Discipline: Laying Down the Law

In two years of daycare, Jack's been in time out twice. Twice. I sometimes question if we're dealing with the same three-year-old. The one that whines for hours because he wants two gummy worms, not one. Who pushes his 14-month-old sister around five thousand times a day. Argues that he's not arguing. Claims he's being careful after hitting the wall twice with a hockey stick. And, expects a treat because he got out of the bath and dressed without fighting. 

He's a challenge. That's for sure. And, we've recently reached the rope's end with a few upper-cuts to the face. One for each of us. So, I dug into discipline research. Determined to get answers we haven't heard. The discipline secrets that actually work. The ones that don't just tell you to stay calm. That actually streamline our techniques. And, are simplified enough for us to absorb. Stick to. And, hopefully, get results. 

Step One: Sync Up

Research shows that parents with drastically different child-raising styles are more likely to have behavioral problems. The trick is to avoid power struggles with your partner.  Sit down and draft the basics

Always settle discipline disputes away from little ears. Vow not to badmouth the other's technique in front of the kiddos. Compromise. But always confront the kids as a unified front. "You need a 'yes' from both parents."

Most importantly, keep encouraging each other. After all, we're fighting the same war. 
For more on getting in sync with your partner, click here.

Step Two: Set the Stage

Focus on two to three challenges at a time. Ours: whining, aggression, not listening. Explain the rules before the breakdown. "We set the rules and you're expected to listen or accept the consequence." 

Also add a few responsibilities, aka chores and rules. Always take your plate to the sink when your finished. Make your bed. Leave your shoes by the door. Babies can participate too. Ella claps for more food, helps pick up toys and hands over dirty dishes when done.

Step Three: Know the Punishment

This typically means time out. We've tried to let Jack tantrum in place. Take things away. Leave the scene. Nothing works better. Just prolongs the freak out. Time outs can begin as early as 18 - 24 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Keep in mind that, time outs should only be used for extreme behaviors, like the three "challenges" outlined in Step Two. We also take things away for less-horrific outbursts.

Here's some general guidelines for time outs:

Pick the space. Make the time out spot a boring place with no distractions, maybe a hall or corner. Don't use a crib or bed, that's for sleeping and never lock a child in a room.

Determine your warning strategy. We're a one-warning-your-done family, but the three-strikes-your-out policy has great results, says Nanny 911.

Simplify the jargon. State what you're doing and why. "You hit your sister after I warned you. That's not nice." Lecturing only looses the impact and understanding.

Quite and still vs. minute-per-year. The AAP suggests that time out should mean "quiet and still" until the youngster has a grasp on calming, usually around three years. Then, it's one minute in time out for each year of age. Use a timer in plain view. And, no getting up. If they move, place them back without talking and reset the timer (if used).

Discuss the behavior with them afterwards. Clear the air. Encourage their input, ask what happened and listen.

After the time out, there needs to be a time in. Don't dwell on the negative, he's served his time. Give some hugs and attention for something else.

Step Four: Stay Consistent

I know, I know. Consistency is key. But, here's the situation: After a six-hour night of broken sleep, 10-hour work day, messy dinner and overly-playful kids, my energy is extinct. Jack's still bossing his little sister after my third warning. So. Unbelievably. Tired.

So, my vow starting today is to never overlook misbehaviors because I don't want to deal with the never-ending punishment battle. It's time to nip the bud. Every single time. Don't give in. And, don't reward. According to experts, it usually takes three weeks to correct a misbehavior. One warning, then it's consequence time. Over. And over. And over. At least there's an end in sight.

Our new motto: Calm and consistent. The hubs and I are both half-German, blended with Italian. Not so good with calm. Especially when I'm an hour late for work, still have to drop the kids at daycare, drive 45 minutes and I'm exhaling my thousandth warning to finish eating breakfast to Jack, who's doing everything but. And I'm everything but calm. At this point, that's when the other parent has permission to step in. One's about to blow. So the other defuses the situation. And keeps the calm in consistent. 

Expect resistance. This is where we fall apart. Jack will challenge us no matter how many times he's been in time out for the same thing. See our issues with calming above. Also our reasons for the inability to accept resistance.

Kick the "accidental" inconsistency. Being preoccupied (Justin) or too busy (me) to enforce a rule only sends the "it's not important" message. Meaning Jack will ignore it too. 

Reward the good. And be specific. "I'm proud of you for sharing your toys" instead of "great job!" has more of an impact, experts say.

Step Five: When It's Not Working

No one ever tells you what to do if it's not working. If time outs aren't working, revisit your plan and make adjustments. Some preschoolers find it hard to sit still for a few seconds, let alone a few minutes. Maybe the kid needs three warnings instead of one. 

If you've done it all and nothing curves the issue, consider a behavior chart. Make a chart with a box for each day of the week. Decide how many times he/she can misbehave before being punished. Or, how long the proper behavior must happen before it's rewarded. Post the chart on the fridge. Every day, track the good and bad. Once it starts to work, reward for learning to control the misbehavior. 

Jack usually springs up instantly after being placed in time out. I sit him back down. He's up. I place him down. He's back up. Instead of playing Jack-in-the-Box, literally, if he instantly gets up a third time, we sit down and I hold him for the duration of time out. No talking until he's "quiet and still."

Never use your child's room as a time out space. We're super guilty here. Mainly because we just don't want to hear the continuos freak out. His bedroom should be a sanctuary, not a prison. We've since moved the "spot" somewhere more manageable.

He just won't stop crying and whining. Trying to console your child while in time out only  introduces a new power struggle and diminishes the point you're trying to make. Try to issue the time out before the point of no return.

He's not just crying, he's full-blown freaking. A tantruming preschooler has lost full control and only he/she can regain it. So we know. Forcing him to sit still just makes it worse. So, the best expert advise is to let him work it out, hard as it is, and not get swept under the craziness. 

For more on what to do when time out's don't work, click here.
For a discipline tool kit based on every age group, click here.

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