Skip to main content

Difficult to discipline children

Much has been made lately about the controversy over the author who writes the "how to beat your kids" book and how people have used his text to abuse their children. I haven't weighed in because it seems mostly like another manufactured internet I'm-offended-let's-give-it-attention story. Some of us have our own parenting problems.

In our case, it's tough to know what to do with Cole sometimes. It's a perfect storm of him being a typical boy, emotionally sensitive/aware, and having sensory problems. He knows certain behaviors are wrong and what is expected of him. He's intelligent--sometimes too much for his own good--and can be clever and manipulative and frequently immature and sometimes quite reasonable.

It makes it difficult to find a consistent strategy to redirect unwanted behavior. Not that we aren't partly responsible ourselves. We'll own up to needing to be better about keeping it more like dog training...you only say no once. There have to be immediate consequences and if we tell him to stop we need to be quicker to act and not wait until the second or third time it happens giving him extra chances.

But then there's also the frustrating point where you're standing there looking at him...he knows he's wrong, but literally doesn't have the ability to stop at that moment. Or, alternatively, the usual moment for disciplining him doesn't really match with his current psychology. It's become a constant need to have a bag of tricks to pull from because the best method can vary by the hour or even the minute. It's on-the-fly parenting. I've learned a lot and am much better at it than I used to be. It still sometimes feels overwhelming though.

As an example, because most of you don't know my kid and have no clue what I'm talking about...he loves to spit. More like raspberry. Usually in your face. He's being silly and it's too fun to stop. He literally can't make the transition from the high of joking around to understanding that you're serious about not wanting a face full of spit. It goes a couple of ways. Now and then, you'll try to ask nicely and he's not in the mood for manners right then. You can try the threat of a timeout or stopping the toy, video, etc.. That usually leads to an escalation. His awareness and sensory issues make him very socially aware when he's being put on the spot. If he gets the idea that you're upset or about to giving him a parental "talking to" he regresses into an uncontrollable crier that has nothing to do with the topic at hand and everything to do with being embarrassed. If you put him in timeout his only thought is getting out of timeout so that it's not a good time to try to discuss anything with him.

Thankfully, between EI and school and learning more about what makes kids like him tick, I'm learning that the two tricks are A) keep it upbeat and B) downplay the actual significance of the event even if you thought it was a huge deal. Granted, this doesn't go for safety. Parking lots are an immediate end of niceness and he gets his behavior corrected for him. But, on the other hand, most instances of conflict I've had better luck lately with a brand of silly, happy punishment. Sounds weird. But I swear it works. Preschoolers in general are weird little creatures like that. You want them to learn something so you tell them how important it is and they stare at you. Sing a song about it or tell it in a funny story and they can wrap their heads around the craziest, most advanced ideas. This morning Cole learned all about spare tires and how to change a flat using a Hot Wheels. Ask him to please put his hat and coat on and it's like you'd ask him to do algebra.

So if I don't want him spilling chocolate milk all over the rug or getting Play Doh on the couch, it's actually an easier, longer-lasting lesson to acknowledge how fun it was to get Play Doh on the couch or, wow, that's a lot of milk soaking into the carpet. Dad plays dumb like he doesn't know how to clean it up and magically Cole comes up with the answer. Daddy, I'll get a towel and you get the vacuum out. If I'd told him to go get the towel it would have been 20 minutes of hysterics. And I double win-win in this situation because I just quietly fostered independence, too. Because the next time, he now thinks he knows more than me and gets the satisfaction of beating dad to the punch at picking up the raisins.

Really, I have no idea why people are beating their kids when you can actually have them enthusiastically learning advanced chemistry if you take the right approach. Actually, I know why parents discipline their kids the way they do...with horrible results, too...it's because it's hard to learn good parenting techniques. I know we were (and sometimes still are) at wits end with our kids. It's tempting to muscle through as the grownup without being more clever. It certainly takes more energy to work with your child's personality rather than against it. But the outcome is better in both the short term and long term. Physically putting your kid into his jacket for school is much less desirable than your kid reminding you that it's time to go and asking for help with the zipper.

The more I parent, the more satisfying I find cooperation with my children rather than this being a hierarchy. Don't get me wrong, at the end of the day I'm still the parent and make the rules. But you get more flies with honey.

Comments