Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Living Room.
Characters: Belligerent 7-year-old, Exhausted parent
Belligerent 7-year-old: “I’m NOT TIRED! I DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO BED! I AM BUSY DOING LEGOS RIGHT NOW!”
Exhausted parent: “STOP SCREAMING! THE WINDOWS ARE OPEN AND THE NEIGHBORS WILL HEAR YOU!”
Ah, yes, we scream at our kids to tell them to stop screaming; grab a toy away from a toddler because said toddler just grabbed it from a friend; scold “that was so rude!” in a rude tone because a 12-year-old was rude to her sister; spank a child because they hit someone.
Before you have children it’s easy to be smug about discipline.
You see a child hurling spinach on the floor in a restaurant or having a screaming fit in the produce aisle of the supermarket and you think confidently to yourself that you will never allow your future children to be so _______ (insert negative adjective of your choice here: disruptive, rude, inconsiderate).
Then you actually have children and you realize that your former expectations about how they would behave and real-life child development are often not one and the same.
“We don’t have a clue what our children will evoke in us until after we have them,” says renowned psychologist Harriet Lerner, author of “The Mother Dance.”
“Your kids will make you love them in a way you never thought possible, but they will also teach you that you are definitely not the nice, calm, highly evolved person you fancied yourself to be before you became a mother,” Lerner asserts.
Here are some of my thoughts about discipline, gleaned from the experts, my observations, and my many, many failures:
• It’s hard to discipline a child when you have low blood sugar. If your kids are making you nuts, or not listening, maybe you need a healthy snack.
• Humor works! When Mr. Carrot says “Eat me up, I want my head crunched off,” Johnny is much more likely to eat his vegetables.
• Model how you want your child to act: Grabbing the tennis ball from my son because he grabbed it from the baby teaches him that 1) grabbing is acceptable and 2) whoever’s stronger wins. Being gentle but firm (“It hurts Baby’s feelings when you grab from her. I need you to give that back”) is a better method.
• Follow through is key: Never make a threat you’re not willing to follow up on. “If you talk in a too-loud voice and say mean things to Mommy, we’re leaving the supermarket right now” only works (and ALWAYS works in my experience) if you follow through and leave the second it happens again.
• Bickering in the car is dangerous: My kids used to pick fights when we were driving. If I’m distracted by their fighting, I can’t drive safely. Now I have a zero tolerance rule for this one: If they fight, I pull the car over and turn off the engine. They almost never fight in the car anymore.
• Be proactive: I know my son has special toys that he doesn’t want others to play with. We hide them when smaller kids are coming over. I know it’s hard to stop enjoying the park. A five-minute warning and a one-minute warning usually makes it easier to leave.
• Be clear: Kids don’t instinctively know how to behave and they often don’t mean to misbehave. I find clear directives really work to help them understand what’s expected: “In this store we can only look with our eyes and not touch anything,” “We’re going to a grown-up restaurant. When we’re there I expect you to use indoor voices, not to bicker, and to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the waiter.”
• Small kids need ways to express their big frustrations: It’s okay for a kid to be furious but it’s not okay for them to punch a person. They can punch the heavy bag, though. Scream into a pillow. Or draw a picture of how they feel. This technique (especially the heavy bag) is good for frustrated mamas as well.
What discipline techniques work best with your kids? Do you ever use them successfully on your spouse?!