On Discipline

A word of warning, I write this as therapy for myself.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of incidents with my daughters that were totally frustrating to me. And of course, there is always commentary from the peanut gallery (read parents) on how I’m handling parenting, whether my daughters- esp. my younger one are growing up to be little delinquents. I don’t know which is more frustrating- the disciplinary problem, or the peanut gallery commentary.

It all started the other night on my way home… I got a call from BigA… saying that littleA just put Elmer’s glue in her dinner. You might ask what the responsible adult in charge was doing when littleA had the glue bottle poised over the plate-… I’ve been asking, but haven’t quite figured out how a glue bottle made it to the table during dinner. I was relating this story to my mother, and the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of – that little kid is a complete terror.!  Great. There is pretty much no faster way to shut down my desire to talk to my mother, than when she makes comments like that.

I haven’t written a word about this, because it is difficult for me. LittleA’s  like that little girl who had a little curl on her forehead… you know the one… when she was good she was very very good… and when she was bad, she was horrid.  Yeah. That’s the one. LittleA is a very challenging child to parent-she’s far more stubborn, she can be a bully at times, and she is very tall and strong for her age- but she is also the absolute most loving and caring child, she is extremely gregarious and everyone in school knows her.  The discipline techniques that worked well with BigA at the same age (actually, even the threat of time out would send BigA into such hysterics that we only ever put her in time out twice I think)… does not work AT ALL on LittleA. She’s just a totally different kid- punishment is not a very effective disciplinary technique with her, and I must constantly pay attention to where she is and what she is doing because she is likely to get herself into trouble if I don’t. This has led lots of people, the peanut gallery and others, to label her as a difficult child- and to ascribe responsibility for her character to her parent’s parenting ability.  At least that’s how it feels from the inside…. and it overwhelms me a times. Like when my mother feels she needs to point these things out to me. again.

Last night, before I got home- LittleA kicked her grandmother (my mother in law). Obviously it is a hard and fast rule at our house that we do not hurt other people, and if I had been home there would have been a very swift response. But my parent’s in law don’t do discipline. I have no idea why- but they don’t discipline the kids when they are at the house and I’m not home. This makes me crazy. In fact, they didn’t even tell me what happened. They waited, until DrMrA got home near bedtime, they told him… and I just didn’t feel like I could let it pass… LittleA needs to learn that she can’t hurt people and get away with it. So she sat in time-out…. hysterical, got up about 20 times, refused to apologize. It was a total nightmare. I’m upset about it still.

Then, this morning, my father-in-law told me that he didn’t understand why I made her sit in time out last night… because everyone makes mistakes and she’s only 6.

I can’t win.

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23 thoughts on “On Discipline

  1. 😦 I have no advice on this, honestly. I know you’re probably going to get lots of competing, contradictory advice, and people have REALLY strong feelings about this sort of thing. But it sounds like you’re doing the best you can. Try not to beat yourself up too much – we put a lot of shame and blame on mothers for all kinds of things, but I don’t think it’s fair. It’s really not all nurture! And there’s not a whole lot you can probably do about the in-laws being indulgent.

    My littlest brother, who is much younger than me, used to have fierce tantrums. He was the only one out of the four of us who did, and my parents raised us all basically the same way – just a big personality difference there. He’d have fits in the store, at home, all over the place. It mostly tapered off after 3 years old, but there were occasional older fits (but a lot less mischief than it sounds like your daughter gets into!). But it was really hard to know how to handle it. Forced time-outs seemed to be the only management that eventually sort-of worked, even though my parents basically had to stand guard the whole time. But that seems far less than ideal.

  2. I wouldn’t deign to give advice on this subject, but perhaps the image of Comrade PhysioProf making his parents suffer like miserable dogs his entire childhood and adolescence will cheer you up!

  3. Kids are their own people. A parent can direct these personalities, but not transform them. Her incredible will and sense of self will probably make for a creative, visionary adult. In the meantime, you just have to keep up with her.

    When my husband was a child, he used to run all over everything. He was physically uncontainable. He climbed on everything and was constantly running off. His mother had to get a leash for him, or she would literally lose him in public all the time. Strangers would see this child on a leash and be horrified. Eventually, they put him in gymnastics lessons, at great expense. This turned out to be just the outlet for him and later he attended a very prestigious university on a full athletic scholarship for gymnastics. My point being, the leash did him a lot more good than harm.

    Those people who judge and blame you are being fools. You can’t make them disappear. The foolish judges will always be there volunteering their *%@&^% opinions. All you can do is disregard them. It’s tough.

