Calah, from Barefoot and Pregnant, wrote an awesome post today. I wanted to respond, but realized that in doing so I would take up too much of the comment box. I decided it would be better to spill my thoughts here instead. So let's start at the beginning...it's a very good place to start...when you read...(okay, I'll stop. It's the hormones. Right now I'm in a jovial mood. We'll see if that lasts.)
For those of you who have heard the spiel before, please skip this part. For those of you who don't know me, I have two children. One is almost two. The other is soon to be born (I hope). I have a BME, Bachelor's of Music Education, with an emphasis in instrumental music education. Basically, I was a trained band director who also was forced to take classes for elementary music. My certification says that I can teach K-12. I've taught K-2 briefly. I've also worked with junior high and high school students. Prior to becoming Mommy, I worked a stint in a daycare. Long story, but I needed a job to get out of a terrible job and daycare seemed like the best bet at the time. I was the 2s teacher although I also worked with 1 year olds and preschoolers. As a result of working at a daycare (and as any teacher knows) you have to take continuing education classes. A lot of the classes involved discipline. I've also happened to read quite a number of discipline books and own a few. If you want to read some of my reviews, just use the search on the right and type in "discipline."
Does this make me an expert in the area of discipline? No. Definitely not. As my mother would say, "Children don't come with instruction manuals." What this educational background has taught me is this: 1) Every child is different and every family is different. So it's a trial by error when raising children. 2) Everybody has an opinion on discipline and mine is no better or worse than anyone else's save those who advocate a high level of physical punishment (ie abuse). And my point of view has changed over time. I think as a parent-to-be we all have ideas in our head, but once we get there, things change.
Why am I so obsessed with discipline? I suppose it's just one of those subjects that I feel that I need to set the record straight about. It's like the time I tuned into a popular music radio station and the dj was asking questions for a prize. The question was what famous child's song did Mozart use in a piece he wrote when he was five. They were talking about Twinkle, Twinkle, aka Black, Sheep Black Sheep aka ABC song, which no one knows the origins of because it's roots spread out across time and countries. And he didn't write it when he was five. He wrote it when he was 25 probably for a piano student. If you don't believe me, look at Wikipedia. Mozart's earliest compositions happened when he was five, but they were rudimentary in comparison. I explained this to the dj who assured me that I, a budding musicologist, was wrong. It's just one of those things that seems to need someone like me to stick their nose in because people have gotten it so wrong.
What's the thing people have gotten wrong? Equating the word discipline with punishment. I've said it a million zillion times here, but punishment can be a part of discipline. Discipline, however, is not punishment. It means "to teach." I try to remind Christians here that the word "disciple" shares the same root as the word "discipline" and as far as I know Jesus didn't hit his disciples. He admonished them, yes. But he didn't curse them out, feed them frozen foods, or beat them with a belt to "scare the devil out of 'em." And unfortunately, as I've said before, some Christians (*cough* those who adhere to the Pearl's teachings) are forgetting that one important fact.
Discipline simply means "to teach." There's no hidden meaning to it other than the one society has equated it with. When people think of discipline they automatically think of punishment, but some people also think of reward. I advocate neither rewards or punishments. But for now I'll talk about punishments because that's what Calah's post is about.
I don't advocate spanking as I've said. There are a number of reasons. I could go into all the studies, but I think there's no point. I was spanked. I didn't learn a darn thing, as I've said before. And to me what I ultimately want my child to do is to learn. So it would seem counter-intuitive if I, who was spanked, don't remember any real lessons from it, to spank my child in hopes he'll learn something. I understand many people who do spank think that spanking is a reasonable way to keep a child out of danger. Again it all depends on the child, but as far as my own experience with children goes. It doesn't. Instead of learning to look both ways to cross the street, children often stop and look at the adult out of fear of being swatted. So I leave that one up to you. Do you want to teach your child to cross a street safely on their own? Or do you want them to rely on you to learn what is safe and what is not? Personally, I want my child to be autonomous. I don't believe in hand holding either of my sons through life otherwise they won't learn the ability to think for themselves when I'm not around. And so I start with small things (like don't touch that it's hot) to bigger things like (don't have sex before your married). It's not a strange concept. It's how my parents intended to teach me. To show me that all my actions have consequences. Unfortunately, it also involved a lot of belts when words and explanations would have worked too.
