First kid, we read the books about how to have a good sleeper. Second kid, we read the parenting books. Have you visited the online parenting sites? Have your relatives added their opinions about how to raise your children? The bad news is, I have no magic plan to pass on to you, as I do not know each of your children the way that you do. The good news is that there IS a way to discipline your children without screaming, shaming, spanking or spoiling:) I promise to help you learn some of these ways. Check out the end of this blog entry for some specific techniques or download the app “Positive Discipline Parenting Tool Cards” by Jane Nelson.
Most of us strive to raise competent, capable and confident children. We can do this by empowering them to do things for themselves depending on their developmental level. Also, by sticking to routines so that expectations are set. If you are like me, your kids act up at the most embarrassing times and when you are doing 5 other things (like changing diapers, wiping snot, putting shoes back on, trying to drink your cold coffee). I like to tell my patients' caregivers to try and remain “kind and firm” (an approach similar to that mentioned in Jane Nelson's Positive Discipline series). It is not necessary to " punish" for successful child rearing and better “to guide" children. I believe in thoughtful parenting, not permissive parenting. So this does not mean we are best friends with our children. It means teaching them in a way many of us might find foreign. Most of what we know is rooted in our experiences. The truth is, on paper the “kind and firm” approach seems fluffy, almost corny. But, if you have screamed, shamed, spanked or spoiled, is this consistently working for you? Yes, your child may briefly stop the behavior, however, do they have repeated offenses? Mine certainly do. Plus, the conflicts escalate until we are both more angry and not listening to each other. Definitely not a win win. So give it a try. Experiment with being “kind and firm”.
Remember that although you may favor one discipline technique over another, it will depend on the personality and developmental level of the child. For example, let’s talk about teeth brushing. If a 15 mo resists brushing their teeth, you are not going to kindly and firmly explain about cavities and plaque. You may distract, sing, speak in a calm voice, involve the toddler. If you are dealing with a 3 yo, kindly explain that we do this before bed so we can keep our teeth from getting yucky. Involve him/her and pick your battles. Is it really necessary to have a wrestling match ending in tears (the child’s not ours…usually) just before bed? Lastly, the older child, you can be “kind and firm”…ask them what they need to do to get ready for bed. How can they show you that they can do it on their own? Do they want healthy teeth or cavities?
It’s ok to be flexible during summertime/ school breaks. Bedtime can be a little later as long as overall the child is sleeping close to the recommended number of hours per day. Maybe there is more time for play, but be sure to encourage continued learning through reading often, educational activities and monitored screen time. You should expect some resistance during times of transition like the start of summer break or the start of a new school year. If you have a strong foundation these times will prove to be short lived.
The basic framework should be set early on as to what is acceptable in an individual family. Some families eat dinner together, while others order takeout and eat separately. Some families watch TV, while others do not own a single TV. Some are structured, others dance with the wind! My house seems to be a mix among all of these. Yes, this pediatrician’s kids watch tv. I was secretly ecstatic when the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated their take on screen time (insert bells and whistles). Old recommendation: no screens under 2. New one: limited screen time under 2 with an adult present in the room engaging the child. So I am not ruining my toddler’s ability to think after all if I allow some screen time? Yeah! Oh the things that make me excited these days. Along with double gas points Tuesday at Ingles. I could have fabulous Tuesdays!
Here are some helpful tips I have learned/modeled after the positive discipline approach:
ask don’t tell. say, “What do you need to do to get ready for bed?” instead of “please brush your teeth” “brush your teeth” “brush your teeth!!!!!” set expectations ahead of time. say “we are going into the yogurt store. i expect that you will be calm and use your manners. if you misbehave we will leave and go home” (so painful I know, but be consistent and always follow through - and grab your own yogurt before you leave!)don’t pamper (Jane Nelson has a card addressing this). if you coddle a child, they expect it from everyone else. they become my worst nightmare - the entitled young adult! if you allow them to develop and experience, they learn to be self-reliant and confident even when things aren’t going as planned.encourage them. don’t praise them. geez, i had this all wrong at least through kid #1 (of 4). avoid saying “good job” “excellent artwork” and be specific. “good job finishing your homework on your own. you must be very proud.” “excellent picture - you chose some really pretty colors. you are very creative”.
Parenting is hard. You’ve got this. Remember that some limit setting is a necessary part of discipline. Figure out what best fits your family and your individual child. You are the loving parent, not the cool friend.
(your friendly pediatrician with an angry 3 yo at home- mad because I put milk in his chocolate milk)