  4. You people are totally awesome. Thank you.

    Volcanista- we’ve been through the unbelievably bad tantrum phase as well. I’ve had teeth marks on my arm… on more than one occasion. Thank goodness that’s over. It was a shock, esp. after the first one who would never have dared.

    C PP- It does make me feel better, actually.

    Yolio- That is the god’s honest truth. She has a more iron will than I think anyone else I’ve ever met. … take the will of her parents combined times about 100. As for the rest of what you wrote- I recently saw a documentary on Ansel Adams on PBS- which described that young Ansel was kicked out of basically every school he ever attended. His father brought him home, hired private tutors, let him follow his passions (which if I recall were love of nature, piano, and later of course photography). It was quite a remarkable story of a parent’s knowing what they needed to do for their child and doing it, even when conventional wisdom had basically written the child off. The parallel to what I need to do for littleA, in terms of supporting who she is and telling everyone else to MTOB, was unmistakable.

  5. It is so hard to reason with not-fully-developed personal psychologies. If she can learn to understand that acting that way won’t get her what she wants with people in the long run, and harness her boldness for her own use, she will be a major positive force to be reckoned with. I don’t know anything about this stuff beyond watching other people go through it, but hopefully once she matures to the point of breakthrough understanding of her own power and how best to use it she will be less negative with it.

    And this is what scares but fascinates me the most about having my own kids!

  6. many hugs… you and your daughter will be just fine. it sucks right now but I think you will look back at this post and smile at how wonderfully she grew up in a few years.

  7. Hang in there – you’re being a fantastic parent. I’m not a parent myself but I thought I’d offer my two cents worth of support. Having been through the childhood and adolescence of many siblings and cousins I’ve seen the mild and meek and the mini-human tornadoes. Kids are people too and well, everyone else who’s commented here has already said it — they’ve got their own personalities and that’s not something that is brought on by your parenting, nor is it something that parenting (good, bad, or otherwise) is going to change. Your daughter sounds like the sort who will grow up to be a force to be reckoned with. It’s only a matter of time until she learns to use her powers for good and not evil. 😉

    As for the peanut gallery…I suspect that all these people who are quick with their criticism are in fact insecure about their own parenting skills. They are bolstering their own confidence by insisting that they’ve got the “right” answers. Truth is, they’re never going to have any better idea of what to do with your daughter than you do. They’re just blowing smoke to distract you from the fact that their little Johnny isn’t a perfect angel all the time and they have no idea how to deal with that.

    And the in-laws…maybe they’re just trying to be respectful of your parenting? Some people can get down-right belligerent about other people disciplining their children. Not to say that you’re one of those but maybe they just don’t want to do it “wrong” and they’re not sure what you would consider appropriate discipline. Would they be willing to use some discipline if you discuss with them first what you would consider appropriate?

    The very fact that you are thinking about this makes you an excellent parent — you’re looking for ways to be the best parent you can to each of your children as individuals. You’re trying to meet them where they are and work with their budding personalities, not against them. Nobody could ask for better from their own parents. You’re doing a wonderful job.

  8. I’ll add that since you turned out magnificent, the peanut gallery *naturally* takes credit for YOU (as in, they *obviously* did something right, I mean, sheesh, *eye roll*, duh).

    They could be the (insert msnbc wackaloon voice here) WORST PERSON IN THE WORLDDDDDD but if you turned out a-okay, it somehow negates their ‘worst’ status. And for some nutso reason, they probably think you will make the same mistakes they made. uh, no. ixnay.

    Just by the very fact that you realize what’s going on, you are far ahead of them. You can see much farther than they will ever know. Let that be your little secret. Next time something stupid flies out of their mouths, you can smile at them with the “I’m smarter than you” smirk that they will wonder what the hell you are smoking. more hugs.

  9. My MIL actually gave me pretty good advice once (which I struggle to follow, but I recognize that it’s useful). Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff! As long as no one ends up in the hospital, in the long run the elmer’s glue incidents get forgotten. You and DrMrA are great role models and over time, this will be what shapes BigA and LittleA as they grow up. If not….we’re all screwed.

  10. As someone who is the parent of a strong-willed, stubborn, large than life, will not sit still 2 year-old, I can totally relate. Every other child in our surrounding gentler and behaved in comparison. I have quickly learned to (1) not compare (2) completely ignore everyone (3) figure what my child needs. Number 3 was/is the hardest. Monkey gets mentally and physically bored very quickly. He needs to outside, challenged and engaged but not coddled. For him, gymnastics will be a god-send. Little A sounds like an older version.
    The other thing I notice is monkey is very very different than his older cousin (whom my parents compare him to.). They are used Older Cousins needs, wants, behaviors and expect monkey to fit into that mold, whether unconsciously or not I am not sure. Perhaps Little A’s grandparents are not sure what to do, because she is so different than Big A?
    Lastly, hugs. parenting is hard and you’re doing an awesome job. Peanut gallery be damned.

