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Strict dad or easy-going dad?
November 27, 2012 8:32 PM   Subscribe

At times my 3-year-old son deliberately misbehaves. Do I double down on the discipline, or shrug it off?

My son is generally a very well-behaved boy. My wife and I see the difference between him and other (less well-behaved) kids, and others have remarked how quiet and polite he is (yes, I'm bragging, deal with it). Of course, it isn’t like that all the time, nor do I expect it to be. He's only three, and has to learn how to live with others.

He is in preschool now, and he’s been copying other kids’ behavior since he started about six months ago. Namely, some of the bratty kids—kids whose behavior ranges from playing a bit too rough to being directly aggressive—these kids my son is both a victim of (he’s usually a passive type) and something that he mimics.

Yesterday was about as clear-cut as it gets. My son and I were playing around in the living room, he was being very loud and silly, which is kind of sort of new for him. He starts going around to the lights and the lamps, turning them off. “Don’t do that, son, turn them back on,” I said, again, and again, and again. He sort of complies, but then runs over to the lamp nearest my wife and deliberately turns that one off.

“Turn that lamp back on,” I said. He laughed and ran around the room. I repeat this a few times. I explain that mommy’s reading and she needs the light. My wife joins in with the same—firmly asking with a reason attached.

I should perhaps point out my wife is much more of a disciplinarian, whereas I let the boy slide on things she wouldn’t. This time, though, I saw my two choices plain as day; First option: double down. Don’t give him an inch, don’t let him do anything else until he’s turned on that lamp. Second option: laugh it off, chalk it up to him being silly. It wasn’t a harmful thing, and he’s only doing it because he wants to play and thinks it’s funny.

I double down. Instead of asking, I raised my voice a bit and ordered him to “Turn on that light!” He’s stopped smiling at this point, knows I’m serious, but won’t go over and turn on the light. At my wits end, I did my nuclear option, which we employ from time to time: I threatened to throw away this or that toy. And said that Santa wasn’t coming this year. He said “No! No!” and began to cry, but when I said “If you want to keep them, then go turn on the lamp,” he still wouldn’t go. If you think mules are stubborn...

Long story short, it took 10 further minutes of alternately between being angry and demanding and being cajoling and explanatory.

Sorry for the wall but if I can boil it down to one question it’s this: is the threatening to throw away toys going over some line? I felt like shit saying it, but it usually works quickly with him. This time I had to threaten over and over, so it’s really stuck with me how shitty I’m making him feel. What else should I have done, though? Thanks, parents, and non-parents, in advance. I’m sure MeFi has superstar parents that can shed some light on this for me.
posted by zardoz to Human Relations (48 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am not a parent; take this with a grain of salt.

Don't threaten to do anything you wouldn't actually do. If you would throw away a toy (and feel like that's the right thing to do), you can threaten to do that - but then you need to follow through. If you would really not have "Santa" bring presents, you could threaten no presents - but if that's not what's going to happen, don't threaten that.

As for what to do instead, I leave that to others.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:39 PM on November 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also not a parent, but I have a (much) younger sibling.

He's testing you. Don't let it slide. But also don't get angry. Punish him as appropriate and in a timely manner. That is, stop playing with him. Tell him it's time out or make him sit in his room. But don't threaten to take away Christmas toys (because it's an inappropriately serious repercussion and because he will just be bitter by the time Christmas rolls around).
posted by ethidda at 8:43 PM on November 27, 2012 [25 favorites]


Shrug it off. It's no big deal as he's only three (I am the father of a 10yo and a 3yo).

Generally, if my 3yo is going to break something, I just pick him up to stop him from doing it. It's also important to understand why they are misbehaving or acting out, and it generally boils down to poor impulse control, generally because of personality, age, or the time of day.

Our 3yo usually "misbehaves" later in the day, when he's tired. Kids who are hungry, tired over overstimulated tend to act out more. So, I don't think rewards and punishments are going to work.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 PM on November 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


I, personally, would consider the throwing-toys-away threat going over the line. And Santa not coming? I wouldn't go there, since it's not something I would ever follow through on. Christmas is much bigger than any behavior issue I've ever run into.

However, we do, on a regular basis, take toys out of circulation. My 7 yr old lost his lego stash for a week after a bad couple of weeks at school. He had to earn them back by having a GOOD week at school. And the kids know that stepping way out of line means screen time is at risk. I've also used "the Saturday Shelf," which is a shelf in my closet where toys go until Saturday. If I ask you to straighten up your room and there are toys on the floor when I come back after 15 minutes, then those toys can go on the Saturday shelf. And if it's Sunday, you probably really don't want that to happen... :)

It all boils down to what motivates your kid. Positive reinforcement goes a lot further for my kids -- if I get to the point where I have to threaten to take stuff away, I've kind of lost it as the parent, but I definitely have those days.

I would highly recommend 1-2-3 Magic. We've used this, in variations, with both kids. It only really works though if you're a) super clear about the desired behavior, b) super clear about the consequence for not doing the desired behavior, and c) 100% willing to follow through on the consequence. Your son will test your resolve at first, but then will quickly learn that it's a lot better to do what's been asked than suffer the consequences.

And hey, when we're somewhere public and the kids act up and I say "one" and they jump to attention, it's much better than the yelling/bargaining alternative. We are never evil about it, but the kids know that when we do that we're SERIOUS. And that's a good thing for kids to understand.
posted by hms71 at 8:45 PM on November 27, 2012 [37 favorites]


I threatened to throw away this or that toy. And said that Santa wasn’t coming this year

Yes, you escalated much too fast, and you ended up making empty threats. This threat is out of proportion to the infraction and I doubt you mean to cancel Christmas because of this incident. That will unfortunately show him that your threats are either too drastic and that small infractions will get him in big big trouble - which results in fear - or that your threats are not what they seem - which results in skepticism of you.

What he did wrong was to ignore you and do something he expected to irritate you. He's testing. He wants to see what your response will be, and whether he has to listen to you in future. But by blustering and making it a thousand times more serious, he's learning not that he has to listen to you, but that you'll be unpredictably draconian, but will probably ultimately cave to reality and soften up again, so just wait Dad out - and you probably don't want to be that or teach that.

