Disciplining Your Child: How, When, Why
So last week my wife and I attended a Muir Mommies: Back to Work (Working Moms and Babies 3-12 months). This is a bi-weekly class held in the evenings at the John Muir Women’s Health Center, in Walnut Creek. The topic for this evening was Discipline! This was something that we hadn’t really considered yet as Thomas was just a few days shy of six months old at the time. We had only the week previously started saying “No Hands” to Thomas during his rice cereal feedings because he would put his hands in his mouth while full and covered in cereal and we are still trying to teach him the mechanics of how we would like him to eat.
Wondering what the class would be like for us and being MY first Muir Mommies class at the Women’s health center, we attended. We arrived to a room full of children aged five months to one year old. The turnout was good and there wasn’t much space left for us to take so we sat next to the instructor for the evening. As she began, we realized that maybe this wasn’t the best place for us to sit because she likes to punctuate her message with loud, but short yells and exclamations to get her point across. Thomas doesn’t do very well with these quick outbursts in general but we were already seated and the class was started. (Note: Thomas did fine throughout the class.) So what was the first lesson that she shared with us? If you don’t want to yell at your children for getting into everything, childproof your home… do it now, childproof everything! She went on to explain that as infants and into toddlers, their minds are like sponges and they absorb everything and therefore they want to explore everything! As parents we should encourage that as much as possible, but we need to allow for safe exploration within our homes. By childproofing as much as possible, we don’t have to discipline as much because there is less there to harm our children.
The next lesson that she provided was that you should use the word NO as little as possible during this age of their lives (six months to toddler). While they may hear it and part of their brain understands, the rest of their brain is saying EXPLORE EXPLORE EXPLORE and will more likely than not over-rule the 10% that said “no we don’t play with those things”. So when we say ”NO, don’t touch the lamp!” (to use her example) They hear the “no” and also “touch the lamp” at the end. As a child with a still-developing brain, they don’t always process all of it as we do, so sometimes they understand the no and most times they do not and hear the “touch the lamp” part because that is what 90% of their brain is telling them to do. So the lesson really was about not using the word No, or using it as little as possible.
The No lesson segued into a “Say what you mean and mean what you say” lesson. Instead of using the word No to convey your message, tell your child what you want them to do instead and mean it! So for Thomas during his feeding, we now tell him “Hands down” issued somewhat as a command, sometimes we move his hands down for him, other times our tone of voice will refocus his eyes on ours and stop the flailing of food covered fingers. The message from the say what you mean and mean what you say lesson is to be true to your word. If you are only going to stay at the park for 30 minutes or three times down the slide, adhere to it. Do not give in to your child during a tantrum, outburst, or other probing of your defenses. If your child realizes that you will cave to them, you have lost your ability to be in control. This doesn’t mean that you cannot empathize and share those feelings with your child, IE “I understand that you are unhappy and want to stay at the park/your friend’s house/have cookies… but Daddy/Mommy said we were only going to do this and then we were going home etc” This may not help in the moment but in time it will sink in.
Also in this lesson she shared that you can provide your child with a choice when it is time to go or the have an outburst and the example she gave was “Do you want to take my hand and walk to the car with me, or do you want me to carry you to the car?” She said here never to make threats like “I’ll give you something to cry about” or other things because those methods will only scare your child into obedience. Plus no one wants to be “that parent” do they? She mentioned that if your child chose not to take your hand to the car and instead ran away, you grab them like a sack of potatoes and go to the car because the choice was made in their action. Carrying them like a sack of potatoes is the best way, she said, as your children will inevitably be unhappy, kicking and/or screaming… but don’t give in. You can again explain to them in the car that you understand their frustration, but you offered them the choice to hold your hand when it was time to go, but they chose otherwise.
After these lessons she went around the room asking people to share a behavior their child was doing at home that they wished to correct, biting, throwing things, yelling etc. There was a lot of good information shared and most of the tips she provided would lead back to one of the messages/lessons she went over during the hour-long class.
You may not live near the same area I do, but I will wager that there are similar classes available to you in your area, you will just have to find them. Check with community centers, hospitals, even mommy groups to see what is around you.
Have a story to share or example of discipline in your household? Please do share it! Leave a comment!
Please note: I am not a professional. Take the information listed here as you would anything else you hear from a friend or read on the internet. 100 different people will have 100 different ways of disciplining their children and my wife and I have only just begun using discipline in our household.