Friday, December 12, 2008

Discipline and My 2-year-old

Several years ago, I graduated college with an Early Childhood degree. There were big plans for teaching Kindergarten for a while before ultimately getting a Master's and Ph.D. in Child Development and teaching college level courses. Then, as someone said to me once, life happened while I was busy making other plans. Various events occurred that caused my teaching career to end only months into it. I ended up working in receptionist positions in medical offices to help pay the bills, and I felt as though I had failed somehow and would never use the degree I had worked so hard to obtain. Then, our son came along, and I realized I was using that education in child development every single day. Of course, there are times when none of that knowledge seems to apply. Then, I remember that every child is different, that every child develops at his/her own rate, that my child is no exception to these rules, etc., etc., and so forth. All of this is relevant because in the last month or so I've been relying heavily on what I learned in school to help me discipline my son. He's at that "I'll-throw-myself-on-the-floor-and-scream" phase, where he tries to communicate with words, but he gets frustrated because he can't seem to find the right words to get what he wants or needs. Or, maybe Mommy and Daddy just ignore his words because they aren't paying attention to him, or they don't feel that what he wants is the best thing for him. Whatever the case, the words suddenly turn into tears, screaming, hitting, scratching, or sometimes, no words at all. He just climbs into my lap while I'm typing or reading or watching TV, and he gets into my face or pulls my hair or something equally more distracting (like he's doing at this very moment; I'll be back)...At first, I thought I would never get through this phase without one of us being emotionally scarred for the rest of our lives. Then, the arsenal of discipline choices I'd gained from school suddenly came back to me. They're not all fool-proof, mind you, but some of them seem to really be working. For example, whenever V has a huge, screaming fit, I try to ignore it. I usually start out by saying, "You can't get such and such or do such and such if you're going to scream about it. Screaming doesn't get what you want. Use your words, please." If that doesn't work and he's still screaming, I try to let him throw his fit (without harming himself, of course), especially if it's happening at home. When he tries to kick or scratch me for attention, I've found that gently moving him away from me helps sometimes. I also say something like "Mommy doesn't like it when you scratch her. Use your words." If he's screaming because he wants something and I won't give it to him, then I try to give him a choice between a couple of other things that might be more appropriate. The other day, he wanted a cookie, but he'd already had one earlier. I gave him the choice of a banana or grapes. He still screamed for the cookie, and I continued to give him the choice of a banana or grapes. At some point, he realized that the cookie wasn't an option, so he chose the grapes instead and seemed happy with his choice. I've found that giving choices really helps, especially if we're out and about. I bought him some boots this week, and he wanted to wear them out of the store, something he'd done on a previous shoe-shopping expedition. I told him that he couldn't do that, and he started to throw a fit. Then, I told him that he could hold his boots and carry them for me. He seemed to like that idea and immediately calmed down. I've noticed that the more I get him involved in the shopping experience (like putting items in the cart or helping me to push the cart around the store), the fewer breakdowns he seems to have while we're in the store. I've also tried reminding him of certain rules before we get to a store, and while in the parking lot, I remind him AGAIN. The main rule is "no touching", but he doesn't usually abide by it and must be reminded several times while we're in the store. That's okay because he's still learning appropriate behaviors, and I've learned that it's best to pick and choose our battles. One day before we got to the store, he asked for "Yummy Yummies", which is his name for "M&Ms". I know that bribery isn't the best way to get a child to behave, but I told him that if he listened to me and did well in the store, I would buy him "Yummy Yummies". I reminded him of that while we shopped, and he did so well and helped out so much, that I went ahead and bought him the candy. I've noticed that the "if, then" with consequences type of discipline seems to work, too, sometimes. Today, I had to say, "If you throw a fit in the store, then we have to go home, and you don't get to play the Wii at home." I allowed him to play with the game controllers in the electronics department, which is one of his favorite things to do when we're out shopping. I told him we had to do something else, and he started throwing a tantrum. When it was time to leave that department, he stubbornly walked back to it and screamed when I tried to pick him up, so we ended up leaving the store altogether. We're home now, and he actually fell asleep on our way here (naps have been scarce recently, but that's another story), so I didn't have to worry about another fit regarding the Wii. My husband and I may hear about it tonight, but I plan on following through. He threw a fit, we had to leave the store, so no video game playing, this evening. I don't know how much he understands, but I've come to realize that consistency is the key. If he's made aware of the consequences and Mommy and Daddy follow through with those consequences, then hopefully, he'll remember what happened and modify his behavior appropriately later on. I know it'll take a long time and numerous efforts on our part to help him understand how to behave in certain situations. Hopefully, he'll realize when he's older that we disciplined him now because we love him and want him to become a successful member of society. Currently, though, I'd just be happy to have a couple of minutes of quiet time while I finish dinner or check my e-mail or do whatever. Thank God for "Blue's Clues" and our DVR! ;)
Best to you all,

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