What you want is for him to learn that he needs to take your requests seriously and be considerate of others. He's too young to fully understand the idea of a "reason" - that going without light irritates and inconveniences someone else - but he needs to see that you take the problem seriously and he has upset you and your wife. Stop what's going on. Walk over and pick him up or take his hand and take him out of the room. Squat down to his level and talk to him in a serious tone, in simple sentences: "You didn't listen. You turned out the light after we asked you not to. You upset Mom. You are too excited and it's making it hard for you to listen. You need some time alone to calm down." THis is a great opportunity to implement the time out method. It's calming, it stops the negative interaction, and it puts you back in a reasonable relationship to each other. 5 minutes by himself in his room, a time out chair, a quiet spot in the house should be enough to reset his emotional compass. If he gets up and tries to leave the time out spot, put him back. Don't act angry and mean, act serious, straightforward, caring but firm. If he comes out but the problem starts again, repeat the time out.

There is a lot of reading and searching you can do on discipline techniques. THey do need to adapt to the child's age and intellectual level. But if you can learn one thing from this, it's that you need more tools in your discplinary toolkit than extreme threats. Those don't lead anywhere good, and you don't want a life of lawyeristic escalation and negotiation ahead of you.
posted by Miko at 8:46 PM on November 27, 2012 [41 favorites]


Instead of punishments or consequences, I just try to either fix the root cause of the problem, or try to divert them into a more acceptable activity. Like playing with them.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Instead of turning it into a battle of the wills over whether or not he will turn the light back on, maybe turn the light back on yourself but tell him that if he turns it off again, some punishment will ensue (time out, etc.). And then if he does it again, follow through.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:47 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


He is three years old; some of his jobs right now are to test boundaries and explore the world (including light switches). Your job is to find a way to respond consistently, and to pick your battles. Distraction is an awesome tool. Power struggles are not.

Three year olds are very impulsive beings; they don't think things through the way older kids and adults do. They can keep something in their brain for a short time and as soon as something else comes along, that is what they now focus on. Using such big consequences don't make sense for a three year old.

I would try a short time out in response to something like you described. Explain why he got the time out, or ask if he can explain it to you. Tell him what you expect next time. Praise him to the skies when he makes better choices and he will feel soooo good about that!

They make us crazy, they are wonderful, and they make us crazy. I love three year olds.
posted by retrofitted at 8:48 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am a parent. 12 and 5. Don't ever threaten anything you won't do, don't ever react in anger but most, most, most importantly, be consistent. I've been very blessed with amazingly well behaved children but I believe a huge part of that is that I never waver. Never. They know their boundaries, are secure in expectations and realize that there isn't any point in pushing back. Learn to decide on a reasonable course of action quickly and do not deviate.
posted by pearlybob at 8:50 PM on November 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Time outs are the right answer for a boundary-testing three year old.

I use the bathroom for time outs because I don't want toilet access to be an issue.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:51 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Once he disobeys, playtime is over, fun is done, and he's on a time out or in bed. Empty threats mean nothing, and he can see through that stuff easily. It's okay to let some in-the-moment fun/naughtiness slide, but once you told him that Mom needs the light on, either he turns it back on or deals with the consequences.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:52 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You cannot win a battle of wills with a three year old.

While you are calm define the consequences for disobedience. Then enforce them every single time. Firm, consistent consequences allow a child to understand that his behaviors have results he may not like.

That would have been the end of playtime and an immediate transition to bathtime/bedtime.
posted by 26.2 at 8:53 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good news - you have a generally compliant, eager to please kid that makes the parenting job much easier.
More good news - this is very normal and appropriate
Even better - you don't have to choose between mean dad and nice dad - you can be firm and pleasant while teaching discipline (eg. teaching appropriate behavior for long term rather than "do what I say without thought)

Solution - time to buy a parenting book that will show you how to set up and implement logical consequences. The simplest to do at this age, and it probably work really well with your kiddo is to do timeouts. Magic 1-2-3 gives you full details on how to do this. You can pick up a used copy for the cost of shipping. This is about simple approach to compliance but it works well at his age. A complete, robust approaches can be found in Love and Logic. or for all round parenting (my favorite) "how to talk so kids will listen, listen so kids will talk" Again, you find used copies of older versions for the cost of shipping)
posted by metahawk at 8:53 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


well at 3 what is he going to pick up on? he has no idea why what he's doing is wrong, he just knows that if he does it you will power-struggle with him. you got mad, which is the opposite of setting a boundary. setting a boundary means "this is how we do things, let me show you the ropes". getting mad means "my feelings are hurt and it's because of you and now i'm going to hurt you so that you know i'm the boss." they're not even about the same thing. three year olds need protection, and fun, and education. punishment is the crudest, least effective way of doing any of those. he's not "testing" you. or, correction, if he *is* testing you, it's because he has already picked up on the fact that you're using a testing model with him. he *definitely* does not need to know that he "upset his mother". you might as well start putting money in his co-dependence therapy fund right now :-) he's a kid. he doesn't know the ropes. he wants you to show him the ropes. imagine you're a daddy bear and he's a baby bear. are you gonna get bent out of shape? no, it would be ridiculous. when you're not teaching him essential skills, he's screwing around and playing while you're doing daddy stuff.
posted by facetious at 8:57 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've had to feel this one out for myself recently, so my answer is based on that experience.

You've gotta do what you've gotta do, so I'm not going to go all judgment-heavy and say you're definitely stepping over a line or something, but it does seem like there might be a step in between that won't ramp things up quite so precipitously.

Keeping in mind that every parent/child dynamic works differently, my tactic has evolved to this, so far:
1. Request/instruction/correction - simply and politely stated: "Please turn the light back on. Don't turn off the lights, please." She gets this a maximum of twice.
2. Random countdown that has never had any repercussion other than my fetching her or moving on to the next level...which strangely works, even if I use a "contest" or "silly" voice: "Okay, I'm going to count to 2! 1...2..." (Fewer numbers = more serious, but never more than 4).
3. Notification that continuation means desire thwarted/privilege removed - "[Full first name], if you don't turn the lights back on and leave them alone, there will be no after dinner video." I keep this to things that are either very recent entertainment requests or one of the niceties of the daily routine - no book reading or a specific snack or doing a certain activity have all come into play...but so has "I'm going to throw that away," if an object of fascination was involved in the misbehaviour, generally only if it was leading to potential injury or illness for anyone; I may or may not ask if she understands, depending on severity.
4. Carrying out threat - "[Full first name], I'm sorry you didn't leave the lights alone, because now there will be no after dinner video tonight." And then do it. No matter what. Even if it's more trouble or wastes something.

