Sunday, October 16, 2011

For Calah

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'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?


  1. You're not crazy or extreme. You have your way and acknowledge that other people have theirs - I wish most people conveyed their feelings like you.

    I think you have a lot of merit & good thought-process behind what you say.

    I will only note my observations with parents who are always trying to reason with their tots and speaking in sweet voices. Their children are not intimidated at all by their parents and tend to be terribly behaved.(special cases not included)

    I am not saying your children need to fear you, but they need to be intimidated just a little, so that they are afraid to break the rules or act like jerks. The intimidation factor is how you control their behavior until they are old enough to reason and understand why. But intimidation doesn't equal tyranny. It just means they need to respect your authority.

    Personally, whatever your consequences (within reason, of course), the most important thing is consistency. You can't just be throwing kids in the corner and slapping them around according to the whims of your temper. The kid has to know what behavior will cause him what consequence.It has to be consistent every time. And you can't let things slide sometimes and punish or discipline at other times. I believe there is a place for both punishment and discipline, but has to be consistent.

  2. This is my third time reading this. There is much I want to ask you, but i've been bereft of a computer for a few days and thinking and typing on my phone is a nightmare. But I did want you to know that I really appreciate it, particularly the distinction you drew between discipline and punishment, and will be back as soon as I have a few minutes on the real computer! Thank you!

  3. Thanks for this. (I came from Calah's). I think you make some very helpful points. Especially, the distinction between discipline and punishment.

  4. I also came here from Calah's blog; your post is thoughtful and articulate, but I have to say that your two year old has extremely good self control if tantrums are over in 2 minutes or less after a time out in his room. My (almost four yo) son is an accelerator, and will literally scream for hours. He *can't* stop himself from overreacting. (He has some issues). Discipline has been very hard for me, because nothing works, and even redirection is hard. He does very well in school, but with two other small children at home, it is difficult to focus so much attention on the eldest. He already sucks all the air out of the room, and I fear my younger children are learning to cry louder and longer just to be heard in the ruckus. But those are our particular struggles. Thanks for some food for thought.

  5. Oh, Juliana B. I'm so sorry to hear about your struggles. It sounds like something very serious that I'm sure you've discussed with your pediatrician.

    This is more directed to other people, but...

    Children should outgrow tantrums by the age of three. That doesn't mean they don't whine or sometimes have moments, but in general they should stop. If they continue, there's something going on. And I don't get this information from experience, I actually read it in an educational pamphlet that the daycare had from somewhere.

    An hour is a really really long time. Most children's tantrums don't go for very long unless you try and quash them or draw too much attention to them. Which is why I just walk out of the room.

    I hope that you're able to get help. There are a lot of behavioral specialists out there. The little boy who I mentioned who was abused, well our daycare brought in a behavioral specialist to help with the situation. There are a number of organizations who do that in my area. I would talk to your pedi or the school to ask about it (or for anyone else with a similar problem).

  6. Question: You say "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." Why, if my child is screaming, would I have to leave the room? Wouldn't it be just as effective and give the child less control over the whole house to tell the child to go to his/her room until they are calm enough to behave and speak in a normal tone?

    We rarely use spanking and only use time-outs when warnings, repeated corrections, etc. have all been used numerous times. But we often use sending them to their bed as a choice. For example, if it is time to clean up and one of my girls doesn't want to (they are 5, 3, 2, and 6 months BTW, but only the 5 and 3 year old clean up) we tell them they have a choice and they can either clean up or go to their bed. It keeps playing from being an alternative to cleaning up and saves my voice, my temper, my sanity. They are members of this family and members of this household and everyone must do their part. Do they learn anything? I don't know. I don't have to do it often though and my girls tend to clean up pretty well. Hopefully if they learn anything it is that, as members of this family, if they want to be out with the family, they need to help support the family and that includes cleaning up.

    Another question I'd have is, when my children aren't sharing, what is the reason behind that? It isn't boredom and it isn't frustration. I don't think. Sometimes it can simply be childish selfishness. Reminding them of the Golden Rule doesn't seem to do anything. Any suggestions?

  7. @Katherine - regarding the not sharing... I know one thing I did occasionally @ the preschool where I used to work was that if they were getting in a spat over sharing and couldn't work it out - 'if we can't play nicely with it, we're not going to play with it at all" - often this was enough of a catalyst for them to agree that one could have a turn and then the other - or if not, it gave them ime to cool off and go play with something else.

