Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Don't Make Me Count to 3," Part 4

Okay. I want to say a couple quick things first. I have not forgotten that not all of you are parents. I'm sure this series is soooo boring for you. So this week, I'm interspersing my usual posts - Grace on a Thursday, and Insta-Friday so top of the page is not all mommed out.

Also, my email link on the sidebar wasn't working and I know some of you wanted to email me. My email is Lnp0202 at aol dot com. Those are zeros, not Os. So fire away. No hate email please.

Finally, I took down the new commenting format because within two days, it was not meshing well. The coding was not supporting the mobile version of Blogger so when people commented by phone, it accepted the comments in the original format, and deleted the comments from the new. Lame. Over it fast.

I think as I approach the tougher issues of discipline, we should go chronologically. Because that's how we all experience its challenges. As our kids age. The first time I started significantly freaking out over the willful defiance of my child is when my daughter was about 18 months. Her strong will made an appearance in a big way, as she grew into toddlerhood, and the first thing I did was reach for books.

First, I read the classic, Dr. Dobson's Dare to Discipline, simply because it was what my parents read, and I thought I turned out okay. It gave me a great start, and very sufficiently scared me into action by describing what happens when a child is not ever disciplined. His philosophies behind discipline were compelling, and I was fully motivated to push through my feelings of inadequacy because I wanted to avoid the consequences of failing to get this right.

But one big lesson this book taught me was that you can't just go by a book. Every child is different, and it is wise to pick and choose and change and try all kinds of different approaches to find what works best in your family. Some of the ideas in his book worked like a charm, some didn't. I don't agree with every single word either. The more books I read, the more I am reminded that books are only resources. You go to them when you need a new idea or a fresh perspective. None are the Bible.

I'm wary of the bandwagons, and any parent who "swears" by any one method or parenting philosophy based on a human-originated idea (and much more the moms who condemn and malign others for choosing a different way). All things get held up to God's word. And fortunately, His word allows a LOT of wiggle room in terms of parenting. Some mothers are totally appalled that God's word allows for spanking, and others are appalled that it allows for co-sleeping. Let's just agree that BOTH of those practices could go really wrong. But they could also go really right, and God allows for them because He commands certain coverings be in place in the home to begin with: encouragement, healthy family structures, and overarching, unconditional love provide a safe environment for these kinds of things to take place in a positive way. I catch myself sometimes being "appalled" at someone else's choice, but in my heart, I don't want to be that mom. I want to remember that our job as mothers is to find the best, wisest fit for a given child, in a given circumstance, and most importantly, for a given period of time. Because nothing stays the same for too long. Right? A healthy dose of humility is all I need to remember not everyone should discipline in the same way.

So my toddler was having issues! She arched her back and screamed when I tried to put her in the car seat or the stroller. She screamed when she didn't get her way. She got mad that it was naptime and would pull every book off her shelves, every day. She ran away from me in public every chance she got. Oh my goodness. All that doesn't sound so bad now, actually, but because she was my first, and she was willful, I was a sweaty, stressed out wreck every time she pushed back like that. She needed boundaries and consequences for crossing them. Fast.

Toddlers need discipline mainly to keep them safe, and to begin to teach them to obey your voice. However, they can't digest a lot of explanation. Consequences need to be simple and effective. Effective can ONLY be defined by how much the child hates the consequence. If they don't hate it, it's not effective. Period. If they don't care if you take away the toy, it's not working as discipline. The two things that worked best for me in the toddler years I'm going to call separation and swats.

1. Separation: I'd state a simple "NO," then pick her up, facing away from me, and carry her to her crib or someplace boring. If we were out, it was the stroller. This worked for times I needed to physically move her out of the situation for some reason. Maybe a big mess was caused, or physicality was involved, like kicking. Her consequence is missing out on interaction with me and others for a short time, even five minutes. She is a social girl and so she hated that (= effective). (I can imagine a child who is more independent, and would NOT hate to be left alone for a few. If that's your kid, this won't work. It could even feel rewarding to him or her to be put in his bed, if that's his favorite place to be. My daughter's favorite place to be was with me, and was not so fond of her bed.)

2. Swat: This wasn't a spanking (I'll talk about that later), because it was a quick "get your attention" kind of thing, usually on her hand. I'd put her hand in the palm of mine, and then clap my other hand over it. It made a noise, and shocked her enough to get the message. This worked great for times she was using her hands to do something that was not okay. I'd say something like, "We do NOT throw toys." Once in a while, when she would disobey with her body, like screaming and wrestling me to escape being buckled into her car seat, I would give her a little swat on her thigh. Part of my problem was that when she was screaming, she could not hear me tell her what I wanted. And I refused to just "win" the wrestling match and force her into her seat. I actually felt that was disrespectful to her. What I wanted was that she obey me. A quick little swat was one thing that helped startle her out of the fit, and into following my lead.

I can see how some would have issues with any sort of spank or swat, no matter what. I totally understand that, and again, I reiterate that different methods work for different families. If you have a history with someone misusing a corporeal type of consequence with you or in your family of origin, then don't use it. Don't go there. It may be too weird, and cause more trouble than it's worth. I don't have that history. In fact, both my husband and I were raised by parents who very selectively used spanking, and we both had loving, secure homes. We have no negative memories or feelings about it whatsoever. I'm just saying to use SOMETHING. Choosing to not spank your kids should never be an excuse to not discipline them some other way. There are lots of ways to do this; the challenge is finding the effective way for your kid. More on this later... 

{And hey, if you don't agree with me on anything in this series, that's cool. Feel free to say so. I only want to initiate respectful conversation and keep an open mind to all types of situations and families. I hope you'll allow me the same grace, because I'm certainly don't have all the answers. Thanks.}



  1. THANK YOU for sharing about toddler discipline! This is something I am so nervous about. My little one is just now getting to the point where I'm having to tell her no to certain things. A lot of times she just smiles and laughs at me, so I'm trying to learn what works best for her!!

  2. You are doing great! Keep it up!

  3. all this and consistency consistency consistency.

    ditto to heather's comment.

  4. thank you for your words. not just on this topic, but on all that you write about. i look forward to each new post. i've just started reading the book 'give them grace'. i'm just so excited to begin parenting in a new, grace-filled way. i have a 6 yr old daughter, 4 year old son, and 9 month old daughter. grace is the number one thing i need each day. so thanks. you are an encouragement to this wife and stay at home mama. God has certainly thrown me into your blog on purpose.

  5. I LOVE these posts, Leslie!! They are so insightful. And I loved reading your input on disciplining toddlers, because, obviously, that's right where I am. :) It's SOOOOO hard sometimes!

  6. First of all, I am loving this series as well.
    My son is 3 years old as of today. Something we do that works really well with him right now is counting. I start with 1 to get his attention. Then explain what he needs to do to fix his behavior and the consequence for not complying. (e.g. Let me put on your diaper or you will get a swat. Stop yelling or you will sit in time out. etc.) Then I start counting again. I rarely have to get 3 anymore. Just another idea to throw out there.

  7. We used some similar tactics with our daughter too. And I completely agree with Denise about consistency...that is key. One thing we really work hard at is not responding emotionally when our kids test us and act out, its hard to do but so effective. We use a one-two-three method too that really seems to work.

    And I couldn't agree with you more about using the Bible itself as our final authority, as parents and for any other issue. It's so easy to read great books on things but never take the time to pray and search God's word for ourselves. That's the best way to achieve wisdom!