Basic order these things have gone for us- a couple of the more serious ones, in brief:
"mini-batmonkey, stop drinking bathwater out of that ducky. I'm going to count to 3. 1...2...3. If you do it again, I have to throw the ducky away. Do you understand that if you drink from the ducky again, I have to throw it away. Okay. mini-batmonkey, I'm sorry you didn't listen - now I have to throw the ducky away." Ducky goes into garbage.
"mini-batmonkey, don't hit anyone with that rock. Did you just hit with the rock? Don't do that. If it happens again, all rocks go outside. All right, since you didn't listen and hit with it again, I'm taking all the rocks outside now." She asks about the rocks, but I explain it each time: "You didn't listen about not hitting, so the rocks are outside. When you're better at listening, we can have them inside again."

The thing that has started having an impact is building in a key lesson I'm trying to impart and leveraging it each time so that it becomes a kind of shorthand for the behaviour we're trying to get to, which is seemingly acting as a trigger to get us beyond reminder and toward goal. Right now, the big one is "Listening makes things stay more fun." Using it generally goes something like, "Remember: not listening changes things!" or "You can do that when you are listening better." And many similar permutations.

So, I don't know if that helps, but I do wish you luck. Helping a whole new person get a feel for the idea of rules and boundaries is almost the hardest part of the job, isn't it?
posted by batmonkey at 9:06 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


You are trying to reason with a 3 year old like he has the cognitive ability of a teenager. That's not reasonable and that's not going to work. What does work is setting limits, reinforcing those limits in a positive way, and then standing by those limits without any hesitation. Threats like the one you used are terrible. What's worse is that you did not get up from your chair to get down on his level to show him you're serious without raising your voice. This was a teaching moment. There will be many others. Don't be the passive parent in the mix that resorts to threats. Your wife needs you to be a consistent rule enforcer, and you need to sit down together and figure out how you will enforce things like this from now on.

Let's use the lamp situation as a case study. First, you set the limit. You could have gone over to him, picked him up, and said very calmly, "The lights need to stay on right now. This is how we carefully turn the lights back on. Can you show me that you know how to turn the lights back on for me and Mommy?" Then, you reinforce it and redirect the behavior. If he continued to be impish, you could have said, "It doesn't look like you're ready to turn the lights on and off. When you are ready, we will try again. Can you show me your new book?" After exploring a different activity with him, you could have returned to the light switch and reminded him about the limit. "Can you show me how to turn the light on? Good. What about off? You are being very careful with that light switch. Thank you. We're going to leave the light all on so mommy can read." Praising him for behaving correctly should be about identifying the positive behavior. If he stays away, offer him the chance to be the master of the light switches and have him turn off all the lights when mommy is done with reading. That shows him that you truly valued him doing the right thing and that doing the right thing means increased responsibility.

Say he immediately rushes to turn the lights off instead. Say right away, "We do not turn the lights off like that. Show me you can do it correctly. No? Okay. Time for bed. It doesn't look like you're ready to stay up with us." Limit set, reminding language used, limit tested, limit enforced. You gotta get up and get on his level to make this happen, though. Don't ever expect a threat to work if you're doing it from a distance. You have to train a kid to know what your expectations are and see that testing those expectations is a futile experience, not because they will endure pain and suffering and yelling, but because it just doesn't produce desirable outcomes.

You have to remember that kids LOVE and CRAVE limits. Boundaries make kids feel safe. You just have to get a strategy for making the right kind of boundaries happen. Now, personally, I don't like the Magic 1-2-3 series, but it sounds like it works for others. I prefer "Teaching Children to Care" which is for teachers but works really well with kids at home, too. Check out both, but most of all talk to your wife to make sure you're always on the same page. Consistency is really key.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:08 PM on November 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


ARGH! Forgot this huge part: distraction/redirection!

Often when I'm evaluating something she's doing, it's really a request for me to engage with her or for something to engage her differently. In those cases, I make every effort to find something else that will give us the desired result (happily occupied toddler) without show downs or other drama.

I avoid a lot of the tussling mess with this tactic. She's just a bit over 2, and this is probably going to be my chief tool until she's around 4, when they start getting better attention spans and more power over their logic center.
posted by batmonkey at 9:09 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you need to be doing time outs. Supernanny frequently demonstrates how to do them properly.

For what it's worth, I had parents who had no rules or consistent punishment until they would totally spaz and do things like threaten to cancel Christmas. I had no idea what was expected of me and was frequently terrified of their tempers. And I'm now in therapy to figure out a lot of emotional skills other people learned as children. Inconsistent parenting can have very real, toxic repercussions on your kids. So I'd really recommend finding a more concrete method of dealing with this now, before your kid gets any older.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:10 PM on November 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think you went way over the line.

Do you really want to break his will and turn him into easy prey for anyone who can claim any kind of authority over him?

In this world kids need a will of their own and the ability to say no to adults no matter what their level of authority.

If you doubt this, reflect for a moment on the fate of all those Catholic altar boys and review the Milgram experiment.

In some cases you have to make kids do what you want for their own good, but I think physical force -- and I don't mean punishment-- is actually preferable to terrorizing them into submission as you did with your child here, and over a completely trivial issue, to boot.
posted by jamjam at 9:19 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Having experience with two cultures (Japan and Canada) I think the thing that Canadian/American culture does not do well is in the area of attachment. Too much emphasis is placed on consequences. In Japan, if kids act out it's generally tolerated by parents and others to a surprising degree.

In the long run, the most important thing is attachment, because the glowing feeling of security you can give your child will last them for the rest of their life, and, in an ideal world, provide them with a sense of security and serenity. Which is why I try to pick up our 3yo when he misbehaves.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on November 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Three year olds don't understand "next month" or "last month" - canceling Christmas for something that happened in November is like me kicking you for something you did in 1989.

