here’s shichida’s principles of education which has helped me:
    1. ignore the child’s weaknesses and always praise them on their strengths
    2. see all their current behaviours as part of growing-up
    3. do not be a perfectionist but rather, to see the child’s “ignorance” as normal
    4. do not compare your child with others; acknowledge their characteristics
    5. never stress on learning capabilities, this is to prevent competition and stress among the children
    6. recognise the current situation but believe in the child’s potential
    Hope i have translated well..

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  2. Shichida also suggests showing love to the child and when he feels it, he would behave well and learn well. Perhaps Gavin’s behaviour is because he can’t feel your love enough? Mummies love their children, but when we get busy or tired, it is easy to forget showing that love and our kids start to drift away.

    The next time he does a small thing that is right (e.g. pick up his toy, help bring something to you), give him a big, tight and long hug and say ‘Gavin, Mummy LOVES you very much. You are a good/wonderful boy.” When hugged frequently enough for positive behaviour, a child would likely keep up with the good behaviour.

    My husband and I practise this simple way daily and we are rather pleased with its effects on our boy. For a 15+ months old toddler, there are hardly any melt-downs and tantrums.

    For negative behaviour, I prefer to use the growling method from “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” and shake my finger. I keep the number of “No”s said each day to a minimum and use positive language as far as possible. When frustrated, I know that no nice words would flow from my mouth yet I want to prevent making hurtful remarks, so body language is a great tool.

    Gavin is much older, so more creative methods are needed. Try the hugging first?

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  3. Understand how you feel as my son also sometimes drive me nuts! And he is a single child. Just today I had to beat him to submisssion even though ALL the books I read said that beating/solding/shouting is wrong. I guess the one who needs to change is myself. I do believe in Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen. But sometimes I get impatient and cannot apply those methods in the book even though it does sounds it should be done that way. How to be patient when after saying many times not to do it, he still does it!

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  4. CM – thanks for sharing. Those are some great points to remember. It is easy to think that our kids are just deliberately being “naughty” when sometimes they’re just behaving the way they do because they’re curious, bored, tired, angry, etc. They are little people with their own set of emotions. Being young, they have even less experience than adults in controlling those emotions, yet we often forgive an adult being upset about a disappointment but punish a child for “misbehaving” when he’s disappointed.

    Mie Vee – I think you hit the nail on the head. I realise that is the biggest part of the problem – Gavin is feeling neglected. Although we aren’t neglecting him, he feels neglected because compared to the time before Gareth was born, he is getting a lot less attention now. He’s adapted to his brother’s arrival really well and I think we’ve taken his feelings for granted and assumed he’s okay with everything when inside he’s hurting.

    I often hug him and tell him I love him, but I’ve come to realise that I also lose my temper with him more these days. I used to be a lot more patient with him. These days, he craves my attention especially when I’m handling Gareth. I’ve noticed that I get short with him because he demands my attention most when I am busiest with Gareth. For instance, when Gareth is fussing and needing me to rock him to sleep, Gavin will be incessantly calling for my attention and being very noisy. The noisier Gavin is, the fussier Gareth gets. With two kids howling for attention, it is easy to lose my cool and end up scolding the older child.

    Gavin has always been a very well-behaved child. We’ve been told this by many people and even his teachers at school are surprised by the recent change in his behaviour because he has always been very well-behaved before this.

    We had a talk recently and he told me he was upset with me because I was mad at him. He didn’t like it when I was mad at him and I told him I didn’t like being mad at him either. So we resolved not to be mad and I focused really hard on keeping my temper in check. I’m glad to say that I feel the weekend has gone really well. He has been so much better behaved!

    Irene – I agree, I have been succumbing to my temper a lot. I think it is a negative feedback loop. The more we lose our temper with our kids, the more they act up. It keeps perpetuating the cycle. I’ve noticed since making the effort to keep my temper in check, Gavin’s behaviour has improved a lot.

    I know it’s terribly annoying when he forgets. I get mad when my son keep repeating things that I tell him not to do as well. Being a forgetful person, myself, it’s easier to put myself in his shoes. I often forget things that are really annoying to my husband, too. It’s not that I do it deliberately, I just forget. I try to remember that my son is the same – he isn’t deliberately being naughty. He just forgets. Give him some time and he will remember. In the meantime, we’ll just have to be the broken record repeating over and over.

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  5. Glad that Gavin can express himself well and let you know why he was upset. It’s challenging to be patient at times (especially when I have a short temper), yet we need to control ourselves and keep our cool.

    My husband also gets frustrated when our boy keeps repeating what he has been told not to do (e.g. sliding the bathroom door). I’d remind him of his repeated mischief during childhood and help him understand that children are plain curious, like to push their limits and yes, they forget warnings.

    Hope your entire week would be as pleasant! 🙂

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  6. We all get tired and just react. I went through a phase when I was so exhausted that I just snapped every day. I can’t remember what happened but something made me change my perspective and exercise more thought and patience to my discipline. The kids listened better as I listened to them. I guess my calmness helped them be calm. When I am calm, I see things clearer.

    Still have really bad days sometimes and I yell but I always apologise after. We are human too, and my kids know it is okay to make mistakes as it is a learning experience and it is right to apologise after.

    Our little ones are only little for such a short time. It might feel like it is forever, but think about it, we’ll be around for about 50 years of their life, if we are lucky, and only 1/5 of it is their childhood. 😀

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  7. Mie Vee – if there is one thing that being a parent has taught me, it is to have more patience. Can’t imagine I was so much worse than this before. Already I feel like pulling my hair out some days. Can’t imagine if it was me five years back…

    But if I’m short tempered, hubby’s worse… :-p He attributes it to work stress (which he says I don’t have, although I beg to differ since I work at home and I’m oncall 24 hours). Fingers crossed for a good week, too.

    Mephala – yeah, it’s such a negative feedback loop it can be quite hard to snap out of it sometimes. Even now I still have to hold my breath and count to ten.

    You’re right, they are children for such a short part of their lives. I keep reminding myself that soon I’ll be the one begging for their attention. Gotta treasure these moments while they last…

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