Discipline and Love

“Why are you acting like you love J and not me?” my 5-year-old M asked me this morning, her voice full of tears.

That was quite the knife through the heart. Within minutes of learning that there were two little people growing in my womb, I had promised myself two things: I would never play favourites, and I would treat our children as individuals.

I wasn’t playing favourites today, of course. M would be allowed to snuggle up against me with her blankie too, once she’d served her well-earned 5 minutes in time out.

Here’s what led up to this moment:

We had a small quantity of chocolate milk in the fridge, a spring break treat. I had split it evenly between two cups, and offered them to the girls to tide them over while I prepared breakfast. J took a cup from me and downed the milk in one swallow, while M tensed every muscle in her body before wailing, “But I wanted that cup!”

I offered her the other cup. I offered to pour her milk into the cup J had just emptied. She didn’t want milk at all, she informed me, because J had the cup she wanted. This sort of interaction was par for the course at age 3, but not now. Instead of having the milk go to waste, I offered it to J. That was when M started pummeling me with her fists. Instant orders to time out prompted her accusation of my not seeming to love her.

M has been having some major self control issues all week. It’s been a stressful time for the whole family. J is more in touch with her emotions than the majority of adults I know, including me, so she’s been weathering this period unbelievably well. M, on the other hand, is either unaware of what’s really bothering her or unwilling to talk about it. I sat her down with crayons and paper yesterday, and drawing seemed to help some, but she has a way to go.

While she has a legitimate reason to be generally upset, this doesn’t excuse rudeness or hitting. She’s a month shy of turning 6, and we’ve been working with both girls on a variety of tools to help them maintain their composure and handle their emotions since they were 2. Deep breathing, playing with water in the sink, and taking some alone time with a book or toy are standard ways that both J and M deal with overflowing anger to make their way to a productive solution.

She finally calmed down. I explained to M that it was because I loved her that I took the time to help her behave like a grownup. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t care how she behaved. Surprisingly enough, she accepted that response.

A little later, M asked to play a game on my iPad. I told her that I wanted to let her play, but the fact that she wasn’t controlling her body well made me worry that she would break the thing. That cued another tantrum and time out. Once she returned, I told her that if she went 3 hours without a tantrum, I would have enough confidence in her self-control to let her play a game. Classic bribery, I know, but we work with what we have.

She made it 45 minutes until the next tantrum hit. She begged me to lower the bar. A tantrum-free hour should be enough, she thought. I do not negotiate with tantrum-throwers, so I held my ground.

It was afternoon before she asked if it had been 3 hours; I’d been head down in work and hadn’t thought about her request for the iPad game. I realized that she’d been playing nicely with J for 5 hours, blowing bubbles in the yard and inhabiting up an elaborate make-believe world that involved pirates and restaurant owners.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I noticed how M had worded her pain to me. (I jotted the sentence down immediately for use in this post.) She had asked me why I was acting like I loved J more. She didn’t actually accuse me of not loving them equally. Even in her deepest frustration with me, she was confident in the content and equal partition of my love, even if she didn’t like how I expressed it.

I think M’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this. I just need to take my deep breaths, play in the water, and take some alone time every now and then.

What’s your approach to fairness in parenting? How do you balance the needs of multiple children?

Sadia telecommutes from El Paso, TX to her job in Austin and is thankful that her 5-year-old identical twins can entertain one another 8 hours a day.

Timeouts = Trouble X Two

Our girls are now 19 months old, and they are going through a biting phase. My response is to remove the biter from the situation for a minute. I sit the biter on the step, which is the same time out spot as we do for our almost-4-year-old son. It all sounds good in theory, but here’s what happened last time:

The Biter* bit her sister, The Victim, because The Victim got in her way. The Biter was clearly frustrated and unhappy with the situation.  The Victim, with teeth marks on her arm, was also unhappy. When I removed The Biter and sat her on the step, she settled right down.  She sat on the step quietly for a few moments, and then was ready to get back to her toys.  Meanwhile, The Victim cried because she had been bitten. Then, she cried because her sister got to have a timeout she didn’t.  In the end, I had to “give” her a time out too because she felt she had been further victimized by being denied a timeout.

(* I don’t believe in labeling my children this way, and I assure you they have both been biters and victims, but this was the easiest way to keep track of who’s who for the story.)

Any suggestions for next time?

Find the Currency…

Control the Child.  Or something like that.
 
