Do you have a discipline system or tool you can recommend? I have a friend who is always counting to three and another one who is constantly putting her 5-year-old twins in time-out. Neither one seems to be very effective. My baby is ten months old, so I have a little time to look into and prepare a strategy. Suggestions?
What I love about your question is the fact that you are already thinking about a parenting plan that includes effective tools for setting limits and keeping your child safe. You are wise to think ahead. This will help you to avoid what I call reactive parenting. That’s when we parent from our emotions rather than coming from a calm, firm, but peaceful place in our parenting – which is far more effective.
There is a chronological progression in how best to set limits for children. During the first year and a half, it is really the parent’s job to keep their child out of harm’s way. We do this by baby proofing the environment as best we can and keeping baby away from settings that aren’t appropriate. The rest of the time we distract baby or redirect her to more appropriate actions.
From there, many parents move to using time-out or counting as a means of discipline. Some might even spank or give a hand slap. Most child development experts will tell you that they do not condone corporal punishment. There is overwhelming research that points to this method not only being ineffective, but possibly harmful.
The problem with the approaches your friends are using is this: While counting to three (which might come from the book, 1-2-3 Magic) or time-out may stop the undesirable behavior, these do nothing to help teach or facilitate the desirable behavior. So in my mind, they only do half the job. And even though they are commonly used by parents of all ages, I have never been much of a fan of either approach. While an occasional time-out might be appropriate for a child under age three, I am a firm believer in what we call a logical consequences approach. Logical consequences can be used with children from the ages of three through the teen years. Logical consequences tend to be immediate, make sense in the situation, and teach a child cause and effect. Let me give you an example.
You are taking your 4-year-old to a local park with a playground where there is a sandbox. Your child loves the play area and especially the sandbox, but in the past, you have had some problems with him throwing sand on other children, a clearly unacceptable behavior. Before you leave the house, give him a prompt: “Joey, we are going to have some fun at the park. The rule at the park is that we do not throw sand at other children. If you throw sand, we will have to leave the park. Now let’s go have some fun!”
Joey gets to the park and things go well for a while, but then the sand flies. Now, you give Joey one warning: “Remember, how it has to be at the park? No throwing sand or we will leave.” If Joey throws sand the second time, you move in quickly and say the following: “Joey, what you are telling me is that it is too hard to be at the park today.” And you leave. No more discussion is necessary; just leave quickly and decisively. At this time Joey may have a temper tantrum, which you will stay calm through as you make your way to the car.
Put Joey in his car seat and prepare to leave. If he continues to scream in the car, just sit in the parking lot until the screaming stops. You might say simply and calmly, “The car doesn’t go until you are quiet. I could crash the car if I am paying attention to you, rather than watching the road.” This waiting is another logical consequence to another inappropriate behavior.
I cannot stress enough how consistency and follow-through are crucial to this approach! Every time you go to the park with your child, you repeat the same instructions and if need be (he misbehaves and throws sand) you follow through with the same consequence, leaving the park.
The worst mistake a parent can make is to make a threat that is not enforced. This is a sign to your child that you are not in authority and that you can be manipulated. So the follow-through is absolutely vital.
After a while this is what will happen. While Joey is still an impulsive little boy, at some point when he goes to throw the sand he will remember that this will cause him to have to leave the park where he is having a lot of fun. He will anticipate the consequence and at some point, make a better choice.
Trust me when I tell you that this approach is very effective and if done correctly, will get you the results you want.
The funny thing about young kids is this: They want what they want when they want it. But even they know that some of their wants are not in their own or others’ best interest. Children look to caregivers to establish boundaries until they have enough life experience and cognitive development to do it for themselves. They feel safer in an environment where they know that they can test limits a bit, but only so far. So pick your battles. Try to be flexible about the small things and use logical consequences for the larger issues.
I hope that this is helpful to you as your child grows and as you grow into becoming a confident parent.