Yesterday, I watched my 4-year-old daughter take her third round of swim lessons after being a two time Swimming School Drop-Out earlier this year. Caroline has employed many strategies to get out of taking lessons, despite all the bribery I could throw her way. We’ve gone through the “I-can’t-go-because-I’m-still-going-potty” trick. The “I’m-gonna-jump-up-and-down-and-scream-like-a-banshee” trick. Finally, the unexpected-quitting-after-5 or 6-awesome-lessons trick.
My husband and I flipped over to discipline mode, taking everything of value away from this child. No more beloved Kindle, sassy new birthday clothes, doughnuts or TV (as much punishment for me as her). Learning to swim is THAT essential to our family (particularly the Not Drowning aspect since we are rather fond of our children). Let me be clear: this child is NOT afraid of water. So, we decided to suck it up and pay for private lessons. Caroline, much to my delight, seemed eager to begin. Until the day of the first lesson.
We had a screaming, clinging child again, using every diversion tactic to avoid the pool. In complete desperation, I felt I had tried everything in my tool box. Then, a gift from above. An epiphany. I uttered one phrase that would strike fear in any normal human being: “If you don’t get in, I will sing.” Lo and behold, that child hightailed it into that water before I began butchering her favorite songs from “Frozen.” I smiled wickedly. Mama’s got a new secret weapon.
How often do we experience that helpless despair when it comes to discipline and controlling our little ones’ naughty behavior? And what options are left for those unfortunate parents who have a lovely singing voice?
I turned to Dr. Laura Markham for guidance on this topic and to discover more “zen” ways to deal with our devilish little people. Interestingly, Dr. Laura rejects what is commonly considered discipline, at least in the traditional sense. In “10 Ways To Guide Children Without Punishment,” she states, “The most effective way to teach kids is to treat them the way we want them to treat others: with compassion and understanding. When we spank, punish, or yell, kids learn to act aggressively.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/201404/10-ways-guide-children-without-punishment) This sounds all kumbaya, but how on earth do we keep our kids from chewing us up and spitting us out during temper tantrums without discipline? I’ve included some highlights from Dr. Laura’s article below:
- We have to calm ourselves down first before we can expect our kids to do the same. Dr. Laura reminds us of a few important facts that can help give us insight and help us regain our composure. There is a reason why our children behave badly, even if we as parents don’t think it’s a good reason. Our kids may not be sleeping enough. They may not be getting enough time with us. My children were at their worst when they lacked the communication skills to tell my husband and me what they needed. Remembering these things during tough times can give us just enough perspective to view the situation through their young minds.
- Don’t abandon your children during hostile times. I’m very guilty of fleeing the scene of temper tantrums at home, mainly as a self-control mechanism. Dr. Laura writes, “When your child is hijacked by adrenaline and other fight or flight hormones, he can’t learn. Instead of lecturing, do a ‘Time-In’ where you stay with your child and let him have his meltdown in your attentive presence. Expressing emotions with a safe, attentive, accepting adult is what helps kids move through those feelings and learn to self-soothe so they can regulate their own emotions eventually.”
- Stoop down and maintain eye contact before setting limits. I know that I would feel disconnected and intimidated by a person more than twice my height peering down and lecturing me. Get on the floor. Look your child in the eye. Explain that you understand what she is feeling, then remind her of the rules.
- Dedicate a set time just for kids. I know this is a tough one. We want to be 100% present for our children when we are with them, but then our phone dings and we simply HAVE to know why (guilty!). As I mentioned before, sometimes our kids are feeling ignored which may be the catalyst for some of their bad behavior. Silence the phone. Turn off the TV. Tell your little one that you are all his for the next 30 minutes. Then be 100% present.
What are your tried and true techniques for suppressing YOUR child’s demons? What backfired on you?