As for time-outs, well the state regulators where I was working aren't advocating time-outs. In fact, they are against that as a method of discipline. They are proposing things like redirection, which I advocate for young children especially. The reason the state stopped advocating time-out is because they were being overused. Like any form of punishment, if you're going to use punishment, save it for the bigger things. If it gets overused, the child will become numb to it, for lack of a better explanation.
I once worked with a 3 year old whose mother neglected him or beat him. He was found at age one in a cabinet in the kitchen scarfing down a box of cereal completely dirty. His Aunt and Uncle took him in. I discovered early on that any kind of sternness or time-outs would make him angrier and more violent. He wasn't getting the message he wanted to get across. If, on the other hand, you spoke to him gently and let him alone to cool off, he was better behaved. Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it? But really it boils down to this: were we trying to teach him how to play nicely with others or were we interested in punishing him more for our own gains (vengeful or justified or whatever). If you think of it being about teaching him something, then you have discard the justice served part. It's hard for adults to comprehend this, but you have to make a decision. Do you want your child to learn? Or do you want justice?
There are some benefits to time-outs. I've used it a few times with HB, but not in a traditional way. They aren't punitive. Either we move him into his room away from whatever he's doing wrong (redirection) but he has the ability to leave. Or if he's very upset, I tell him "okay, I can see your upset and angry. When you're ready, we can go outside. Just come and find me." Then I leave the room. He has a moment, like any human being, to express him emotions safely without punishment, without judgement and when he gets himself together, he's fine. I assure you it works with temper tantrums. He usually quiets down a couple of seconds after I leave the room, and then comes and finds me with a smile on his face as if to say "Thanks, Mom. I needed to get that off my chest." I do the same thing when he starts shrieking. I warn him that it's too loud and it hurts my ears and if he doesn't stop, then I'll have to leave. I leave and usually I hear some sort of whine (he's nearly two so saying it's over is hard for him) and that indicates that he's done and ready for me to come back.
There are some benefits to time-outs for older children to. Just like adults, older children need a place to get away and deal with their feelings. I recommend a book called Positive Time-outs for more info.
So if spanking isn't working for you, taking away toys, or time-outs don't work well either, what do you do? Easy. Stop. And tell your child you are going to stop. That however doesn't mean you don't have rules. May I suggest using an old teaching strategy of having your family make a rule chart and coming up with their own consequences. Or if the child in question is to young for that, trying to figure out why they are misbehaving. HB gets into the blinds for two reasons: boredom and frustration. Boredom just means I need to get off the couch (even if I'm feeling like an elephant is about to burst from my body). Frustration, we've been working on getting him to punch pillows. It's a work in progress.
Getting a child to immediately obey will not happen. Sure corporal punishment will get them to stop immediately, but again what are they learning? It's far harder to teach a child through things like redirection or rule charts. It takes time. So I wouldn't give up if it doesn't work the first 10-15 times. I wouldn't throw in the towel and resort to time-outs. A lot of parents, a lot of very tired frustrated parents, do this, and that's another reason why I'm so into the discipline thing. We need each other's support during trying times. We need to have someone around whose done this before especially if we didn't grow up that way. So if any parent finds themselves at the end of their rope and nothing seems to be working, find a good mentor. I won't say that I'm the best mentor, but if you need someone to start with, until you can find someone older and wiser with kids in college, you can always e-mail me. Leave a comment and I'll contact you.
Hope it helps.
Oh, and if I haven't mentioned it, you are free to tear each and every word I said apart and say that I'm a complete idiot and out of my gourd. I won't be offended if you do so nicely. As I said, I'm no expert. I will, however, tell you upfront that I stand behind each and every word that I said so there's no point in trying to change my mind. It's better if you simply offer a differing opinion without having the expectation that I will agree with you. Do we agree to disagree?