February 20, 2008

What About Discipline?

Tonight Monkey kicked lego under the stove in a fit of temper when asked to help clean them up. I sent him for a time out.

A few minutes later he put lego in his mouth, despite being told not to several times, and nearly choked on it. I was frightened by the nearly choking so I jumped up and yelled at him. He disappeared under the dining room table. I felt bad for being scary mommy.

The lego belongs to Buddy and it's his first small-sized lego. He got it for his 6th birthday. Unfortunately he's not going to be able to play with it when and where his brother can get into it because, apparently, Monkeys cannot be trusted.

Monkey went through some truly terrible terrible twos. For months he spent the day screaming, hitting and kicking. Usually at the same time. It was devastating, embarrassing and exhausting. Every time we had to go anywhere he'd throw a full-blown tantrum about having to leave, about getting dressed, about getting into his car seat, about getting out of his car seat, about arriving, about having to leave again, about getting back into his car seat, about getting back out of his car seat and about getting back out of his snowsuit. I spent most of the time in frustrated tears.

Thankfully he outgrew the tantrums. He's doing much better now, but he's still very strong-willed. What worked for "discipline" with his brother does not work with him. Buddy is a very laid back kind of guy. He basically just goes with the flow. Time outs always worked. He'd go for his time out, sit quietly and when we called him back we'd have him tell us why he was in time out. And he was always able and willing to tell us.

I don't use time out often. Only when I feel something has been done that is outside the realm of acceptable behaviour. If Monkey had only had a fit of temper and refused to clean up the lego, I would have insisted he help, but I would not have put him in a time out. But, deliberately kicking the toys under the stove, that's unacceptable. Nearly choking himself? Unacceptable. Right?

Anyway. When I tell Monkey to go for a time out, he usually refuses. Which puts me in a very difficult spot. Because, really? Time out is all I've got. Once I go there there's not really anything else I can do. So I count down. Counting down ("Ok, go for your time out right now! 3... 2... 1...") used to work wonders with his brother. It would always give me results, Buddy would inevitably give in by the time I reached 2. I didn't have to ponder what would happen when I finished counting down.

Doesn't work with Monkey. The kid is on to me big time. He looks at me and I can tell he's thinking, "Yeah, she's got nothing".

So here's what happens. I tell Monkey to go for time out. He yells, "NO!" I tell him again. "NO, mommy!!" I tell him, "Right now!" "No mommy! No time out! No!" I count down. He stares at me with a devilish grin and does nothing. I pick him up and carry him to his room, put him down and walk away. He screams for the entire time he's in there (at least he stays now, he used to follow me right back out). I call him out and ask him to tell me why he was in a time out. He says, with crocodile tears running down his adorable little cheeks, "Mommy, I sad."


So, what's to be done? What's a Mom to do? This kid is adorable. Completely and utterly. He's also amazingly strong-willed and he can be difficult and challenging.

During his tantrum phase, the best advice I was given was to ask him to help me. So instead of telling him it was time to leave, I'd pretend I'd lost the car and get him to show me where it was. Then I'd pretend I forgot which seat was his and get him to help me figure it out. Then he'd show me how to do up his seat belt. Then he'd show me how to get home. Then he'd show me how to get from the car to the apartment. Then he'd show me how to take off his snowsuit. It was following this advice and playing the mommy is completely helpless (and by that point I was - I had practically developed tantrum-related agoraphobia) game that got us through his tantrum phase.

Another great bit of advice that I find really works with a strong-willed little one is to offer a choice instead of asking a yes or no question. So ask, "Do you want Cheerios or Corn Bran for breakfast?" rather than, "What kind of cereal do you want?" Or, "Do you want to wear your sandals or your spider-man sneakers?" rather than, "Do you want to go outside?"

One more strategy I used during Monkey's tantrum phase was to use "Active Listening". I learned about active listening in a psychology course I was taking at the time. Basically, when he was flipping out over something I'd say, "I hear you saying you want a cookie but you can't have one until after supper." I don't know why this worked but it did. It hardly works with adults who, I think, must find it patronizing. But with Monkey it stopped the tantrums. Weird, hun?