  11. drdrA, I know this is not what you want to hear, but Dr. and Mr. Isis just laughed their asses off over LittleA putting glue in her dinner. You see, these sorts of things happen with Little Isis all….the…..time!!! Mr. Isis reports something strange happening and I find myself wondering how he every found himself unsupervised in that situation.

    But just about everyone has an opinion as to how to raise one’s child. However, I recently was participating in a research study a colleague was running and was having an arterial catheter put in by a pediatric surgeon that had volunteered to work on the study. That morning Little Isis had bit me and I had a huge bite mark on my arm. I asked the pediatrician if he had any suggestions as to how to handle the biting and he responded, “No. All the kids I see are intubated.”

    And now even when he is being a completel wackaloon, I try to remind myself that he is a healthy wackaloon.

  12. The glue in the dinner is pretty darn funny. Keep notes on this and one day you can fund your lab with the sitcom script you sell to NBC.

    Re kids being difficult…Once when I was young, I decided to throw things out my bedroom window. This would have been funny or silly, except that there was a playground beneath my bedroom window. And I was on the 18th story. Old enough to know better, too.

    I was also quite the chatterbox and sometimes turned my parents’ faces crimson by repeating their conversations on private topics, verbatim, to guests at dinner parties. If my parents tried to punish me for anything–I threw a tantrum and sulked and never would apologize, either.

    Then adolescence hit and my parents are still probably trying to recover from it. Yet here I am, doing just fine.

    I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that parents point to their first child as a triumph of upbringing, and to their second child as an example of how recessive genes (always from the spouse’s side, of course) eventually show up to bite you on the smug little nose, sometimes literally. Though I’d never claim that all second children are creative brats, those “birth order” books, which say approximately that, do exist for a reason. And yes, I’m a second child.

  13. DrdrA, although I don’t have any advice on child discipline, I would have to say that it sounds like you are doing a great job. You recognize that your children are different and that you need to take different approaches. Even if the punishment doesn’t seem effective at first, at the very least, your daughter knows that there was a consequence to her action. She will learn eventually.

    As for the glue in the dinner… I actually found that pretty funny. 🙂 I once, in an attempt to make my own sandwich, spread peanut butter and jelly on a piece of paper, folded it in half, and proceeded to consume it. I was 5. Haha, my mother thought I was a total mess at the time, but I turned out okay! 🙂

  14. Thanks to all for the kind words. Last year when LittleA entered kindergarten we had a hellish year. Bad combination of personalities – between her and the K teacher, very strict rules… and she was young for her grade. I had a lesson in fighting for her at school, talking with her doctor and my friends, reading, learning there is nothing wrong with her- but that I need to make sure that she gets what she needs in that setting. This year has been fantastic at school, and filled with mischief at home. The fact that BigA is exhibiting teenage hatred for her younger sibling isn’t much help. Oh- all of you with toddlers… you just wait!!

    Y’all I realized my error in the post… LittleA was actually putting the glue in BigA’s dinner, not in her own! But who knows what BigA did to her prior to that…

  15. I don’t have any advice either. I do have a story about disciplining children that may be entirely unrelated.

    One of the ladies at work was looking a bit distressed. I walked in to her office and asked what was up. She went in to a lengthy story about how her boy was suspended from school for getting in to a fight. Then she started talking about how she just wasn’t sure what to do with him. I replied that I had no clue at all, being without kiddos. She was pretty upset, so I regaled her with some tales of the various trouble I got in to as a youth (and boy, there are some real doozies…I was trouble!). She asked how my parents handled me, I told her that I would get yelled at severely, and then punished by taking things away and being forced to do work. More than anything else, my parents would tell me that I was a disappointment and that if I ever wanted to make myself something, I would have to learn to respect myself and be responsible for my actions. It mostly worked…if anything, it has made me the type of person who has high expectations..some might say too high…but I am learning.

    I asked how they disciplined said boy when he got in trouble…she said that her husband would wallop him with a belt. I said ever so meekly because I didn’t want to be a jackass…well, maybe that is teaching him that violence is an acceptable solution to problems? (fighting is his biggest problem) She admitted she has thought of that, but they just aren’t sure what to do. I told her that I don’t think anybody is.

    Also, if it is any help, I am absolutely clueless about how I will do things when little ones come along, as I am of the belief that talk is cheap and easily dispensed advice is difficult to translate in to effective action.

