On disciplining toddlers

I have a new discipline technique. And although this method seems to be working with my toddler, for now anyway, I guarantee nothing in terms of its effectiveness on other children. All I’m saying is that for the moment, the light in my 2yo has finally clicked on. When I reprimand her for a crime using this method, she at least appears to recognize and respect the fact that

1. her mommy is very serious and in no joking mood, and
2. it may be a good idea to pay attention while mommy is so serious, and
3. there is no point in trying to negotiate, whine or complain

The idea behind my technique comes from a passage I read in Vicki Iovine’s toddler book, The Girlfriends’ Guide to Toddlers. In it, at some point or another, she described a method she witnessed (or was told about later) about one of her Girlfriends that hit home with me. In essence, the mother’s issue with her toddler was similar to what I’m experiencing oh, say, every 10 minutes of the day, but which includes the very criminal “not listening” and “obeying a command” when danger is imminent.

We all know what it’s like when a child dashes into the street. We all apply instinctive protective measures to prevent an accident and keep the offspring safe. We all yell, scream and screech words like “STOP!” and “NO!” in an effort to alert the child and have him stop in his tracks.

We all know that these types of screams are more effective when not used every 10 minutes of the day, but only during those times when danger is imminent (hence, theoretically, increasing the chances of having the child actually LISTEN and STOP).

So here’s my story. On the days when Sonja accompanies Benjamin and I to his school, which is five blocks away, the three of us walk together in a somewhat normal fashion. Most days, the children are walking, either slightly ahead of me, or by holding on to the stroller or each others’ hands (cute!). Which is all fine and dandy.

There are days when for whatever reason, one, or both, are full of beans. Meaning they have to run to the school. And fool around while running.

Running is fine. I’m all for exercise and getting their pent-up energy out.

Remember the five blocks? Each block is marked by a street. A street that intersects the sidewalk, and at which a stop sign is located. More often than not, there is also a car either approaching, or stopped at the stop sign.

This means that the children must stop at each end of the sidewalk and wait for me to catch up with them. It means that each time we cross the street, they must endure, until I feel fully satisfied that they comprehend danger, a lesson in how to cross a street safely.

This could potentially last 27 years.

But I digress.

The toddler is my issue here. It is she who thinks it’s amusing to run into the path of oncoming vehicles. It is she who gets the giggles when mommy abandons the stroller and sprints in long strides right after the offending toddler. It’s funny when mommy grabs her by the hood of her coat and whisks her off to safety.

I do not sprint well on one cup of coffee.

I cannot, however, drink two cups of coffee prior to our walk since then I would have to pee about halfway there. Yes, my bladder is the size of a lentil.

(Aside note: the actual walk, without children, at a normal brisk pace, takes approximately 7 minutes. The walk with both children takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on whether they walk or run, how often they stop to inspect stuff, fight over who gets to sit in the stroller, change their minds about sitting in the stroller 8 times in 3 minutes, climb in, climb out, etc.)

One day not long ago, on the last block before the school, Sonja once again dashed into the street. And Vicki Iovine’s Girlfriend, the one I mentioned above, entered into my head. Or more correctly, her method of dealing with her toddler’s offending crime popped into my head. What she did to her toddler was this: she got right down to her eye level, made eye contact, and reprimanded the child over her crime.

So that is what I did at that moment too. I pulled Sonja back onto the sidewalk, nearly caused a traffic jam amongst other walkers who were behind me with their brood, got down into a crouch position, and made eye contact. Face to face, no way to escape my glare.

If you think this worked with MY kid, you obviously haven’t read this blog for long and don’t realize what Sonja is like.

As far as she was concerned at that moment, eye contact with mommy was a lovely thing, and even a funny one at that, since mommy’s face was all contorted and her voice sounded funny.

Enter my newly invented technique: the squeeze-the-face grip.

Now before you decide to call the authorities on me for squeezing my baby’s cute cheeks between my fingers, allow me to explain.

My intent here is to get hre to pay attention to what I’m saying. I want her to comprehend that her actions are dangerous and must stop. The only way I got through to her was when I held her face in my hand, thus preventing her head from moving. My grip isn’t hard at all, but it does tighten slightly each time she tries to move her face away. (Think halty on a dog).

She has no choice but to look me in the eye. She has no choice but to listen to my words. And because she can’t escape, I have no reason to raise my voice. My voice, even though I feel exasperated, is quiet, low, and very serious.

That incident was the first time I tried this method with her, and it was purely accidental (as in not planned). But because of its effectiveness, I applied this method again, with success. I do however reserve it to serious crimes only, those that pose imminent danger.

She most certainly does not like it. She pays attention to my words, which are to the effect of “no Sonja, it’s not funny, it’s dangerous to run into the street. Cars are coming. Look at me, pay attention. It’s dangerous. No running into the street. Stay on the sidewalk. I am very serious. Nobody is laughing.”

She’s better. I still can’t trust her, obviously, but she’s better. It’s been over a week, and we’ve had less serious crimes of that nature committed.