Plus what everyone else said.
posted by SMPA at 10:03 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the input, everyone. I knew it felt wrong to threaten to throw away toys...and be willing to follow through. And the Santa Claus thing, yes, Christmas is too big a threat for such a minor thing. I couldn't put it into words what was wrong with that, but as I suspected you guys put it very well.
posted by zardoz at 10:06 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also not a parent, but I was once a stubborn kid that liked to test the boundaries all the time.

I would refuse to eat or refuse to clean my room to see what my parents would do about it or how long they would hold out for. When they threatened me with things, I was less likely to give in because I didn't think they would do it, or it made me angry enough to continue to hold out.

However, I found that usually, if I was left to time-out or sent to my room, I would get tired of whatever I was being stubborn with and come to my senses.

Essentially, the angrier they got with me, the more I felt like I had something to lose. If they acted like they didn't care and ignored me for a while or left me to a time-out, I would feel a bit sheepish and stupid eventually.
posted by cyml at 10:18 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


My short answer is that I think that KokuRyu has really, really good advice. I think a lot of us tend to get into power struggles with our children in part because we worry that if we don't bring the hammer down our kids will turn into axe murderers. Rude, rude axe murderers. But really, they are just developing and changing so fast, what's really important is that you maintain that emotional connection so they can develop in a secure way.

My longer answer is going to sound a little bit like I'm in a cult, but hey. Our kid's preschool makes parents take a communication class (somewhat based on non-violent communication) as a condition of enrollment, and at first I was like "This is vaguely ridiculous", but my goodness, the improvement to our lives is dramatic. It's not that we don't still irritate each other, it's that now I have this set of extremely practical tools for coping with the annoyances of parenting, and I feel that those tools at worst do not harm my child, and at best are actually helping teach him how emotions work and that other people have them, too. And also, I am not constantly doing what my husband calls the Jedi Mind Trick of parenting, where you stand across the room and say "Don't touch that. DON'T TOUCH IT." and then lose your temper when they don't listen. (They never, ever listen.)

So. If this seems silly to you, that is totally okay. I just wanted to drop it in here, because it's been so useful for my family.

The main thing I've learned from NVC is to let go of seeing every conflict as win-lose. ("Either he turns the light back on, or I lose and he probably becomes an axe murderer.") And to instead think of conflict more as, okay, we're having a problem, what is the shortest distance to a solution we can all live with?

There are complex, heavy-on-the-talking ways to apply this, but also very simple ways. The simplest way I would respond, in your situation - and exactly this kind of thing comes up fairly frequently in our house, so we use it quite a bit - would be like so:

Kid: getting wild, turns the lamps off.
You: Hey, that doesn't work. Mama needs the lights to be on so she can read.
Kid: keeps turning lamps near mom off.
You: (neutral voice) I see that you're not hearing the limit about the lamps. I'm going to have to stop you. (WITHOUT BEING ANGRY, pick kid up, remove from situation, redirect. If kid freaks out, empathize with their feelings ("You were having fun with the lamps, but Daddy said no and took you away! That really upset you. I hear you.") but mostly stay as emotionally neutral as you can.)

So the goal is really to tell the child your limit/the rule, and then stick to it, before you get so upset that you respond in a punitive way. I think there are probably many ways to do this - I don't do time-outs, but I can see that they work in a similar way for many families - but I feel like the "setting a limit and then holding the line LONG BEFORE you freak out" is really the key issue here. What this has done for me as a parent is to take events that used to be epic 5-10 minute Battle Royales of the will, where I would lose my temper and shout at the kid, and we would both get upset, and turn them into 45-second blips I barely notice ("I'm going to take the water bottle away now. Hey, let's play with Legos.")

Parenting is hard. I think it's cool that you asked this question!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:20 PM on November 27, 2012 [40 favorites]


Dad to a limit-pushing 3 year old here.

Lots of good advice upthread. My advice is to pick your battles. Try to redirect or distract whenever possible. When you need to put your foot down, do it. We ask our toddler to comply, she gets to the count of 5, and if she ignores us, then it's off to her room for time-out.
posted by gnutron at 10:21 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also wonder if you went to such a ridiculously over-the-top punishment over such a minor issue because you seem very emotionally invested in the fact that you have a "good child" -- you're "bragging," a little aggressively ("deal with it"!) about how "quiet and polite" he is in a question about misbehavior -- you "see the difference between him and other (less well-behaved) kids" -- and when he misbehaves, that's not him (and it's certainly not you!), it's the influence of "bratty" kids.

Did you react so badly because his misbehavior threatens your view of yourself as an excellent parent with a top-notch child? Is that why you escalated so quickly to an option (no Santa!) that hurts his feelings, because he caused emotional upset to you? Your question is about how to cope with a minor misbehavior problem that you, as a parent, dealt with badly. But there's EXTENSIVE text "bragging" about how good he is and how this misbehavior is the fault of the bad and bratty kids he mixes with. And I mean -- HE'S THREE. This is age-appropriate misbehavior.

There is some great advice in this thread, but I would also suggest you read up on preschooler development and think about WHY you are reacting so emotionally to misbehavior and going right for a nuclear option that will hurt your child's feelings.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:34 PM on November 27, 2012 [23 favorites]


He's not testing your authority. He's just testing the limits of the game he's playing and enjoying getting attention. Ignore him and he'll stop. Your threatened punishments are a huge overreaction. Instead: redirect, redirect, redirect. I don't buy this "lose the battle and your kid will become an uncrontrollable monster" BS. I don't do that with my daughter and as a result she's the best behaved child in her preschool class.
posted by Dansaman at 11:08 PM on November 27, 2012


I am a parent of now three teenagers. When my oldest was 3, I had a 2 and a 1 year old. Talk about decisions like this. Oh my.

I do not see your choices as binary as you do. I would simply have explained to him that playing with lights is not a toy, can be dangerous even and is rude to the person that needs the light. Maybe there is another game he could choose where you two play chase. If he refuses that alternative and explanation then I would create some sort of backlash, but the no Santa and toys in the trash is a bit much, actually a lot much, in my opinion. A simple 3 minute (1 minute for every year old) timeout or cut something else out smaller than no Christmas would make sense.

I too will brag and tell you that despite having three ying yangs so close in age, they too are pretty well behaved and respect the value of property, theirs and others. I think it came from explanation, consistent rules and enforcement and reasonableness.

