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Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's controversial

I spent some time the other day reading a blog post in reference to the discipline technique a family was implementing for their 17 month-old son.  And it involved spanking.
Once I delved into the comments-whew!  con-tro-ver-sy.  Heated debate.  Some people accused her of child abuse(which was laughable and quite offensive), while other's commended her strong stance on discipline.
And all of this back an forth got me thinking about discipline, opinions, and tackling this whole parenting thing in the first place. I think some parents turn to spanking because they feel like they don't have any other option.  Parenting is tough, and it doesn't really come as naturally as we thought- especially when it comes to discipline. Maybe other moms (and dads) struggle with this too.  By no means am I the behavioral expert-far from it.  But, spending 3 years in a special needs classroom sure did teach me a lot when it comes to behavior management and modifications (and the child development/psych degree didn't hurt either). 

In my classroom, my advice for myself, and my assistants, was always, "What behavior am I reinforcing?"  Essentially, is the child getting more attention from me when they act out than when they are following the rules.  This might seem ridiculous, but think about it,

  • do I praise my child for sitting nicely at the table, in the car, etc?  
  • Do I tell them how proud I am of them that they put their sippy cup back on their tray when finished, 
  • or did I just get mad at them when they threw it on the ground?  
  • What behavior am I reacting to?  
Kids learn to seek attention from an early age- and it doesn't matter if it is positive or negative to them- attention is attention!  I would try to make sure my students were getting 10x more positive attention over negative attention (I'm not making that up- it's some formula that says for every 1 negative you give a child, you need 10 positives to overcome it).  So, in the classroom, if I had to discipline a student, I made sure to give them plenty of positive time from me as well (play in centers, read books, take a special walk, help me set-up snack, etc).

I am a true believer in giving children attention for the behaviors that you WANT them to have, and implementing a type of "purposefully disregarding" for behaviors you don't want to see.  I know that this doesn't always work, but I believe it is a strong foundation for discipline.
But, with that being said, every child is different.  I definitely had to modify my discipline techniques for every student, some were more sensitive than others- a sideways glance could bring one to tears, while another would have me panting from his WWE wrestling moves.  Find what works.
In our house, Isla June is definitely beginning the testing phase.  She has an opinion, but doesn't have the words to express it, thus causing a lot of toddler emotions and frustration.  But, we (attempt) to take it in stride.  For instance, diaper changes have become quite a battle (at times).  Instead of fussing at her, spanking her, etc., I keep a toy or a book nearby to distract her, we sing songs, and I enlist her help by having her hold the diaper.  And then I praise her for being such a great helper when we are done. 
If for some reason all of the above tactics fail, and she attempts to flip herself over while riddled with poo, I'll just lean across her to keep her in place and wait for her to calm down( I'm not looking at her or saying anything).  When she does, I thank her for calming down, and we continue on with the diaper change.  And then I praise her for doing a good job. 
Does it work every time?? 
But, I'm hoping that she will start to understand that life is more fun when we are happy and agreeable, and you get mommy's attention.

My Child Development College Professor essentially provided this explanation of spanking in terms of discipline-spanking is different than a quick pop on the backside. Spanking is predetermined, forceful, intended to "make a point with pain", and could come minutes or hours after said indiscretion (ex. at the grocery store, you threaten child with a spanking for acting up).
A quick pop is intended to have said behavior to stop, immediately with a quick shock to the system. And said behavior falls under this category- an act that will maim, endanger or kill you (ex. running out into traffic).  He also said that if you were giving a pop every day, every week, even every month- it was too much.  Obviously the behavior modification (spanking) wasn't working.  Time to reevaluate.  

yes, this scenario was caused by a tantrum... and mommy mistakenly leaving a dish within arms reach
We don't spank in our household. 
But, to be honest, Isla June has received a "pop" one time.  When we moved into our new condo, we discovered that she was able to take the outlet covers out of the outlets and she was doing it at the babysitter's house as well.  It had become a sort of game to her.
There is an outlet right in the middle of the living room wall and is next to all of her toys (I can't really change this set-up, it's just how it is-there are outlets everywhere). So, after redirecting her multiple times, I realized that she was really testing this situation.  I'm a true believer in (safe) forms of natural consequences, but I wasn't willing to let this scenario teach her the natural way (through an electrical shock!)
So, because it was a dangerous scenario for her, she got a pop (see description above).  She had to stop this behavior immediately for her own safety.  I see it as a way to say, "hey, that's gonna hurt like this but 10,000 times worse!"
Did I feel bad? yes.  But I knew it was for her own protection to learn this lesson.

