Approaches to Discipline
Some simple parenting tactics can solve a wide range of behavioral problems. The following methods come highly recommended by a variety of psychologists, teachers, pediatricians, and parents.
Hear No Evil; See No Evil
A tried-and-true disciplinary technique psychologists recommend is to ignore problematic behavior. In reality, it's hard to turn a blind eye to the mud pies being constructed from the soil of your potted plants or to turn a deaf ear to the drum of a high chair tray being pounded with a spoon. Although you may be compelled to swoop in to rescue the plants to stop the destruction, there may be an advantage to ignoring the clanging kitchen band — assuming your strained nerves can last through the serenade.
At some point children must learn that spoons aren't drumsticks and loud noise at the dinner table is unacceptable, but some lessons are better postponed. It would be easy to spend all day, every day chastising more active, inquisitive, inventive toddlers, but it isn't good for them to have their failings and inadequacies constantly spotlighted. Since feistier personalities will learn to either tune out the never-ending litany of nagging harangues, or enjoy this sure-fire way to get attention, reprimands may not serve much purpose, either.
When parents ignore problematic behavior that they have attended to in the past, children escalate. Parents may have to react despite their determination to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to small crimes. In this case, they need to teach the child more acceptable ways to get attention. This may require parents to notice and respond when their child begins to act bored or restless, suggest activities that they can do together, and comment on behavior that pleases them.
If the loving, helpful things toddlers do are ignored, youngsters may give up trying to please. Further, negative parental comments teach children to attend to flaws, so toddlers learn to pay attention to things parents don't do for them and ignore the loving, helpful things that parents do. To keep from focusing on the bad at the expense of the good, set a kitchen timer to remind you to make a positive comment at least once every ten minutes:
“Thanks for holding still while I change your diaper.” (Even if the wiggling only stops for ten seconds!)
“I'm glad to see you eating your peas.” (Even if she's only swallowed one so far!)
“I'm glad you told me you need to use the potty.” (Even if this is the only time he's told you this week — and it was after he wet his pants.)
“I appreciate you sitting still in the grocery cart.” (Even if it's been briefly enough to classify as a pause.)
“Thanks for helping to put away the toys.” (Even if she only got one block into the basket and you did all the rest.)
“I appreciate you waiting while I talked on the phone.” (Even if it was only for the minute he ran into the other room to look for the cat.)
It can be so easy to offer a cookie, treat, or toy to soothe tears, head off tantrums, and garner cooperation. And bribes often work — at least temporarily. But it's important to consider what children learn in the long run from this behavior management short cut:
“When I'm upset, eating is the route to feeling better.” This is the stuff of which modern eating disorders are made, not to mention plain, old-fashioned obesity.
“When I'm upset, being given a toy or special activity cheers me up.”Materialists are made, not born. If you want to set children on a course of seeking hugs from a human instead of items from a department store, the time to help set the pattern is now.
“If Dad wants me to do something, he should make it worth my while.” If you believe that family cooperation is its own reward and your child should do the right thing whether or not she's paid, avoid bribes! They will jeopardize your child's values.
“If the reward isn't good enough, I won't cooperate.” The problem with having to buy good behavior is that it can be very expensive!
When toddlers are developing a sense of themselves as people in their own right, the attractiveness of bribes may fall by the wayside. No reward is good enough, and
Although bribes ultimately reward bad behavior, contracts are arrangements between the toddler and parent to reinforce the “first things first” principle, as in, “If you pick up the blocks,
Decide in advance whether the toddler can in fact make a choice. Don't say, “If you'll put on your shoes, we can go out for pizza” if the toddler must get dressed because it is time to run errands. The toddler might decide the pizza isn't worth it!
One approach to discipline is to provide “logical consequences.”This strategy requires parents to figure out what the consequences of misbehavior would be if committed by an adult and design similar consequences for the toddler. The goal is to teach responsible behavior and prepare little ones to deal with the realities of life. For example:
In the “real world,” adults must clean up their messes. So, instead of yelling at a toddler over spilled milk, having him get the rag and help clean it up teaches a basic skill.
If cleaning up is so much fun that the toddler spills the milk on purpose, say, “I guess you're not thirsty,” and take the milk away. A logical consequence of wasting food is having none.
Adults can't eat according to their whims and must control their diets. So, instead of sending a toddler to her room for having dipped into the sugar bowl, the logical consequence might be that the youngster gets no dessert because she already ate her allotment of sweets.
Adults are sent to jail to be contained if they're out of control. Send the toddler into time-out.
Since mistreated possessions get broken and people lose the use of them, remove the toy a toddler is mistreating so he can experience what it's like to be without it.
Sometimes, parents try to impose logical consequences, but they often fail for the following reasons:
The consequence has nothing to do with the crime. “If you eat that candy bar, no TV for you for the rest of the day!”
The consequence accomplishes exactly what the child would like to have happen. “If you don't behave in the store, we're going home.”
