Sunday, February 27, 2011

Discipline and Toddlers...

Notice that the title of this post is "Discipline AND Toddlers" and not "Disciplining Toddlers". My wonderful friend, Ben, comment on my 'discipline' at a rock concert that we were at the other day. Yes, rock concert. Ava loved the music, and even did her 'angry dance' all the way through the more metal songs. And then ate her body weight in Turkish bread and hummus. Yum.

Now, discipline is a subject that gets everyone up in arms, and I know I have blogged about this before, but this is what I believe and what works for me. You can beat and scream at your children all you want, just don't winge when they smack you and yell right back in your face.

The work discipline comes from Latin roots and it means "to teach", and when it boils down to it, I am trying to teach is self control, relationship/ interpersonal skills, manners, good habits and how to be safe.

Now, toddlers have a curious mind, immature nervous systems, growing needs and wants and limited verbal skills to express themselves. For example, "Poo" can mean "I need to do a poo" OR "I have just filled my nappy with poo" OR (because of their immature nervous systems) "Wow, I was sure that fart was going to be a poo".... Weeeeeell, you get the gist. And when emotions get really big and little systems flood with adrenaline, grunts, screams, slaps and kicks often replace words as toddlers struggle to express what is racing through their heads. They cannot yet grasp concepts like 'share', 'take turns', 'tidy' and 'hurry'. The concept of ownership is not yet formed and so everything becomes 'mine'. The idea of 'teaching' discipline is also hard at this stage, because you are not dealing with a rational, miniature person, but a growing living organism whose mental capabilities and needs far outstrip the language needed to communicate. Couple that with an insatiable curiosity about the world and how it works, and you have a toddler.

Discipline is also often associated with punishment, and positive reinforcement often gets forgotten, OR WORSE, palmed off as mollycoddling, hippy shit. Well, I can tell you, EVERY SINGLE TIME I have smacked Ava, it has done nothing but given me a irrational, screaming child to deal with, and it has been because I was angry. I am a human being and not perfect, and I have definitely regretted the way I have handled situations before, and it has usually been when I have lashed out and smacked. I probably yell too much, and being quite honest, it is probably because I am too lazy to stop what I am doing and go over to where the problem is. As I said before, not perfect.

When I was pregnant, I looked after my body, staying active and eating the right foods. When Ava was a tiny baby I fed her when she was hungry, and picked her up when she cried. I breastfed her until she was ready to stop and slept next to her until she was 10 months old. I ignored people telling me that I would 'spoil my child', because what I was teaching her was to love and to trust in relationships and people. I wanted to set a good foundation for self control, based on mutual love and respect. So, now if she slaps another child or up-ends her water on the floor, I get down to her level and explain to her that what she did was 'not nice' or 'not good'. She says sorry, and then we follow logical consequences, so she apologises or cleans up, and I really haven't had any problems with that. I try not to smack or to yell, and usually these things only happen when I am tired or overwhelmed. Instead, I am trying to gently guide Ava towards those qualities that I think will serve her best as she grows up.

Routine, consistency, firm guideline, high standards but realistic expectations, prior planning, distracting and redirecting, good nutrition, positive reinforcement, natural and logical consequences, modelling good behaviour, varied and new experiences to learn and most of all a loving and safe environment, these are all pieces to the puzzle that makes up our day.

This is not some weirdo hippy shit either. My daughter is polite, well behaved, tidy, has an inside voice and an outside voice, and although she can sometimes be naughty and forgetful, people compliment me on what a well behaved and 'easy' child she is. And I have never been told that she is spoilt.

Many, many people tell you to growl or smack, time out, time in, naughty corners, naughty chairs, going to bedrooms, all sorts of things. Well, those of your that know Ava, know that I am raising someone who is pretty special, and even though it is probably all her, I don't think I am doing half bad.


  1. we have never used a traditional 'time out' and like you, we explain all our reactions to things Cam does... both the positive and negative things.

    I think the 'terrible twos/threes' etc is really more to do with parenting responses to a normal behaviour pattern in that age child making it worse. Cause, like you said, the times when the we do lose control of ourselves as the parent is when the child loses control too. Realistic expectations and an understanding of the developmental stages is an absolute must too, I agree.

    Perhaps seeing the train wrecks that we do in teaching has made us super aware of how we would like our children to treat themselves and others... now and in the future????