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When all else fails....

I've done a lot of reading about discipline. I know that I will never spank my children (see Project No Spank or Dr. Sears' 10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child to understand why). I will not belittle my children or otherwise verbally abuse them.

I've learned a lot from books that I've read on how to avoid bad behaviour and therefore avoid the need for any sort of punishment. First you need to create a secure attachment (see Katie Allison Granju's Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child ). You need to love your child unconditionally and not withold love when your child misbehaves (see Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting). You need to understand the triggers that might cause misbehaviour and avoid them (see Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's Raising Your Spirited Child).

However, a lot of the books fall short when it comes to suggestions about what to do when your child does misbehave despite using all of those techniques. Let me start by saying that I want to let my children be children. I do not consider it to be misbehaving when they do something that is inconvenient to me. However, when they do something that is purposefully destructive or dangerous, I have trouble thinking of a good tactic in the spur of the moment.

One book that offers some helpful suggestions is Lawrence Cohen's Playful Parenting. It has a lot of great ideas for ways to diffuse a difficult situation using play. Since misbehaviour often stems from a lack of parental attention, giving some attention in the form can solve two problems: (1) It gives the child the attention they need and (2) it stops the misbehaving. But that doesn't always work......if I truly can't stop what I am doing to initiate play (e.g. in the middle of changing his sister's dirty diaper while he is acting up), then I often find myself stuck. Many of you are probably thinking, "what about a time out?" or "how about taking away some privileges?".

I've never been a fan of time outs because I don't think my child would sit still for one without being physically restrained and because I don't think that he'll remember why he was punished since the punishment isn't at all related to the crime.  His school uses time outs and he can always tell me that he got a time out, but can rarely tell me why. Point proven.

Taking away privileges is probably the way that I have tended in many situations (no TV today, no dessert tonight, etc.). However, even though it often does create temporary compliance, I don't think this really motivates him to change his behaviour over time or to understand why it was wrong to do what he did. It reminds me of a story that a friend of mine told me once. She used to get slap across the face if she came home late. Well if something interesting was happening, she always stayed out late because it was worth a slap in the face. I don't want my child to be considering "hmmmm.....how badly do I want to cut my sister's hair.....do I want to do it badly enough to chance not watching TV for a week......sure!!! why not!!!"

So what do I do?

I think when I reach down into my gut and try for the solution that feels best to me (rather than the one from the most recent book I read or Web site I looked at), I always come back to natural and logical consequences. The problem is that I would need a quick index of the natural and logical consequences of any possible bad behaviour so that I could refer to it as needed. I have trouble coming up with something that makes sense in many situations and if that is the case, it ends up feeling fake or wrong too.

So I'm still searching.....
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Reader Comments (4)

[...] also do use consequences and rewards selectively and punishment as a last resort (see also my post When all else fails). For me, consequences are an extension of choice. Choices obviously have consequences attached to [...]

October 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMy Discipline Spectrum «

[...] also do use consequences and rewards selectively and punishment as a last resort (see also my post When all else fails). For me, consequences are an extension of choice. Choices obviously have consequences attached to [...]

THIS! This is exactly what I was going to write and send to you in an email. I smacked Grace last week, and I regretted it instantly. It was a bad day. I was frustrated and sore, and she was behaving badly. I ran out of options, and I did what my parents did. The thing I decided long ago that I wasn't going to do.
I've been exploring your site ever since looking for some answers. I just don't always know what to do.

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara @ Feels like home

I'm so frustrated. I pledged not to spank as I was rarely spanked growing up but my husband believes differently. So do my inlaws, who started spanking hands early on despite my no spank rules. While I've removed my inlaws from our family equation (actually, they removed themselves but that's another post), my husband still subscribes to the domineering, bullying, spanking & scaring tactics his father used to raise him -- knowing full well the low self-esteem, depression and frustration of feeling nothing you ever do is right.

I'm so overwhelmed from raising a 3 and 2 year old born 17 months apart with next to zero time for myself I get frustrated and sometimes spank, too. But it doesn't work coming from me. Actually, my son seems to go out of his way to test and try me in ways he's never done for his father.

I was raised on the far end of your discipline spectrum, very laissez-faire and I know that more structure is required. The end result of my laissez faire upbringing is that I feel I have to do it all myself because no one ever helps me.

All this to ask how do I strike the balance now that spanking was introduced and time outs seem ineffective? How do I ameliorate the damage caused by inconsistent parenting, that is, two parenting styles that conflict?

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBunnie

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