We used to dread visits to his cousins who had no rules. Mine would come home mimicking them for a day or two. We finally sat them down BEFORE we went and explained it was a Cousin Gunn day. That meant when we were at their house, they could play by their cousin's rules (none), but once we got in the car to go home, it was back to our house rules. They got it.

Same when Grandma came to visit. Grandma would let them have milkshakes at breakfast. She would let them have desert even when they did not eat their main course. (What is so hard about eating chicken nuggets and fries and broccoli?). But, it was Grandma and she came two or three times a year and we wanted them to have good associations with the grandparents.

My point is that I would explain that the behavior at school may or may not be acceptable there, but at chez zardoz, it is not. But I would give them a positive alternative. "Hey, lets go upstairs and see how many lights we can turn on and off since no one is upstairs using the lights. Also, know that playing with lights can be a waste of electricity and dangerous so only when mom or dad are playing too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:06 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Namely, some of the bratty kids—kids whose behavior ranges from playing a bit too rough to being directly aggressive—these kids my son is both a victim of (he’s usually a passive type) and something that he mimics.

You know what?

Change this attitude right here. They're preschoolers, not gang members.

And unless your friends with the parents of the "bratty" kids, you may have no idea what those families could really be dealing with on a daily basis.

Threatening to throw away toys for flickering lights is absurd and over the top and just plain cruel. A method that works for my three year old is warnings. "Okay, three more times and we're done." Then after the third time, "All done lights! Bye bye lights!" Most of the time he complies. Or he throws a tantrum because he's unhappy that he's all done. We acknowledge how fun flickering lights is and how it makes us sad when the fun thing is over, but now it's time to do something else and we can flicker lights later again.

And if you find your way isn't working, find out what the school does.

When my kid has gotten friendly-aggressive at school (tackling a kid he wanted to play with to the ground), his teachers show him a series of pictures about gentle hands, even when playing and sent one home to us so we could do the same thing at home.

I think you need to decide if you want to be an authoriative parent or an authoritarian parent.
posted by zizzle at 4:06 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


You ask as if it's about your son, but I think it's about your discomfort in being disobeyed in front of your wife, the disciplinarian. And so you turned it into a power struggle, where the most aggressive person wins. Is this the message you want to teach?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:29 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with what most people in the thread are saying. I agree STRONGLY with what KokuRyu, thehmsbeagle and zizzle have said. In fact, zizzle's description of his or her method is pretty much what we do, especially for something as innocuous as flicking lights. Which is something our 2.5 year old daughter loves to do. "Okay, you can do that three more times and then we have to stop flicking lights. After lights do you want to chase?"

A few people have mentioned children's brain development. I strongly recommend you look into this. A child may be impressive in terms of what they can learn so quickly as they go from ages 1 to 4, but much of their brain development is still going VERY SLOWLY. Here's something that might blow your mind: our decision-making structures in our brains are not fully developed until around age 25! I teach at the college level, and my students THERE don't have fully-formed decision making capacities. 3 year olds have really, really limited decision making capacities. REALLY limited. That's why a big part of the goal of the parent is to create a safe environment, to redirect from dangerous or negative activities and then be prepared to redirect and explain many times a day for years!

I am so glad you asked this question. I am screwing things up and learning new things about being a parent all the time, and I think it's good to reach out to people for advice.
posted by Slothrop at 4:35 AM on November 28, 2012


Lots of great thoughts up there. I only have an almost 2-year-old, so we haven't reached the hitting stage, but I have four siblings and grew up taking care of a gazillion cousins. The "pick your battles" advice is good but really hard to understand. In our house, it depends on the harm being done -- if no one else is affected, then we are more likely to redirect or distract ("Oh, you found a pen! Let's go find some paper, because we draw on paper"). If, however, someone else is being adversely affected, we go to timeouts/countdowns. In general, these tactics are only used to stop bad behavior, and we define it very narrowly as things that are rude or hurtful to others.

So in your example, if your wife were reading or otherwise relying in the light, I'd physically block him and say "Mommy needs the light to read. We don't want you turning it off when she's reading. That's not nice." Followed by a 1-2-3 timeout. If you were all just hanging out, I'd say "oh, you found the light switch! What else do we know how to turn off and on? Let's try to find the flashlight!"

Being consistent doesn't necessarily mean using the same tactic every time. For us, it's about enforcing a common set of values, and otherwise letting kids be kids.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:22 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just kind of want to come in here to point out that threatening to throw away toys is not always over the line. But it is over the line when it's not in relation to the activity in question.

If your son is leaving toys on the floor, and refusing to clean them? Threatening to throw them out (or give them away) is appropriate and a reasonable response - "if you can't take care of your things, you can't have them anymore."

If it's not related, you're just creating a whipping boy - remember that they actually love those things.

In this case, I probably would have said, "If you can't behave appropriately in the room where we are, you can't be in the room where we are, and you need to stay in your own room."
posted by corb at 5:31 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


This didn't work for us at 3, but it is starting to work now that we're closer to 4. It's advice I got from my sister.

Instead of raising your voice when you're trying to be firm, talk very calmly, deliberately and quietly. Each time you repeat yourself, get more quiet. This forces the kid to really really listen to figure out what you're saying. It also helps everyone not escalate unnecessarily. It seems completely strange and counter intuitive, but I was amazed at how well it worked when combined with some of the above advice, like time outs.

It probably wouldn't work for every kid. Like most parenting things its trial and error. But one thing it does for me is helps to reserve actual yelling and/or "that tone" that she equates to yelling for actual honest to goodness serious things - things that might cause danger to her or others, generally. Because when I do yell, she knows it's TROUBLE not just trouble, ya know?
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:03 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yup, you can be both an easygoing dad and a strict dad... at the same time!