I know that I sound contradictory.  But we all have to find what works for us.   In all of her 14 months, I have used a physical form of redirection to attempt to save her life 1 time.  I'm ok with that.
By no means is this part (or will ever be a part) of our normal discipline routine.
With all that being said, here are little tricks that we use in our house that I hope will have a positive effect on Isla June's behavior (most of these I picked up in the classroom and are now ingrained in me):
  • we don't use the word no in the house to redirect behavior.  Terms we use instead, "please stop", "that's not available to you", "that's not Isla June's phone, it's daddy's, let's go find your phone."
  • when Isla June has something that we don't want her to have, we say, "may I please have it?" and then tell her "thank you" when she gives it to us. (much nicer than snatching, right?)
  • we already implement some small form of time-out.  If she's having a melt down about something, I try to sit her down next to me, without talking to her, and give her some cool off time.  Now, because she is only 1 this doesn't work every time.  But, the second she stops fussing, I swoop in with lots of praise to thank her for calming down.  and then, we move on.
  • redirect, redirect, redirect.  At this age, it's the best form of behavior management.  Laughing always lightens the mood.
  • Most importantly, I try not to get into a battle of wills with my child.  And trust me, this is way easy to do.  I try to ask myself, "am I trying to help her grow or am I trying to be right?"
  • I've also tried to create a "yes" environment in the house.  By baby proofing, Isla June has freedom throughout the day to go and do what she pleases, so I'm not forced to follow her around frustrated and having to redirect her all the time.  She is independent.
All this rambling is to say...discipline is something I feel passionately about, but I am not an expert in this field!  I know that. 
This is just what works for us.
right now. 
It will change and we will have to adapt. 
More than anything, my goal with discipline is to teach Isla June to be a polite, independent, self-controlled amazing little girl through love and positive, consistent reinforcement.
We are all doing the best we can. 
Sometimes it helps to hear tips on how other moms are tackling this whole discipline thing.

Update:  A great book I reccomend on the matter is The No Cry Discipline Solution full of positive reinforcement techniques.
And, as always, Kate (Motley Mama) speaks much more eloquently about this topic.


  1. Long lost friend! I've been catching up on your blog this morning and just wanted to shoot you a quick note and tell you that I love it! Is it weird that I'm taking notes from this post to put into use with Gator?! Hehe...I'm officially one of those people that has a dog for a child.

    And since I'm commenting on the entire blog and not just this one post...GO GET'EM RUNNING GIRL! Y'all should make a trip to HP the wknd of 9/17 and do the Rives Race 5K! The route is through Emerywood. Do it!

    Miss you bunches and hope all is well with you lil' beach bums! :)


  2. Great article. I am glad Isla June has such a good Mommy!

  3. Yay! April! thank you for the comment. And yes, you can use these tricks with the Gator- dogs are babies too!
    I am sooooooo tempted to do that 5k- not sure if I'll be ready yet though....
    I miss you tons!

  4. I just found your blog and loved this post! We are trying the same types of reinforcement with my 15 month old and your post put all the techniques down in one place! Thanks!

  5. Hi Underwood's! thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your interest and support on the post! I have to say, (now 3 months later) that a lot of these tactics and time and effort have paid off. We've got a pretty good listener and helper on our hands. It's not perfect everyday, but I can see our system working. Good Luck!

  6. Thanks for the link. I appreciated your thoughts!

    1. Always impressed by your posts, Kate! Thank you for stopping by. :)


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