If your child is doing something that makes you crazy, remember that the maturation process takes care of a multitude of problems. Whatever behavior she is exhibiting at the moment will change as she gets older. Of course, then she will do other things you won’t like either, but the current headache will go away. Also, sometimes it’s comforting to watch your children among their peers. Then you realize that many of the actions that are most exasperating merely go with their age, and as their age changes, so will their actions.
In any situation, remember that you are the grown-up and should have the maturity to decide how to respond, rather than just react or worse, dither. One of my daughters worked in a bookstore and she often watched people plead with their child, “come on now, it’s time to go home. Please.” And when the child ignored them, the parents didn’t seem to know what to do. She wanted to shout at them, “You’re bigger than they are! Pick them up and take them home!”
Here are a few techniques to help turn our children into civilized human beings:
1) Physical. I hesitate to use this term because it’s so out of favor for disciplining children. Here is what I think about it. Before they talk very well, a swat or two on the bottom is sometimes the only way to get a point across. It doesn’t really hurt through all the diaper padding and it gets their attention. Sometimes I also slapped their hands if they were continually touching something breakable and expensive or dangerous. (I know you can put as much as possible out of reach, but not everything.) On the other hand, I don’t think you should ever slap a child’s face no matter what their age because, although it may be slightly painful, the worst thing about it is that it’s humiliating. And finally, if you do use swats, don’t continue after the age of three or four. Not only is it less effective but, again, it’s humiliating. And you might as well get a lot of practice with other methods before the teen years when they’ll probably be bigger than you.
Sometimes just the spectre of spanking will be enough of a deterrent. One of my daughters was having trouble with her two little boys, two and four years old. They would not stay in their room after going to bed at night. She was reading the book, The Strong-willed Child by Dr. James Dobson and at dinner one night she was telling her husband about it. She said Dr.Dobson recommended keeping a switch beside the bedroom door, and when a child kept coming out of his room after being put to bed, use it. When she said this, she looked up and saw two pairs of shocked eyes and two wide-open mouths as the boys listened to her.
The older one said, “No, Mama, burn that book! Flush it down the toilet!”
She asked, “Don’t you think we should keep a switch by your bedroom door?”
“NO, NO, NO, NO!”
“Well, what should we do when you keep coming out of your room after bedtime?”
“We won’t ever again! We promise!”
She says there wasn’t a problem after that.
If you do use physical punishment, remember the purpose is not to relieve your feelings, which is unfortunately sometimes the reason we use it. The purpose is to make a change in behavior and here a few more, perhaps better, ways to do that.
2)Time-out. This means having the child be separate and alone for a period of time. There should be one warning before a timeout--except in the case of serious aggression, then there should be no warnings at all. Some pediatricians recommend one minute of time for each year of age since time is endless to a child. Time-outs can be effective, but be careful not to use it for all the child’s misbehaviors. Pick a couple actions you feel strongly about and then use time-out consistently. Again, it can decrease in effectiveness with overuse.
My daughter, the mother of the same two boys, said she didn’t like time-outs because her youngest son wouldn’t stay in place. It turned into a five-minute wrestling match that she always lost, and she was worn out at the end of it. I told her about an article I read that said if a child won’t cooperate and sit apart willingly, the parent should hold the child in the chair physically by hands on his shoulders to enforce the rule. If that didn’t work, put the child behind a door, then hold the door closed by the door knob; don’t lock the door. This way the child can tell the parent is there and doesn’t feel quite so abandoned. The article then said, after only a couple of weeks of practice, the child can be given the choice of sitting in the chair or going behind the door. And they usually choose the chair out of self-respect once they have the control to do it.
Another thing to consider about time-outs is that they won’t work at all unless there is something positive about “time-ins” with the parent. In other words, we need to have a good relationship to begin with or time-out is not a punishment at all.
3)Loss of toys or privileges. I once saw a Dr. Phil show where he calls this “using the child’s currency.” He was talking to a couple that had no idea how to keep their two boys from seriously fighting with each other. Evidently these fights had escalated to the point of physical damage. Then he talked with the boys for a while and found out their favorite things in the world were their action figures. He said to them, “If I said I would take away your action figures if there was any more fighting, do you think you could stop?” Both boys looked at him in horror and said, “Would you really do that?” He nodded and said, “Absolutely.” They looked at each other and back at him and said, “Yeah. We’d never fight again!”
I don’t know how true that was, but it was the right idea. Figure out what is your child’s “currency” then use it somehow to encourage good behavior.
4)Grounding. This seems to be the punishment of choice for parents of older kids and teens, but personally I never liked it. I didn’t use it because it seemed like more a punishment for me than for them. However, I know many people swear by it, so maybe it has some merit, especially for certain things, like chores or homework. Again, kids should have one warning, or at least a discussion about consequences for certain undesirable behaviors before grounding is instituted.
The best way to teach your child about civilized behavior is by example. Probably 99% of our behavior is absorbed by osmosis from the environment we live in. If you don’t want them to fight, don’t fight with your spouse. If you don’t like their swearing, don’t swear. If you don’t like them making messes, try to keep you own stuff as neat as possible. If you want school to be important to them, show them that learning is important to you by reading, taking classes, trying new things. And if you want them to treat you with respect, treat them and everybody else with that same respect.