Discipline is a subject that most moms talk about in hushed tones..but why? Growing up, it was not uncommon for my parents to discipline me in public with a swat on the booty, or even to drag me out of the toy aisle kicking and screaming (yeah…I wasn’t the picture-perfect child. Which is why it’s so important to me to set boundaries with kids.
In fact, I’m lucky that my parents still love me, since looking back I know that I was a bit of a challenge.).
These days, you rarely, if ever see a parent discipline their child in public. I talk to my mommy friends and they tell me tales of feeling guilty for saying ‘no’ to their toddler, or worse, feel that they shouldn’t punish their child for misbehavior.
So what does this teach your child?
This type of “parenting” (and I use that term loosely) teaches children that they can get away with anything. It is completely normal for a child to push their boundaries starting around…oh, 9 months.
See where I’m going with this? Smalls is pushing boundaries (totally normal, by the way), and you know what?
I’m pushing back.
This is MY house, and he needs to learn to listen to me. I’m the parent, he is the CHILD. He should not be running the show…and you know what? Your kids shouldn’t either.
If I wait, it will be too late to gently teach him what is acceptable and what is not. Before you go running to tell your friends about this horrible mother who punishes her child-let me be clear: I understand that a child’s development changes a lot in the first two years, which is why you need to have realistic expectations of both your child and yourself.
Most young babies doesn’t understand complex requests, but they DO understand the word ‘NO’. And guess what?
Before he was a year old, Smalls understood things I’d previously set as off limits:
- the kitty’s tail,
- the door stop,
- mommy’s book….
And he kept testing. Which is completely NORMAL. I’m proud that he’s learning (And is STILL testing!), but as his parent, I need to be firm and constant in my discipline, and provide boundaries, so that someday, he can set his own.
For children under 2, I have found that the following tend to work best:
- Redirection. When Smalls goes to play with something that is off-limits (mommy’s computer), I say ‘no’ and redirect him to a more appropriate toy.
- The use of ‘no’. I need to be sure that my reaction is the same each time, or he will get mixed messages. It is NEVER okay to pull the kitty’s tail.
- Being PATIENT (not my strong suit). He’s going to test his boundaries again, and again, and again, and again…well, you get the idea.
- Removing temptation. Recently, it’s become a game to drop the sippy cup, or his ‘nana’ (banana), or toys. Rather than return the item, dinner ends, or the toy is removed. He’s dropping things less and less.
If your child is over 2, you can introduce one of my favorites, which is really an expansion of removing temptation:
- Natural consequences. We needed to make a run to the grocery store because I was making a roast chicken for dinner (You can find the amazing recipe over at 100 Days Of Real Food. It’s amazing, I promise!), and I forgot the chicken. Oops. We ran to the store, and I told Smalls as we were going in that if he behaved, we could go to the park after I got dinner in the crockpot. Guess what? He didn’t behave. And he didn’t get to go play at the park. He was mad, but understood the consequence.
- Time out. Time out is a great tool when used correctly. Really, older children need a minute to calm down when they’re upset and acting out. Time out provides that moment.
A quick tip: once the discipline is done, drop it. One of the hardest things for me is not lecturing. Children need swift and immediate consequences (notice I didn’t say punishment) when their actions are unacceptable. I do my best to point out the consequence, explain the form of discipline, and then act immediately. Once he’s out of time out, or calmed down, we move on with our day.
Remember: Children Thrive On Boundaries
This provides Smalls with strong boundaries, which in turn allow him to feel safe and loved. Boundary pushing is totally normal for kids, especially as they begin to understand the world. Make sure that you provide solid boundaries (don’t dispense discipline for something that you will not always enforce, as that can cause confusion) for your children so they know what is acceptable, and that you are their safe place.
It amazes me how many parents nowadays are floored when their children act like monsters, yet they refuse to take responsibility for this. Start with boundaries early (around 9 months), and keep enforcing them. The fact that your kids push your buttons is a good thing. They are making sure that you are still their safe haven.