We're having a little problem with defiance, at home and school, with our 3y.o. And by little, I mean ENORMOUS. To address this, we've had to put a lot of effort into discipline. Neither of us are disciplinarians, so we had to research this and experiment a bit. We got the best results by making punishment and reward predictable and reliable, that way she learns both boundaries, and that actions have consequences. Here's what we've come up with:

1) Bein' Good at School chart. I whipped this up in 5 minutes in Apple Pages - five jaunty pink and purple boxes she can put Princess or Baby Animal stickers into when her teachers say she was good for them in pre-school, and three boxes below, labeled with a picture of candy, a box of toys, and a movie ticket and a bag of popcorn. She can use a final sticker to pick one of the following after filling out the five boxes: a special treat from the candy store, or a toy from the dollar store, or she can go see a movie with Mommy and Daddy (or go to the zoo. Just so long as a bag of popcorn, a paper ticket she can hand to someone and a car trip is involved, she's over the moon.) If she wasn't good for the teacher - doesn't follow direction, hits other kids or spits or throws things, etc. - no sticker (horrors!) and she has to wait longer to get her treat.

This has worked an absolute miracle. Her teachers have noticed a remarkable improvement in less than two weeks, and the kid brags about the directions she followed and how she listened quietly at story time as she picks out the sticker.

2) Consistent warning followed by immediate punishment. Never lose your cool, never shout or make a scene.

We let our kid know she's being bad, and she should stop what she's doing. If she keeps on doing it we give her the old "Three Count" - count slowly to three. If she's still defiant, it's time for a time-out. Here's how we do it:

You can and should show you're angry or disappointed, even if you're about to collapse into giggle-fits. Don't overdo it, tho. Find a quiet spot, and sit them down, without toys or distractions, for one minute per year-old. Nowadays that's three minutes, timed with a timer app. At home, pick a spot upstairs and downstairs and use them consistently. Out and about, we find a bench or a wall or someplace safe and free of distractions - no toys or lovies, and we don't interact with her until after time-out is over, apart from making sure she stays seated. Sometimes we do a "car time-out" when away from home: we strap her into her car seat, take away her books and toys, and leave her in the car alone for three minutes (we never leave the side of the car, tho, and we don't do this in a hot car in summertime.)

Getting the kid to stay in time-out can be tough. She's scratched us, the walls(!), kicked, ran away, snuck away when she thought we weren't looking, and all manner of squirming and scheming to get away. The trick we use is to gently hold her hands at her side so she can't get up until she stops fighting, and agrees to sit there - then we let go. We haven't had to do this in a while.

When time-out is over, we ask her why we put her into time-out, and we talk about it with her a bit so she gets the right lesson. "I wasn't listening to you" is a common one, as is "I hit someone when I shouldn't hit people."

After a while of doing this consistently, our kid has learned to back off and do what was asked before we hit the end of the three-count. Going into a time-out is now usually in response to something really bad, and it's usually not repeated.

3) If the time-out doesn't do it, bring other consequences into play - no dessert or no TV for two days gets a lot of attention. The "nuclear option" is to throw away a piece of halloween candy unless she starts behaving (we dole out the candy on a one-piece-per-night basis, and her haul will last until Christmas, where we'll have a supply of Christmas candy that will last until Easter...)

4) What works much better than the nuclear option is positive reinforcement (see item 1). Our kid doesn't like getting dressed in the morning. Time-outs, TV moratoriums, even losing a snickers bar or two to the trash didn't help much. You know what did? A piece of fruit-leather she can eat in the car (the no added-sugar kind). It's what she gets if she co-operates and gets dressed without pitching a fit over what she wears, and doesn't give her mother hassle about getting into her coat. It was a catastrophe of biblical proportion to her when she didn't get the fruit leather because she was bad, and she's proud of getting dressed and bundled up without any help when she gets the treat. She'll tell me about it when I get home that night, ten hours afterward.

In your case, option two, a three-count-and-a-time-out would be the way to get the lamp turned back on. Let the punishment fit the crime - tossing out a toy would be an extreme measure, and if you ever got to the point where you think that's necessary, stop, assess, and think about what positive reinforcement you can use to get him to behave that would work better.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:05 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Parent of a now 4 1/2 year old boy, here.

Perhaps one way to think about interactions like this is conflicting needs. It shouldn't be the case that whenever there's a conflict between what your child wants and what you want, what you want wins simply be virtue of your authority as there are lots of problematic lessons there. What happens when the authority figure is less strong? What happens when your child is older? What happens among your child's peers? Etc. Lots of comments here about the mechanics or specifics of exercising your authority - which still presumes a dynamic that won't help him at all among the people a kid will spend the most time with - namely, other kids.

So what's the alternative? I'll admit to yelling when I'm not on my game, but when I AM on my game, I like acknowledge, enhance, and redirect. Consider jumping off of furniture. I'd rather my son not act like a barbarian at all, but 1) quick talk to acknowledge (him: "I need to jump!" me: "I need you to not get hurt, and for you to understand when this is not ok.") 2) figure out a way to meet both our needs (in this case, pillows/cushions on the floor = jumping ok. no pillows? no jumping). I know it sounds flaky, but I our preschool teachers do it all the time.

There are obviously times and behaviors that are absolutely not ok (hitting, biting, etc.). Shut them down, and tell them why - I like to emphasize empathy and not wanting to be hit/bit/teased himself. But for most other times, doing the improv thing of "Yes! And..." will enable you to both engage with your child and help them understand the contexts in which what they want to do is ok, and when it's not ok. In your case, I might draw attention to light switch on/off is fun! I totally agree! But Mom needs this one to stay on - let's go find a flashlight!

Parenting is hard. I like the idea that I'm giving my kid the tools to meet his needs with both me and others. My Mom probably thinks I'm a flake. Asking the question makes you a pretty good Dad, already.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:11 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is the thing about 'big' threats. Kids are super black and white, they have NO context for anything.

My parents threatened big things. As a kid this did not shock me into good behavior. It prompted the following rationale.

"If I lose Christmas over this... then why bother ever being good again?"

From 1-7 well behaved occasional misfit... ages 7-18 I was a total fucking nightmare. The police were occasionally involved.

In a world where everything is a capital offense, there are no laws.
posted by French Fry at 6:27 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Whew, did it just get a little judge-y in here?

Pick your battles is a nice thing to say and all, but it implies that you should save up for battles you can win. Well, duh, as the superpower in the house, you can win all of them if you're willing to use scorched earth policies. Unfortunately, if you win the war that way you'll wind up with terrorists in 10-15 years. Much better to avoid battles altogether and try to get the locals on your side. You need to be a diplomat.

