Disciplining children is tricky, it’s a controversial topic with no one size fits all answers. As parents of multiples, or more than one child you quickly find out that what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the other(s). For the past month it seems that Chris and I have been victims to Jack’s ongoing Karate Kid montage. He has been hitting and kicking like crazy and despite our best efforts it hasn’t seemed to have let up on its own. Our focus on Jack and speech therapy continues to help him better express his feelings, but that doesn’t provide much solace when you’ve been hit three times because you’ve insisted that, “No, you can’t have Halloween candy for breakfast today.” After a recent Pre-School Speech and Language assessment the assessor commented, “I don’t know if he has delays, or if he’s just being stubborn. This isn’t going to be a very accurate assessment.” This commentary highlights one of our main struggles with Jack as we question, “Is he struggling with language or just being a jerk.” Truthfully the jerk genetics in my family are super dominant, ask anyone.
One of the items that stands tried and true when it comes to children is the importance of consistency. The big stumbling block that we hit (pun intended) is that Jack’s karate kid moments often happen when we don’t have the time to properly apply positive discipline – which is a problem for all parents, not just parents of multiples. When we are trying to get four people out the door at 7:30 in the morning, we simply don’t have time for lengthy solutions. I am fully aware that you don’t use a band-aid on a gaping wound, but sometimes I need ideas that can help us keep somewhat on schedule until we hit an incident where we have some time for teachable moments. Most of the time I don’t need 20 minute solutions, I need 10 two-minute ones. It took some digging but here’s what I’ve found.
How to Assert Positive Discipline in Two minutes or Less
Consider triggers and time of the day and avoid the trigger as much as you can – AKA Polly Wants a Cracker
This one is easy when it comes to a hungry child. My purse and our car has become a travelling buffet and about half the time we just need to get crackers into the mouth of Jack to calm him down. Bed time can be adjusted if you’re dealing with an over-tired child. The big Everest here is dealing with morning meltdowns.
Stop the Blow, But Don’t Retaliate
Basically block the hit, reinforce (as calmly as you can) that we don’t hit and walk away for a minute or two. In the mornings I generally use this time to get Molly ready because it gives Jack a chance to settle down a bit.
Model Good Behaviour
This one goes against every fibre of my being when I’m trying to get out the door and have just endured an upper cut to the jaw over insisting that my child wear socks. We noticed a while ago that Jack often goes for affection after he’s hit or kicked one of us and clearly he’s struggling with getting positive attention and communicating what he needs. Try saying “Hugs not hits”, give a hug and then walk away.
Redirection & Distraction
Basically avoid eye contact, remove them from the situation and let them calm down. Another option is to offer them something to distract them. “Look at this book while I go get you some apple juice, because you must be thirsty”. Leaving the room to focus on another task for a minute not only works on them, but it will help you chill out too.
We usually don’t have time for them in the morning (or more than one or two), but they’re still an option. Dr. Sears suggests saying, “If you hit, you must sit.” Since toddlers (especially mine) are big fans of rhymes, this will help them remember.
Don’t Demand an Apology
This is another one that is tough for me. I want him to be sorry and I want an apology, but when you’re both frustrated all that this does is waste even more time. It’s suggested to delay this conversation, “Later you might tell your child, “That really hurts” or “That hurts my feelings. If I have done something to hurt your feelings, I would like to know about it so I can apologize. When you are ready, an apology would help me feel better.” suggests Dr. Jane Nelson.
Tag, You’re It
Sometimes when we really need to get moving it’s best to have the other person tag in – if/when you can. If they’re not “mad at daddy” they’re more likely to let him help them into their coat. This also gives the other caregiver a chance to calm down.
A Cool Drink of Water
When the tantrum is over, offer a drink of water or a face wash. If you’re still heated have one yourself. This will literally give your child a chance to cool down. (resist the urge to throw said water in their face and yell, “Snap out of it”)
Encourage Gentle Play
This is more modelling. If you notice little Billy is beating the crap out of Teddy Ruxpin, suggest he hug him or give him a kiss instead.
Count backwards from ten and remember this too shall pass, and likely be replaced by a different, equally annoying behaviour.
What works best for you to stop unwanted behaviour from your toddler or pre-schooler?
This post also appears on my personal blog Multiple Momstrosity.