Of course, after such an incident, once she sees her dad she’s all “daaaaaddddyyyyyy, mommy squeezed my face!”…but that’s another story.


7 thoughts on “On disciplining toddlers

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    I am confused, though.

    Why reserve this for dangerous situations?

    You do not seem like the type of mother who is all bent on making the child continuously do what you think is good for her. You seem to be the type of loving mother who is very willing to allow your daughter to explore and enjoy the world around her which includes many “extras” which most mothers would consider an inconvenience.

    So what are you worried about? Why can you not (or will you not) use this method in other non-dangerous situations? Why would you not want your daughter to simply listen to you, whenever, regardless?

  2. Well, thank you for your comment! The timing of your question is perfect…yesterday I have “squeezed her face” as she calls it, on numerous occasions in order to make her pay attention, none of which were life-threatening situations. So the “eye to eye contact” thing is becoming more habitual. Time will tell if she gets it. Sometimes, all I have to say to her is “do I have to come squeeze your face” and she says “nooooooo” and ceases (mostly) her behaviour.

    We shall see.

  3. Beware of the Questions (do I have to come and squeeze your face?) — at least that is how I feel with my choice method of getting attention.

    The goal (at least my goal) is to transition from lack of comprehending that other people want something from me to an understanding that others may want/need/desire something from me.

    So my questions to myself tend to go deeper (not what is the crime/life threatening immediate situations): What is the underlying virtue which we need to work on here?

    In your case (which very much could be a part of my day to day experience) it would be then: how to teach the child to respect Mom without Mom needing to threaten?

    In any case, I think you are on a great journey and many parents totally miss this point: get beyond the immediate situation and find the underlying virtue and work on that during all “off times” (like in those teachable moments without life threatening stuff happening — read good books to your child which show delightful stories of children who respect their parents, for example — which means avoiding some of the standard literature out there… Pippi Longstocking comes to mind. Although Pippi can be an entertaining story, the final moral is not one I want to encourage my child to adopt.

    Nils Holgerson is a wonderful journey because it takes the child on the journey of discovering what it means to be utterly self directed to a broader understanding of how one’s own actions effect those around us.

    I wonder what your readers here would suggest for good family literature?

  4. I wouldn’t start avoiding certain literature. In a couple of books I have read to the kids the parents slap/smack whatever their children, and I read it and then I say something to the extent of “I don’t agree with this at all, because… ” and that usually gets us all thinking and talking about a certain behaviour, whether it’s the childrens’ or the parents’ (in the book, that is).
    It has taught us (all!) to talk and think again about behaviours in general, including ours, even in situations that require quick action. It takes quite long to take effect though. Nami started to talk about her feelings at about 3 1/4, connecting them to other peoples behaviour, and thus also understanding that her behaviour affects others. That doesn’t mean that Chopper and Nami always respect and accept what I say – but quite often I can have a sensible talk about the problem with them, and find a way that’s ok for everyone.

  5. You bring up an excellent point, 1000Sunny Mummy.

    There are people who completely avoid the sticky stuff or the “bad” stuff in order to protect their children or because they think if the stay clear of it always, they will do fine.

    I think that just as you are mentioning, the parents are doing their kids a great injustice.

    However, one thing to consider is age: the younger the child the greater you want to simply plant goodness in their minds. I do this with determination because I want to create a base from which to work and from which the child will form it’s own opinions.

    Why are your children able to say that they would not want to be treated like this or like that?

    Well, first of all, you respect your children. Second, you communicate with your children. And third, you have instilled certain virtues already.

    We choose (and I suggest to anyone who will listen) excellent literature which will support your own family philosophy in early years.

    Like you, Javamom and myself read very much to our children. These are the children who will grow up with an appreciation for what is good and worthy. Both in literature and in life.

    Introducing children to conflict as well as content which shows people demonstrating behaviour which is not how we like is also EXCELLENT, especially for the reading family. Yet even as you put it (with Nami’s observational skills at 3 1/4), I would wait until the child is “older” (Nami would be older in this case) to begin making these experiences a regular happening.

    To me it is like candy or dessert. These are delightful to the child (and to the Mummy šŸ™‚ ), but we do not encourage our children to take only from the sweets. Because although they may be sweet and be thought as “good”, they are filled with empty calories, lack vitamins and we deprive ourselves of some really great food otherwise. I want my children to have a steady diet, to enjoy the goodness of food. And to know that sweets have their place. (And I do not give my young children sweets — why on earth would I do that? Apples and Pears are sweet naturally…)

    So the sticky stuff has it’s place. Even Pippi Longstocking et al. But I would NEVER make that a part of the constant diet.

  6. Lovely debate. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about this. Discipline is always a hot-button issue anyway since so many people have so may different ideas.

    When I think of my own experience as a child, and remembering my perspective at the time, I see how far we’ve come. Whether it’s with education, more openness to talk (or criticize as it were), or access to information, the main objective always remains that we wish to raise respectful, and safe, children.

    Referring to books and literature certainly is one way to help guide and teach. I welcome all suggestions.

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