Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Sucky Disciplinarian

By Mimi Hecht
"As a new mother, I excelled at all the nurturing. Nursing, cradling, bathing – I can do that. 
I can love. I can cuddle. I can give. Call me Mother Theresa. Just don't make me say 'no.'"

The Sucky Disciplinarian

The first time I told my son “no,” even I didn't take myself seriously. I'm pretty sure I even said it with a slight laugh in my voice. Something like “Nooooooo” with the “O” sound extending into a “Oooooh you're so frikkin cute, come here.”

Since those first ineffective “no”s my sixteen-month old's habits have turned from unpreventable no-worthies like putting dangerous things in his mouth to more deliberate actions like throwing food off his high-chair and even scratching. I am slowly coming to the realization that I am failing as an authority figure to my little two-foot human.

You see, I'm just not cut out for this discipline stuff. Which isn't exactly surprising, considering my inability to consistently reprimand and administer warranted punishments always made me the best camp counselor and babysitter when I was younger. As a new mother, I excelled at all the nurturing. Nursing, cradling, bathing – I can do that. I can love. I can cuddle. I can give. Call me Mother Theresa. Just don't make me say “no.”

Part of me doesn't believe that my son can actually do things that deserve discipline. When he started up with scratching, I acted naïve. Awww, he must think he's tickling! He doesn't mean to hurt me! I just need to cut his nails! Even the devilish, testing look on my kid's face went completely ignored. And did I mention he's a redhead? Between that and his parents' rebellious streaks, he's practically hardwired to be a trouble maker. And what do I tell myself? That I'd rather have a mischievous kid than a lemur. As if those are the only two options! I am ridiculous.

Just the other day, my budding acrobatic grabbed a toy, hoisted himself from the coffee table to the couch and onto the sofa chair where he then dropped the toy and dived head first off the back of the chair to retrieve it The result? A murderous cry and nasty purple bruises on his cherubic yet totally guilty face. I freaked out, knowing deep down that my inaction ever since he started climbing on furniture has led to this moment. “This is how he'll learn,” I told myself, knowing that only an element of that is true. I should have tried harder.

I'm so bad at this "no" stuff that I’ll even devise ways to not have to discipline. Every time my tot opened and emptied our storage bench, I said “no” and removed him. He was kinda starting to get it. But after a week, he started doing it again. I thought to myself, “I am not going through this.” So what did I do? I emptied all the important things I was conveniently storing and instead filled it with something he can touch - toys. Yes, the little rascal got his way (and then some!), but at least I'm not driving myself crazy for something that was, well, failing anyways.

What's worse is that my son seems to know that I am a sucky disciplinarian. He actually started laughing when I say “no.” And lately, he'll even do something he knows he shouldn't – like steal my phone and hide it in the sofa – then casually turn to me, hold his finger up like a teacher and give me a drawn out “nooooo.” Naturally, I react by going against the most obvious disciplinary advice: I burst out laughing. 

Good job, Mom. You're a goner.

Thankfully, there's a trick called ignoring. Now I'm a pro at that! Throw a tantrum. Ignore. Kvetch for the cookie until your voice is raspy. Ignore! I have successfully curtailed a few bad habits by cutting off my supply of attention.  They are the sucky disciplinarian’s sweet moments of success - also known as “effective laziness.”

But I know that, in the end, it is active discipline that effectively molds balanced and well-behaved kids, not to mention communicates true love. So I need to go to discipline boot-camp, or else it’s only going to get worse. My husband demonstrates much more prowess in this area, but, alas, I am the work-from-home mom who's consistency can really make a difference. I have no problem admitting that this flaw stems from an inherent laziness. Discipline takes a commitment to consistency that, if I had it in me, I'd be using the elliptical that's been collecting dust in the guest room. What I need is for someone to call me out and whack me upside the head every time I'm about to catapult an opportunity to educate my son. For now, I'm going to take my toddler’s mocking (but, come on, absolutely adorable) responses as the ultimate challenge. He may be smart, but I am smarter!

Yet if you heard me say that out loud, you would notice the weak, defeated undertone and realize that the saga of the absolutely preposterous, failing, hopeless and completely sucky disciplinarian has, in fact, only just begun.

5 LadyMama voices:

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

I had an early-childhood education teacher who said that in her home she realized that NO was becoming a joke. She decide to use it for emergency-dangerous-NO situations. She has found other methods to take the child away from their mischief (the most effective is to distract them with something else without mentioning that you want them away from that particular object/space) and when she says no now, its NOOOOOOOOOO becuase there is danger and her kids actually react and listen

Rivki said... [Reply to comment]

I agree with Rachel. Pick and choose your "nos." For instance, if your toddler is approaching your newborn with a toy hammer, that would be a good time. Even then I like to say, "Little Man, we don't hit the baby with the hammer! You can hit the couch, or the carpet, but not people."

If I said no to everything it would be all I say, so decide on what your threshold is and be consistent to those few things, and do the distraction/ignore combo with the rest.

And what happens if your child is doing something he should and you just don't have the koach to disclipline? Pretend you don't see it (this obviously only applies to non-dangerous activities). Him thinking you're not seeing him is far better than him seeing you see him and not doing anything about it.

Wow that was a long comment. Good luck! You can do it! Remember - kids needs boundaries. They need to be told no, it makes them feel secure (or something).

Rivki said... [Reply to comment]

Oh, that should've read "if your child is doing something he shouldn't." That'll teach me not to proofread.

Becky said... [Reply to comment]

Isn't that why they say the first child is the most messed up? If it makes you feel any better, I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. Heck, I probably still have no idea what I am doing.

Take it easy on yourself. Raising kids is a process. You can't really think you'll know everything right off the bat. Learning anything takes time and practice.

And if all else fails, there is always therapy....for your kid :)

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Having studied child phycology for 19 years... and having 'a couple' of kiddies myself...I still higgghhlly recommend the one book I found most useful " How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk" by Faber and Mazlich... You dont have to be a disciplinarian if your kiddies are being good... ;) Basically its only abt 8 things for you to remember and its in cartoon form for tired parents to register it ;)
I have reviewed many other book and I think for people keeping traditional rules and customs there are already so many 'rules' that keep our kids in boundaries, beautiful boundaries, but boundaries never the less....
We dont need strict time-outs etc.. We need them to be good, to listen, and this book teaches parents how to be heard without your child, young or older, rolling their eyes and ignoring....
Also respect your kids as individuals.. from birth... It will make your relationship with them much easier allowing you head space to love and play with them :) and be close to them :) always :)

with blessings :)