My sister dropped this pearl of mommy wisdom on me recently.  She can’t take credit for it, though – Dr. Phil has it trademarked.  I haven’t watched Dr. Phil in years, so I have absolutely no clue if he has any other parenting gems.  But this one?  This one I like. 
 
Amelia and Ella will be two next month, and in typical two year-old fashion, they have started developing very strong (and sometimes odd) affinities toward certain objects, activities, food items, etc.  Say it with me, people: currency. 
 
Ella’s currency is easy – crackers, crackers, and more crackers.  Keep ‘em coming, baby.  She sat through an entire Easter Sunday Mass with nary a peep (if you discount the crunching noises).  I bring an entire box of crackers with me to the grocery store and sometimes throw another in the cart if things get hairy.  She just cannot get enough.  She is equally obsessed with her “Baby”, a raggedy blue bear that I only allow her to have at nap and bedtime.  I recently started using her love affair with Baby to my advantage.  You may recall my documented struggle with tooth brushing.  Struggle over.  If she refuses to allow me access to the cracker chompers, I threaten to put Baby in time-out.  Man, you should see how fast her little mouth opens! 

Amelia, on the other hand, is my horse of a different color.  She likes crackers but is no fiend like her sister.  And, while she does have a rather strong affinity toward her stuffed kitty, it’s not powerful enough to allow Mommy a decent whack at brushing her teeth.  Hrmph.  She is much more stubborn than Ella (no clue where she gets this), making it difficult for me to find her currency.  But, I think I may have found her one real motivator thus far – dessert.  I got her to eat a serious serving of asparagus tonight just by dangling 7 piddly M&Ms in front of her.  If she is acting up at dinnertime, I threaten to withhold her dessert privilege.  Works like a charm for the half hour that is dinnertime.  What of the other 11.5 waking hours, you ask?  Yep, I got nothin’. 

So, what about your kiddos?  Have you found their currency?  Do tell…

My First Time

I was 43. He was 7.

To paraphrase/elaborate upon St. Paul: When I was a child, I thought as a child. I spoke as a child. When I acted unacceptably, I was spanked as a child. To paraphrase every corporal punishment apologist, I turned out okay — psychologically undamaged from derriere-administered discipline.

Prior to parenthood, after discussion with my comparably corrected husband and pending parenting partner, we agreed. We’d likely employ the method as occasion(s) deemed fit.

However, following my son’s – and his twin sister’s – birth, the implementation of the swat/smack/spank simply felt wrong.

Perhaps pridefully, I became besotted with the efficacy of oral diatribes regarding behavioral expectations (frequently paired with the removal of privileges), and was repulsed by the prospect of engaging in the “do as I say and not as I do” inconsistency. Seven years and two months passed.

In the interest of word count, and a modicum of discretion for my son’s and my privacy, details of the catalyst infraction need not be revealed. Suffice it to say, on the day described, all other punitive means had been exhausted.

With a bare hand and a heavy heart, contact was made. Tears were shed. (I managed to hold off on mine until he had run up to his room.) The sister, well-aware of her brother’s lapse and the subsequent consequence, with respectful dignity uncharacteristic of one her age, went into the den.

So then what did I do? I called my mother – who with no subtlety in times past had implied my parenting arsenal was incomplete for the absence of the proverbial “rod.” Did I call to confess my matriculation into the Spanking Parents’ Society, or was I somehow unashamedly professing my actions — seeking parental validation and/or approval from my own mother?

As I write this now – outing myself as a deflowered spanker – am I seeking forgiveness or acceptance, understanding or empathy, from those with whom I am treading parenting’s path — or a virtual spanking via reprimanding comment?

My children, uterine co-habitants though they may have been, have already demonstrated they respond to varied modes of direction – and correction. Our daughter tends to seek our parental (and others’) approval more readily – sublimating her own child-like desires to meet that goal. Not so with our son.

So did the spanking work? As the Magic 8 Ball would say, “All signs point to ‘Yes’.” Am I still tormented by the incident? Affirmative. But what torments me more? The idea that I had to resort to something I initially did not want to do — perhaps admitting defeat — or the actual physicality/ perceived violence of a hit? Maybe a bit of both.

Humiliation (not unlike guilt or shame), in moderation, may be healthy. Pain (carefully administered), parceled in moderation, may be proactive.

Let me have it.
______________________________
c. 2008, Cheryl Lage
Cross-posted from our family blog, Twinfatuation