    Along the lines of turn-taking - visual timers are AWESOME. We hadone - I think the brand is literally "time timer" as silly as it sounds - and there is a red section that pulls out, with numbers along the edge for the adult, but a visual red section they can SEE reducing as it slowly turns back in. Some kids do really well with this visual reminder - also for things like, "when the red is all gone, it'll be time for..." whatever activity, for kiddos who have a difficult time with transitions (we had a special needs integrated classroom)... but anyway! Hope some of that will help.

  8. Katherine- I think I mentioned that HB is not yet two. Therefore his vocal and cognitive skills are not the same as those who are age 3 or older. If I would ask him to go to his room, it would involve me moving him. He also doesn't understand the difference between a calm voice and a screaming voice. The screams are not because he's unhappy or throwing a fit (although sometimes they are). In this case, it's because he's learning just how loud he can be.

    As for giving him the run of the house, he doesn't have the run of the house. We baby proof a large part of it with gates. But it wouldn't matter to me anyway. The point is to defuse the situation not make it into a power struggle. So even if he was three or cognitively able to understand, I'd still leave after asking him to stop. It's what I do when dealing with adults who are clearly unable to control their own behavior. If they don't stop or leave, then I leave.

    As for cleaning, I'm a firm believer in warnings. Hannah Elise gave a good explanation of it when describing turn-taking. It's very hard for young children to understand the abstract concept of time. With HB if we need to stop doing what we're doing, we set an egg timer. He doesn't understand what five minutes is but he does understand that change will happen when it goes off. So if you're children are playing, I'd suggest telling them that you're setting a timer and after that you expect them to clean up. It goes for any transition. Works well for leaving a playdate or the play ground.

    Children don't really understand the concept of time until around the ages of 5 or 6.

    As for sharing, that's not something children readily understand at a young age either. Children don't begin to think of others needs or to empathize until around elementary school age.

    When dealing with sharing issues, I use an egg timer. She gets it five minutes, then he gets to play with it five minutes. If that doesn't work, I explain that since we're having trouble with this particular toy today, we will have to put it away. No toy. No sharing issue.

    If however, there is one child in particular toy snatching willy nilly, there's some other underlining issue other than love of a particular toy. Maybe they feel left out and need some one on one time. Maybe something else is going on at home like a new baby.

    In day care, we were taught to have multiples of the same exact thing. You can use this trick too. Two of the same doll. And if one takes the other's doll then, you simply remove it and give it back until they understand that they each have one. Every once in a while, I have a child snatch both. But then I remove both and give only one back to the original owner. Usually that gets the point across.

    Hope that helps.

  9. I'm not a mother. I do study theory of childhood and childhood cognition. This puts me in an odd space, of course. Mothers like to tell me that I just don't know, and I don't want to snipe back that I have the educational credentials and scientific and critical literature to back myself up, because I don't think that scientific and critical literature are the end of the story of humanity - though they are awfully useful. Mothers are right: I don't know what it's like to be a parent. I, too, started out in a classroom, though, and I have hands-on knowledge of what I speak.

    I have long admired the things that you've written about your idea of discipline and child-rearing. I have really neglected to tell you how absolutely refreshing I find your insight.

    I know that I tread on dangerous ground when I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway: spanking is wrong. It is morally wrong. I say this not to whip up people's emotions, but from the standpoint of Christian ethical logic. It undermines the humanity of children. Any act which undermines the value in question is a moral evil - I could give hundreds of citations from books with a Catholic imprimateur, if necessary, but readers probably already know this. I'm obviously passionate on the topic. My particular focus of study is children's theology, and the more I look, the more evidence I find that should condemn the way that we treat children as a society. There's nothing pre-human about children; they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and regardless of whatever objective-based parenting or teaching method one comes up with, the humanity matters more. The ends don't justify the means - this is Catholic morality 101.

    Do I condemn parents who have spanked, or who will lose it and spank again? No. This, too, is basic Christianity. We are human. We can speak out against sin without condemning the sinner. It is terribly hard to deal with toddlers and young children when you're desperate and exhausted. Because of my professional and research background, my friends ask me all the time, and I can only echo what both science and ethics tell us: no, no, no: spanking is not right: see this child not as a lump of clay that you need to mold by force but a human who is already (it's true!) ethical, philosophical, conscientious, spiritual, and - most importantly - your neighbor.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!