I think the main problem I'm having is that this kid is way smarter than me. I can't get anything past him. I'm having to relearn how to parent. Buddy and Monkey are so completely different. I figured out the tantrum thing, but now we've moved past that into a complete refusal to give in. He's so stubborn. "NO!" is his favourite word.

He's pretty cute, though, eh?
Hey! It's a Monkey!

Do you have a strong-willed little one? What are your strategies for teaching right from wrong and enforcing rules (otherwise known as discipline)?




tutugirl1345 said...

I'm not a parent, but when I was little, my parents would remove privileges. Tv time, dessert, going to a friend's birthday party, etc. It worked pretty well. Perhaps you could remove some sort of privilege after you land at the end of your countdown?

Sass E-mum said...

"I sad". Oh man - don't think I could resist that one.

My l'il lovely gave me the first indication this morning that the terrible twos are on the way. Since she's only 17 months old that's a bit of a worry.

As she lay down on the floor to shout at the injustice of having to get dressed - I did the only thing I could. Yup. Walked away and got on with other stuff. She was very cheerful when I got back.

I'm hoping active listening is going to work. Helping them to articulate her frustrations so that she can move on to more interesting things.

I really like the helpless mommy approach. I can see how I'll use that.

No idea if this idea works with older children - but when L'il Lovely is getting stroppy, I mirror her expression or the noise she's making. I try and do it in a fun way but basically compete with making the same bonking noise. Eventually she clues in to the fact that the noise is a bit weird and funny and she gets curious about what mad thing I might do next.

I even do this in the supermarket. Bit bonkers I know - if it gets really bad I'll have to change supermarkets and go to the one that's always full of freaks.

Sass E-mum said...

I have to correct a typo on my (far too long) comment. I meant to write that a copy her bonkers noise - as in mad. Not bonking, which is quite different. And I don't have Meg Ryan's style to carry that off in a public place.

Beck said...

He's very cute!
My littlest one is also my freakishly strong-willed one. We're still not sure what to do.
I check my google searches, btw, by my sitemeter, which you can see at the very bottom of my right column. It keeps track of traffic and where that traffic is coming from and all sorts of handy stuff - www.sitemeter.com

Amanda said...

Hey, there. Love your blog. I'm going to say something crazy here, so bear with me. I'm sorry, but I'm a spanker. My kids still get a spanking from time to time. With that said, my second child is the most stubborn kid on earth. I learned early on that spanking didn't even help with him. (I just ended up with an aching hand) He really has a need to be in charge of himself. He needs to make his own decisions and do things just his way. So now, I try to work with him by giving him lots of choices. I have this horrible Diego (a little spanish cartoon) CD that I put on in the car and if he is doing something he shouldn't I turn it off until he gets back on track. I find this sort of thing is working much better than the spankings. (for both of us) Also, glad that sass e-mum clarified that whole bonking thing. I was beginning to wonder about her...

Don Mills Diva said...

I have a very strong willed two-year-old who spends a lot of time on the naughty step. It's not perfect but it's all I've got right now...parenting is hard. Sigh.

SaraLynn said...

My two year old is stubborn as well. So far the timeout is working but there are times when he flies off into two year old oblivion. I count to myself and try to remain calm! And remember that when I am old they will be taking care of me. heehee....

Busymama Karen said...

Aloha from Hawaii! I'm hear with t he Ultimate Blog Party and have enjoyed your posts. My oldest (now 5) was just like monkey. I'd spend a good 30 minutes placing him back in time out before he'd give in and stay. He cried just like monkey at everything and throw a tantrum. Getting in the bath, time to get out of the bath, brushing his teeth, getting dressed and the list goes on. He has a difficult time with change! And at that young age transitions from one activity to the next were too much change for him unless I played the games like you did. I am happy to tell you it gets better! Though my son still is resistant to change (took months to get over the fact that we bought a new car!), he is getting better at it. Unfortunately, the strong will that keeps them fighting us does not go away...my son is so hard headed but it is getting better. I read somewhere that we should be pleased since people with strong will make great leaders. Can you remind me of that the next time my son decides to challenge me? I'll be back to check up on monkey. Take care!