Avoid telling your kids what to do as much as possible. It's a constant struggle to remember to always politely ASK them to do things, but it's a way to avoid the "I gave you a direct order, now do it!" showdown. As soon as you go there, you've backed yourself into a corner and it really is about preserving your authority. Some people seem to think that's not important. It is, unless you want to get stuck always holding their hand to guide them. You can't raise an independent child without being able to yell "stop right there!" before they ride their trike out into traffic or pull a pot full of boiling water down on their head.

They need to be given the choice to do the 'right' thing, with clear consequences for the wrong choice and absolute freedom to decide on their own.

You want to turn off the lights? Fine, we'll all sit in the dark tonight and you can sleep without your nightlight. You want to throw your toys? Fine, I'll take them and put them away for you. You want to spit out food? Fine, you don't want to eat, so you can leave the table. Playing with a knife? Yelling and crying like you don't want to be in the restaurant? Fine, we can go sit in the car where you can cry and yell with nothing to do for half an hour while mom eats in peace. Throwing a tantrum because you don't like the consequences of your decision? You're welcome to go throw a tantrum in your room if you want. Can't keep the door closed while you throw your tantrum? I can hold it closed if you'd like, no problem buddy.

Stay cool, offer choices and allow them to make the bad decision. The second you raise your voice, you enter this phase where you're stuck escalating until they comply. That's fine at 3, but by the time they're 15 they'll probably have figured out that the superpower is really a paper tiger.
posted by pjaust at 7:00 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


You want to turn off the lights? Fine, we'll all sit in the dark tonight and you can sleep without your nightlight. You want to throw your toys? Fine, I'll take them and put them away for you. You want to spit out food? Fine, you don't want to eat, so you can leave the table. Playing with a knife? Yelling and crying like you don't want to be in the restaurant? Fine, we can go sit in the car where you can cry and yell with nothing to do for half an hour while mom eats in peace.

The problem with "creative" punishment is that the kid can't predict the consequences to their actions clearly. If the consequences are one of a well established set, their choices are clear - If I keep being silly with the light switch after three, I get a time out. If I don't stop right now, I don't get any dessert. If I do that again, I don't get to watch my TV show.

With a "creative" punishment, it's a gamble - I get to hang out alone in my room with my toys? Cool! I'll do that again. I'm alone and terrified in the dark without my nightlight? Is it because of the light switch? I don't like the light switch anymore. - the kid won't pick up on the real problem: they didn't do as they were asked, or they did something when they knew it was wrong. Those are really the only two infractions a three year old can be held to account for - and the punishment for them should be consistent and proportional.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:26 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is a great question and I love everyone's advice above about how to set limits in a respectful way.

This is not "parenting advice" per se, but there was this brain research done a few years ago that shows that the pleasure centers of our brain light up when we are being vindictive. We may feel bad about it later, but it feels really, measurably good in that moment to say, "Oh yeah? Christmas is canceled!" Keeping that in mind -- that exercising our power in a way that hurts people is a part of human nature that I need to overcome, just like wanting to eat the entire container of ice cream -- helps me temper that urge when one of my kids is driving me crazy.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:27 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's how 95% of those would have played out in our house:

My daughter and I are playing around in the living room, and she is being very loud and silly, which happens every now and again. She starts going around to the lights and the lamps, turning them off. "Don’t do that please, turn them back on," I say.

She sort of complies, but then runs over to the lamp nearest my wife and deliberately turns that one off.

"That's 1," I say (firmly but calmly; not angrily, voice not raised).

And she stops.

Because she knows perfectly well from past experience that if she does it again or argues the point or pouts or whines about it, I'll just say "That's 2"; and if she still doesn't stop, we get to "That's 3. Off to your room for seven minutes of time out." (seven minutes because she's seven years old) at which point she flounces off to her room in a huff, slams the door behind her, and is then a bit miserable and bored for seven minutes.

You don't want angry, because that's scary. You don't want cajoling, because that's ceding far too much authority. You want calm but firm, and you want the same ultimate sanction every time, as opposed to some randomly selected and quite possibly never-enforced punishment; a sanction that requires no effort from you, does your child no harm, and instantly disrupts whatever obnoxious behaviour brought it on.

Time out is not a punishment; it's a circuit breaker, and it works better than anything so apparently squishy-soft has any reasonable right to.

Kids will always push the boundaries; that's basically their job description and anyway they have no other way to find out where the boundaries are. "That's 1" is like the rumble strips at the edge of the highway - when a kid hears that, they know straight away they're heading toward having their present activity interrupted and because it's delivered calmly they remain capable of actually processing that knowledge instead of instantly falling to bits in fear or outrage.

1-2-3 Magic works.

It took me quite a long time to get the delivery right. When I first started out I was way way too stern-sounding and she'd get quite frightened. You're after a clear, factual tone: use the same modulation for "That's 1" as you'd use for "Your shoelace is undone". Rather than displaying/modelling irritation or annoyance, you're merely offering information: the boundary is here.
posted by flabdablet at 9:25 AM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


So you appear to have my son. I HATE year 3 (love my son, but this has been... challenging). As others have said, your son is testing you, you have to pick your battles, but stay firm when you give a consequence. And they will push it up to that boundary and over many times (apparently). Mine currently has no books, and most of his toys in time out. We try to vary between time outs for him and for his stuff, and are very clear about the consequences. However, we are still having troubles. Recently I've been talking with him about what would help him behave better, and reminding him that I am doing what he asked to have good behavior (he's mostly asked for counting to 5 instead of 3, as much as the 1-2-3 stuff worked for us when he was 2, now he mostly just screams more when we count and doesn't change is behavior), which has been about 50-50. And every time I feel like we are getting more into a fighting all the time mode (which is ridiculous because he's a perfect angel at school and was at home too until just after he turned 3 and is fairly coincident with moving to a preschool class), I try to put up a good behavior sticker chart so we can have interactions where I am praising his good behavior as well. I am also looking for a different preschool that may have a better fit, given that our problems really started with moving to the new room.