  16. I too had the communicative, guilt-laden “this is just so disappointing, we expected so much more of you and you have let us down” (but with reassuring praise when I did well at things) style of parenting, even from a very young age–and it sounds like it did the same for me as for you pinus. I’m an overachiever and frequently disappoint myself, but it made me self-reflective and determined to make people happy with me, too. MMMmmm, it’s also probably why I ended up so high on the neurotic scale in that personality test. 🙂

  17. I’m sorry you’re going through this. It stinks that so much of your time with LittleA is spent on negative things instead of positive interactions. I don’t have kids either, so no real advice, but I have two thoughts: 1) the peanut gallery might be trying to commiserate or something, but they have no idea how to do it so it comes out condescending. 2) have you read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages? It can be a little sappy but the message is good. Also he uses some Christian teaching, like Bible references and stuff, but I could easily ignore all that. The main point of the book is that all people give and experience love in 5 main ways and that each of us have one that is most important. Many of the problems we face in relationships — with spouses, children, close friends — stem from people not communicating in the right love language or hurting us in the ways that are particularly damaging because of the love language used. So like, maybe LittleA needs lots of quality time with you in order to feel most loved, but you are best at showing your love for her with physical touch or words of affirmation. So she might not feel as secure because she isn’t receiving the love your giving as fully as she should. And that might promote her acting out.

    I know that sounds kinda queer, but I recommend it. It’s an easy read and it really makes a lot of practical sense when you put it all together.

  18. Pinus- There have been times when I have been at wit’s end with LittleA- at the absolute bottom, I had a long talk with her pediatrician. He’s a good guy and had some very useful input, tips/hints/things for me to read, encouragement, etc. This helped me understand her better, and figure out where to start approaching her from a better place, and learn alternative techniques for managing her behavior (which I also made sure got instituted at school), … I would recommend to anyone- if you trust your kids pediatrician- they can be a great source of advice.

    Arlenna- I think this business attracts overachievers that are their own toughest critics.

    Ecogeofemme- As it happens I have read that book…and it made me think about various people (and what makes them feel appreciated and loved) in my life in a whole new way. My sister is all about giving/receiving gifts, for example – something which I find nice but isn’t something that influences whether or not I feel appreciated. So I hear where you are coming from. Maybe it’s time to pick it up again…

  19. Yeah, you’ve definitely got discipline problems, and you need to nip that shit it in the bud fast. Of course, I’m not talking about the kids; they’re doing just fine. It’s the grandparents that are clearly outta control and running wild.

    You can try that “time out” diplomacy with them I suppose, but in my experience the old folk generally only know one kind of discipline.

  20. DSKS- Used to be we could leave the kid with the grandparents for a couple of weeks in Greece, and have no problem. Needless to say those days are over. The love, and love, and love on the kids… and the kids know that there are no consequences for bad behavior in their presence. Now, I wouldn’t mind if they just came back a little spoiled- because that’s what grandparents are all about after all- but I don’t want them to come back with bruises from hitting each other and have one be afraid of the other because no adult will step in.

    Needless to say the days when we could leave them with the grandparents, are over.

  21. ““this is just so disappointing, we expected so much more of you and you have let us down””

    Ah my, this would drive my daughter over the edge. Just goes to show that you have to pick your discipline for the child.

    We also have a peanut gallery around here, and they are also an incredibly loving, caring peanut gallery who want the best for us and their grand kids.

    So, I try not to sweat the small stuff, too (and, also think most stuff is small), given the fundamentals.

  22. The bottom line is that parenting is f****** hard work sometimes and those bright kids can challenge you over and over and over. And so creatively!

    I too have a challenging child, now aged 8. We wonder whether he will even make it through adolescence. You can probably imagine: one of the latest scenarios (last week): he went to a holiday programme, and managed to get a huge cut on his arm. Emergency nurse: is this his first lot of stitches? Parnt: umm, no. his fourth. I hope the girls like scars when he grows up. On a day to day basis, it is just the usual fighting with his sisters, shouting etc etc. God it can be such a relief to get to work! Quiet time. (I have on occasion put myself in ‘time out’ at home as well just to get some peace!)

  23. anon- Oh yes. It’s hard work indeed. We’ve decided that’s she’s either going to be famous or in jail. Hopefully maturity will set in sometime soon like maybe tomorrow eventually and things will calm down a bit. I know that she’s fine, she’s tough, and she’s reflective-… even if she has a hard time controlling her impulses sometimes and she’s got a will that’s shockingly strong. Let’s hope her parents survive that!

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