I just finished reading Positive Discipline: The First Three Years: From Infant to Toddler–Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child (Positive Discipline Library) by Jane Ed.D. Nelsen, thanks to discussions at Principled Parent and Rational Jenn. Overall, I didn’t think this book was very helpful. It didn’t have enough examples, for one thing. Or maybe I just didn’t think the examples were very good. I also didn’t like the foundation that was laid for positive discipline – that one of the top needs of human beings is “to feel like we belong” or to “feel a sense of connection.” However, I agree with what the authors call the building blocks of Positive Discipline:
- Mutual Respect. This is a big one in our home. Sam is not our pet, but a separate human being who deserves to be treated as such.
- Understanding the belief behind the behavior. This is where I lost touch with what I was doing, as I’ll explain below.
- Understanding child development and age-appropriateness. This sounds easy, but it’s one of the biggest challenges for me.
- Effective communication. Obviously a good thing, but I would have liked much more in the book about how to achieve it.
- Discipline that teaches. What is the point of discipline if it doesn’t teach? Again, this is an area where I lost my way.
- Focusing on solutions instead of punishment. Punishment, almost by definition, is arbitrary. The authors don’t seem to believe in natural consequences, though.
- Encouragement. The authors believe in “celebrating” effort and improvement, as versus praising success. I partially agree with this.
- Children do better when they feel better. I would call this motivation by love instead of by fear, which I stole from Ayn Rand. The authors really just touch the surface of this whole issue with warm-fuzzy talk.
I much preferred the books of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which I reviewed here. The ideas are very similar, and I’m sure that their views on discipline are considered part of the Positive Discipline school. I thought, though, that the foundation they laid for the ideas was much more solid, the books were written in a less “dumbed-down” manner, and that they included a greater wealth of concrete examples.
Still, the experience of hashing this out on the blogosphere and reading the Nelsen book was exactly what I needed right now.
To remind you of my context, I’ve been struggling with some new discipline issues with Samantha for the past couple of months. She went through one of her spurts of development, which is great, but it always brings new challenges. This time it was the typical two-year-old move towards independence. I understood that this was a good development, and continued to use encouragement, redirection, choices and challenges for most of the issues. I really tried to let her defy me and test me and push the limits. She was experimenting! But she started hitting again, and I was having a hard time with the basics tasks of the day: diaper changes, getting her coat on, getting her in her car seat, etc.
I went through a phase in December where I had decided that Sam needed to “obey.” I had never needed to think in those terms before, but I didn’t know how else we were supposed to get out of the house. We initiated time-outs as a consequence for not following instructions in a reasonable time, whereas we had only done time-outs for hitting before. We were able to get her to listen, but it never felt right and it was painful and very time-consuming. And it wasn’t like she had learned anything – she just “disobeyed” less often.
Rational Jenn mentioned a common PD phrase that I had never heard before and it brought me back to my senses: Assume Positive Intent. As she says, “this means that the parent should err on the side of thinking that the child is trying to fulfill some positive need or desire of his own, rather than intentionally trying to do something undesirable…” This is the way I looked at almost all of Sam’s behavior. But not hitting. For some reason, when she went through her first hitting phase, I decided (and Adam agreed) that hitting was “heinous” behavior – off the charts, out of bounds, not to be tolerated, etc. We decided to give her an immediate time out every time she hit or struck us. This worked (mostly) and we thought we had this discipline thing down. But when Sam started getting “defiant,” I started thinking that maybe this was just like the hitting. After all, she needs to listen and obey me when I tell her not to run into the street, right? She needs to “obey” sometimes, right?
Wrong. She cannot keep herself from running into the street right now. She cannot stop herself from hitting every time. She does not have the impulse control to do it. And, although I never made the mistake of thinking she was doing these things to be “bad” or to make me crazy, I treated her as if she was doing something bad. Why is hitting different than anything else I’m trying to teach her, like not throwing her food, touching the animals gently, or using crayons only on paper, not walls? We have no issues with those things. We teach. Over and over, we teach, and she learns. I can trust her with crayons and a coloring book at her table unsupervised because she knows that if she draws on the furniture, she’ll have to stop coloring and help me clean up. She still might forget and mess up sometimes, but then I’ll just show her again. And right now, it’s my job to physically stop her from running into the street.
So, thanks to my mommy-blogger colleagues and many intelligent comments on their blogs, two weeks ago I decided to eliminate time outs, and to treat hitting and all other undesirable behavior in a consistent manner. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that now that I regard hitting just like everything else, I realize that there are all different kinds of hitting and ways of reacting. Sometimes I ask her why she did it. Sometimes I say “ouch, that hurt, please don’t do it again.” Sometimes I tell her I need to walk away from her because I don’t want to keep getting hit. I’ve even told her that it hurts my feelings when she hits me, because, guess what – that’s true. I read the situation in a flash, and I usually have a sense of what to do. It’s only been two weeks, but it’s going very well. There are no battles of will in our house anymore. And there are very few battles at all. Discipline has almost been a non-issue.
Also, my fear of having to use force to get her to do something has diminished. Here is a great example. I have to put drops in her eyes for conjunctivitis. I tried “bribing” her with a fruit candy if she cooperated, but no fruit candy can compete with the fear of the eye drops. Yet, she must have the eye drops. Finally, I told her that I had to hold her down, and I did so while she thrashed and screamed. It wasn’t fun, but I don’t feel guilty about it like I used to. I think the reason is that I have let go of any idea that she must obey me, which means that she must go against her own mind. I know she doesn’t want those eye drops, but I’m not going to trick her into cooperating, which is what time-outs and rewards do. The natural consequences of not having the eye drops are just too far removed and too serious to let her experience them, and in these rare cases (and they really are rare), I know what I need to do. There is no conflict.
Well, that’s where we are at the moment. I am so happy that I’m writing this blog and reading others by thinking parents. When talking about mommy-bloggers, most people talk about the need to “vent” or “share” or to know that others are experiencing the same things they are. Sometimes I need that too. But I need ideas even more.