The parent backs down rather than allowing the child to suffer the consequence. The child isn't supposed to get to hear a story because he was tearing up the books, but the parent reads one anyway.
The parent sets consequences that can't be carried out. “If you take your coat off again, we're not going out.” But the parent has to run errands and must take the child.
“The Big Cahoona”
Harlan was angry because his grandmother wouldn't take him outside to play. “Shut up, dummy!” he exclaimed.
“Harlan,” she said gravely. “Have you forgotten? I am the Big Cahoona. You must never say ‘shut up’ or ‘dummy’ to the Big Cahoona.”
“What dat Big C'oona?” Harlan asked nervously.
“That is me.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because that's what I am,” she answered. Harlan nodded gravely. “Why don't you play in the family room until it's time to go outside?”
Later, when Harlan began asking to go outside again, he was irritated and impatient but not disrespectful. At lunch when Harlan's grandmother told him not to pour milk onto his plate, he persisted.
“What did I tell you?” she asked.
He smiled. “Big C'oona,” he said. He stopped pouring the milk.
Every toddler needs a Big Cahoona — a caregiver who is authoritative, firm, and in charge.
Don't resort to hitting an unruly child. Take a behavior management course to learn physical containment (“holding”) strategies. Many mental health professionals and therapeutic foster parents enroll to learn to contain volatile youngsters. Contact the Crisis Prevention Institute.
Some children escalate to the point that even time-out doesn't settle them down. They leave the time-out area or destroy property. Parents must not allow destructive behavior. If children are out of control, parents need to control them. Biting cannot be allowed. The easiest cure is to give your little Jaws something she can safely sink her teeth into, like a sock or a thick rubbery something she can't shred or bite through.
Children must not hit parents, either! Sometimes it helps ground their energy to place your hand firmly on their forehead to hold them away from you. With your feet, and their feet, planted firmly on the ground, let them flail away. Don't smile at the “cuteness” of their impotent rage or otherwise reinforce this forbidden behavior.
If they persist:
Firmly say, “No! Biting/hitting me is not allowed!”
Send them straight to time-out.
Do not give them any additional attention; some children thrive on being yelled at, so don't waste your breath.
Do not comfort them when you release them from time-out.
The Basket Hold
The basket hold is a somewhat controversial measure of last resort after other, less drastic disciplinary techniques have failed. The following description is not a substitute for taking a course in physical containment techniques. Adults' anger is readily triggered and they can use too much force, which has resulted in children's injury and death. Adults themselves can be injured when a raging child kicks, hits, scratches, bites, or throws his head back. This technique is not appropriate for every child.
What is the basket hold?
The basket hold is a containment technique used to restrain an out-of-control child. Putting toddlers in a basket hold is a powerful nonverbal technique that enables little ones to lose control without harming themselves or others. It also allows them to regain control while being lovingly, yet firmly, held.
If a child has been subjected to any sort of trauma, this technique can trigger disturbing memories. The child may need play therapy to help process the intense emotions that can arise. After taking and passing a course in physical containment strategies, consult a mental health professional and your child's health care professional to determine if the basket hold would be appropriate, and if so, under what circumstances.
The following description of the basket hold is meant for informational purposes only. Parents need to undergo training so they can practice it in a controlled setting.
Stand behind the child, reach around her, and cross her arms in front of her chest.
Loosely encircle the child's left wrist with your right thumb and forefinger, and encircle the child's right wrist with your left thumb and forefinger.
Do NOT squeeze the child's wrist; otherwise, you'll bruise her.
Hold the child's arms tightly enough to prevent her from getting enough leverage to hurl her upper body or head into your chest.
Do NOT pull the child's arms; this can readily dislocate a small shoulder.
Slide to the floor and place the child between your legs.
Put your legs over the child's legs to prevent kicking, but be careful not to crush the child's legs.
As the child rages and struggles (often spitting, cursing, and attempting to kick and bite — this is what causes some adults to lose their cool; tantrums can last from a minute to an hour), speak in soothing tones:“It's okay. You're all right. I'll keep you safe. I'll control you until you can control yourself. I'll let go when you settle down.”
Don't release the child when the crying stops; continue the basket hold until the youngster is completely relaxed, often to the point of falling asleep.
Do not discuss with the child the events that lead up to the basket hold or what went on while the child was being contained. Instead, let the experience speak for itself.
It may be traumatic for children to be released from a basket hold before they are calm. They may feel they have overpowered their parent or believe that the parent was going to hurt them. They need to find out it is safe to be vulnerable and that parents can contain their intense emotions. On the other hand, parents must release a child if they are concerned about the child's safety or physical well-being!
After a toddler who has been placed in a basket hold several times hears the parent say, “It looks like you're losing control. Do you want me to hold you?” he may instantly cross his arms in front of his chest and sink to the floor in anticipation! It really scares children to be out of control, and they are relieved to be contained at that point. They must learn to regain control when they lose it!