If you find any magic, let me know too!
posted by katers890 at 10:46 AM on November 28, 2012


Also, while being the "easygoing dad" is certainly nice, don't underestimate the strain being the disciplinarian has on your wife. Being the "bad guy" all the time is hard.
posted by katers890 at 11:08 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


For a different perspective on send-em-to-the-corner:

The Disadvantages of Time-Out
What's Wrong with Timeouts?
The Case Against Time-out

(If asking didn't work I would have gotten up and picked up my kid and -- kindly -- removed her from the vicinity of the switch.)
posted by kmennie at 11:39 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Parent of two kids here. Ideally, if I were being a good parent that day, it would go something like this:

KID: (messes with the lights)
ME: How many more times do you want to do that?
KID: Five times!
ME: OK, let's do it! Five... four... three (KID is turning the lights on and off each time)... two... one! You're done! Let's go read a book.

I would probably pick up the kid -- in a goofy way, like upside-down or something -- at that point and carry the kid to the sofa for a story. My kids like physical interactions like that and it's a good way to get their attention onto the next project.

P.S. Please don't describe kids as being "bratty." One of my kids had behavioral problems when he was in preschool because he had undiagnosed autism and it was the only way he could express himself.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:59 AM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


A few thoughts in response to kmennie's linked articles on the undesirability of timeouts:

Soft-pedal it though we may as "consequence" or "circuit-breaker", it's undeniable that being sent to time out does cause a certain amount of suffering, and can therefore quite reasonably be described as to some degree punitive.

For me, the critical questions here are:

(1) How much suffering does time out cause my child?
(2) How frequently do I find myself using it, and where does it fit within our repertoire of parental responses?
(3) Does what I'm doing achieve the desired result?
(4) Is the desired result in the child's best interests?
(5) Are there other methods I could use that cause less suffering but are at least equally effective?

In the case of our family, the answers to these are:

(1) Judging from little ms. flabdablet's range of reactions: certainly some, but less than many other normally-encountered childhood stressors such as being unable to find a favourite toy or stubbing a toe or getting a splinter or skinning a knee. Enough suffering to make it something worth avoiding, but not so much as to cause anything like trauma.

As parents, we walk a fine line. A certain amount of stress is necessary to promote change and personal growth; too much or too frequent and it causes trauma and shuts all those things down. So you need to be paying as much attention to yourself and your own actions and choices as you do to your kids.

(2) Now that the 1-2-3 routine is well established, actually being sent to timeout happens only rarely - maybe once or twice per month at most. As she grows older, she's getting far better at avoiding behaviours that call for "That's 1", and almost every time we do need to use it is the result of some new thing she's trying out after picking it up from her peer group at school. I'm quite convinced, having used 1-2-3 now for about three years, that the boundary-testing model is an appropriate and useful way to view this stuff.

As for 1-2-3+timeout being our main discipline routine: nuh-uh. Not even close. Most of what we do is way closer to the attachment parenting KokoRyu alluded to above. I'm in full agreement with pjaust on the terroristic consequence of scorched-earth household policy and the value of diplomacy. Fear is something people just get used to and adapt to over time, which means that the only way rule-by-fear can possibly work is by continuous escalation and that is in no way a road any parent ought to be walking down. Apart from anything else, it's nowhere near as much fun as doing it with love.

(3) For us, there are two desired results: first is that little ms. flabdablet develops a healthy set of social skills and emotional self-regulation skills, and second is that our authority as parents is maintained in a way that causes her no damage. As far as I can tell, 1-2-3 backed by the known-real threat of timeout has been contributing positively to both those things.

(4) Parental authority is one of those things it's unfashionable to admit to valuing, but I do. I don't think there's anything the least bit unsound about authority per se, and the idea that respect for authority is not something we should be teaching our children strikes me as a deeply and fundamentally broken idea.

Along with respect for authority we must also teach our kids what legitimate authority looks like. The kind of authority I'm in favour of is not the corrupted kind that rests solely on a structural power imbalance between the parties, but the kind that reflects the competence imbalance between those with authority and those with less.

It's simply a fact that emotional self-management is harder for kids than for adults, because they're still growing all the cognitive infrastructure we have at our disposal for that job. Children are also far less able than adults to identify behaviour patterns that work against their own medium- to long-term best interests. If these things were not true then the parenting task would of course be much easier - but it would also be essentially pointless.

So I'm all for using an effective tool like 1-2-3 to nip obnoxious behaviour in the bud - and I'm every bit as all for reflecting very carefully on the source of any such obnoxious behaviour. Because far more often than I care to admit (and I suspect the same is true for every parent) the little one will be replaying and trying out things that she has seen us do and, as the adults in this picture, it's absolutely our job to model better behaviour for her.

(5) Alternative methods? I've not seen any method for quickly shutting down obnoxious behaviour, and teaching its undesirability, that works as well as 1-2-3. But as I hope I've made clear by now, it's completely unrealistic to expect that any boundary-enforcement tool is the only thing or even the main thing you need, as a parent, to teach your kids what good behaviour is.

Most of what you need to be teaching them, they're busy learning when they're not acting up. Kids are perceptive as hell, so it's up to you to ensure that what they perceive from you is positive. Give them endless love and encouragement and understanding and forgiveness, and they'll do fine. Just don't let them totally rule your roost, because their skills are simply not up to it and you'll all end up suffering.

If you give them your love and you earn their respect, you won't often need to remind them that they owe you their courtesy.
posted by flabdablet at 11:32 PM on November 29, 2012


Another thought: absolutely key to 1-2-3 is the calm delivery. You need not only to sound calm, but to be calm. Because quite apart from shutting down whatever obnoxious behaviour is happening in the moment, every "That's 1" is a golden opportunity for you to model the idea that your behaviour does not cause my emotions.

So many kids miss out on learning that, and you hear them saying things like "you make me so mad!" Hell, I've heard adults saying that in tones that make it quite clear they believe it. I've even heard parents saying it to their kids, and how is that supposed to help?

Kids absolutely need to learn, and the earlier the better, that their feelings belong to them and that they therefore have choices about how to deal with those feelings. If your child believes that her feelings can be controlled by somebody else it becomes far, far too easy to hand over her autonomy to any of the various bullies she's bound to encounter.
posted by flabdablet at 11:54 PM on November 29, 2012


My dad was a very lax disciplinarian (until he got mad, then he yelled) and left all the heavy-lifting to my mom. She was (rightfully) resentful of this, and I think it really hurt her when we would say things like, "I like dad more because he isn't mean like you, mom." So whatever you decide to do, just make sure your wife is on board so you can work together.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 8:55 PM on December 3, 2012


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