When I was asked to write on the topic of discipline, I was at once honored and scared. While I think our 3 ½-year old twin girls are generally well-behaved, I feel like a pretty far cry from an expert on the art of discipline.
I’m here to share a few of the overarching tenets of what has worked for us over the past couple of years. I don’t know that there are any “answers” here, but I hope it might spur some dialogue. The only thing I’m certain of is that there’s no one right answer, and we can all learn at least a little something from each other.
1. Use positive phrases
I read this somewhere when our girls were much smaller, that children respond better to a phrase such as, “Hands off!” versus “Don’t touch!” It sometimes requires some thinking in how to phrase something more positively, but I think it makes sense.
I’m telling my girls what they can / should do, instead of what they can’t do.
It certainly makes for a more positive atmosphere at our house, and I think that’s good for all our psyches.
Further, I try to reserve saying “NO!” for situations in which it really matters, like when someone is in danger. I like to think that, since the girls don’t often hear that command, it makes much more of an immediate impression.
2. Give choices
In keeping with the positive lexicon, I try to give my girls choices when I can…choices that all result in my desired outcome, of course. My favorite example is, instead of saying, “Don’t stand on the sofa,” I tell the girls, “Get your bottom on the seat or your feet on the carpet.” Either is a win.
3. Position your children to succeed
Since our girls were infants, we’ve adhered to a daily schedule for meals, naps, and bedtime. Given that, I can project when our girls will be more attentive, and when they’re more likely to fidget and not follow directions.
It’s not always convenient with what I want to do, but I don’t take my girls out when they’re hungry or tired. If naptime is approaching, it’s not fair of me to expect them to behave as they would mid-morning, when they’ve just had a reenergizing snack.
Likewise, I’m not going to take my girls browsing for fine china by myself. There are too many temptations, and a small misstep (which is going to happen occasionally!) could have huge ramifications.
Finally, I go back to the idea of options. For example, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a child to go into a store and literally not touch one single thing. I tell the girls that they can touch things with one finger. “One finger, please!” I’ll remind them as they start to reach for something bright and shiny. That gives them a little bit of autonomy…but – excepting a china shop – touching most things at Target or the grocery store with one finger is generally pretty harmless.
4. Pick a method of punishment that has meaning relative to your child’s age
When the girls were small, I spent a lot of time distracting them from undesirable behavior. I can’t remember the exact moment in time, but at some point – maybe 18 months or so? – consequences-based discipline began to make sense. If our girls threw a toy, that toy was put into “time out” for a period of time. If our girls took their shoes off in the back of the car, they had to be carried into the restaurant instead of being allowed to walk.
I first tried using time-outs when our girls were about two, but it seemed like a huge game to them. They were much closer to three when they started to dislike time out…and I silently threw a little party!
After consulting with a handful of more experiences mamas, I decided to employ the “1-2-3 Magic” approach, by which a child get two reminders for minor infractions before she’s put into time out.
A big tenet of this methodology is that the adult is to maintain her cool, counting infractions without emotion. I repeat to myself so often, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” This is meant to reinforce to the child that it’s her actions that are resulting in the consequences. And I think it helps avoid children seeking attention – especially negative attention.
5. Respond to positive behavior, and do not respond to negative behavior
I praise my girls when they are behaving nicely. I try not to go overboard…I don’t want to have them constantly seeking affirmation…but when they use nice manners, for example, I’ll acknowledge it by saying, “Thank you for asking so nicely.”
On the other end of the spectrum, I saw a quote from a friend a few months ago, oddly very related to parenting. “I do not respond to terrorism.”
If our girls try to demand more milk, their words will be met with a certain raised eyebrow, or perhaps a blank stare. They are quickly (and silently) reminded to reword their request.
If our girls whine, I’ll calmly remind them, “I need you to use your big-girl words. Mommy can’t understand whining.”
And…especially thinking about those tantrums that can be indicative of the two’s and three’s (and beyond???)…the crying doesn’t phase me. Of course it does sometimes phase me, at which point you’ll find me repeating, “Never let ‘em see you sweat…I do not respond to terrorism…this, too, shall pass…bedtime will be here in three more hours.” J I’m mostly kidding, though. At least to date, when our girls see that they won’t get their way with tears, they snap out of it pretty quickly.
6. Be realistic
Kids are kids. I sometimes have to remind myself that my three-year old may be able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but she’s still only three...still largely motivated by what she wants, when she wants it. It’s my job to help her shape her actions, but it’s all relative.
Wow…I didn’t plan to write a book of my own here! If you’re still with me, thank you for reading.
At the end of the day, we are all finding our way through raising our children. Every child is different, and we often have to work to figure out what works with each of our kiddos.