ControverSunday: Discipline


Discipline: Way to bring out the controversy! Okay- go see Perpetua, our lovely host, and thank her for stirin’ up all kinda trouble. Then go see Accidents and applaud her badge.

Hold on to your hats all… here we go!

Yeah, I have some pretty strong opinions on the subject. So, before we go any further I want to make sure we cover the basic disclaimer. You know your kid(s). I know my kid. I have my opinions about what approach might be a good one for likely more then just my kid, but since I don’t know your kid and your particular circumstances please don’t take my opinion to mean that I am judging your parenting if you don’t do/think what I do/think. If it works for you, it works for you. Go to town. If what your doing isn’t working, then… well, as Dr. Phil would say “How’s that working for you?” (I am not a big Dr. Phil fan, but the man has a point with that particular phrase.)

Obligatory acceptance of others statement complete- let’s get right into it, shall we?

I think kids need discipline, and from a young age. They need supportive structure and direction. They don’t need to be yelled at, spanked, talked down to, etc. But they do need someone to say no.”They” say you can’t spoil a baby under 1 years old. I disagree. By the time most babies are 9 months or so they know how to communicate what they want. And what they want is not always what they need. And if they want to hit you, or bite, or eat 15 cookies, there is nothing wrong with saying no. Meet their needs- yes. Meet their every want- no.

So here it is our strategy. We aren’t perfect, it doesn’t always work. We get frustrated sometimes and it is flexible to deal with changes and circumstances. But here it is.

We either ignore temper-tantrums or we simply acknowledge why she is upset, and then ignore. “I understand you want a cookie, but you have already had a cookie today.” We stay close and provide comfort if she wants it, but we let her work out her feelings on her own.

We say no. When she hits, or throws food, or whatever. We say “No, you do not hit/throw food/ etc.” Then we re-direct. If she does it again, then we change the situation to indicate that she shouldn’t do that. For example, if she looks me in the eye and hits again then I put her down somewhere safe and walk away. If she drops food again (as she often does with a smirk) then meal time is over. Even if that means we need a ‘snack’ an hour later.

We try to be consistent. And we try to stay calm. I was reading Janet Lansbury’s blog the other day and she suggests to remain calm, like a CEO. I loved this way of explaining it (actually, I loved her whole post about discipline).

I really agree with Janet that the key is a consistent, loving environment, clear communication and boundaries and reasonable expectations given the age of the child. I don’t think you can expect a toddler to behave if they are hungry, over tired, over stimulated or way off their normal routine.

Furthermore, I think you have to pick your battles. I try to ask myself- is this annoying or is it dangerous or disrespectful? I find it annoying that A likes to shake her sippy cup, thus spilling little bits of milk or water on the floor. Is it dangerous of disrespectful? No. Therefore I don’t waste my parental “no” clout on it. Although I should note that as Accidents recently pointed out on twitter, something that may seem innocent, even funny, the first time your toddler does it can become a problem later, so sometimes I end up eating my words and using the all powerful no once it appears it is a problem.

Obviously we are still in very early toddler stages. And the approach we take will have to change as she changes developmentally. But for now, the things I mentioned pretty much cover our discipline needs.

But I do want to talk about the big picture philosophy. I think that many parents struggle with the idea of setting boundaries, especially with young kids. So they don’t. And they just let stuff happen. Or they are inconsistent. Then, as the kid gets older and the behaviours get more and more undesirable then the parents get stricter and stricter. Let’s face it, a 9 month old can get away with hitting in most circles but a 9 year old that punches an other kid in the face is looked at totally differently. It seems there are a lot of parents who operate on laying down more boundaries as the child ages, rather then the other way around. As I see it, if you set up boundaries and limitations early, then you can give the kid more and more freedom as they get older. For example, I don’t understand letting your 5 year old get away with anything and then not trusting them to go out to a party when they are 15. If you did your job when they are 5, then you should be able to trust they have enough good sense (because you taught them boundaries and self control) to call you if they get into trouble when they are 15.

But that is just my rant. And I don’t have a 15 year old, I have a toddler. So admittedly, what the hell do I know. Except that I want to do the best I can parenting my kid so that when she is 15 I trust her to do the right thing, without having to keep her locked up in her room. Or at least trust her that when she does make mistakes she will call me for help, rather then trying to hid it from me and thereby putting herself at greater risk. I want the process to be about her learning to take care of herself, trust herself and be able to make good judgment calls. To me, that is the long term goal of discipline.

Just in case I didn’t ruffle your feathers enough, here is a quick run down of what I agree and disagree with when it comes to discipline:


-Communicating respectfully and giving a child fair warning (“we are going to leave the park in 5 minutes)

-Using positive reinforcement (“thank you for sharing that toy with me”)

-Providing choice, when the child is old enough (“do you want to go to bed in 5 minutes or 10 minutes”)

-Explain why you have a rule (“you can not play in the kitchen because it is not safe”)

-Give the kid control over some things (can’t think of a good example)


-Never saying no. I am sorry, but positive reinforcement can’t cover it all in my opinion. If she is doing something that could be dangerous, I need to communicate that it is not okay as clearly as possible. No works.

-Always giving a choice. Choices can be an effective tool, but not everything is a choice. And I want my child to understand that sometimes she will be given a choice and sometimes she won’t. The parents or caregivers ultimately call the shots.

-Trying to reason or debate with them. You can’t argue with crazy or children. You just can’t. It is not up for debate. I will explain and then the conversation is over. At least in the moment. I think once a child is old enough it is good to have a “how do we avoid that argument next time” conversation once everyone has calmed down, but don’t try to reason with them in the moment when they won’t be able to reason.

-Lastly, spanking, yelling or getting frustrated. That being said though, while I hope I never spank my child, I certainly have yelled and gotten frustrated. I try to be the best parent I can, but I am human. I can tell you what my philosophy of discipline is, but in the moment I don’t always do what I should. And in that case, I believe strongly in apologizing to your kids. When I get frustrated at A, I always apologize once I calm down. She deserves that respect. And she deserves to know that I am human and I make mistakes, just like she is human and makes mistakes.

So, there you have it. Feel free to share your thoughts. I am still new to this discipline thing and I am sure I still have a lot to learn.

Oh, but I will share one great thing I learned from leading daycamps when I was in highschool, which works great with 8-12 year olds. Child does something bad, multiple times after being asked not to. I say “How many times do I have to ask you to not do that?” Child, being smart and trying to call my bluff says “a million”. I say “okay- do not …….. that’s one, do not …….., that’s two, do not ……., that’s three… you just let me know when you have heard it enough so you understand…” and you keep going until the kid says stop. Essentially, you bore them into behaviour. Worked great.


18 responses to “ControverSunday: Discipline

  1. lamourdemere May 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I held onto my hat and read this post fully expecting to be outraged or offended…I was neither! I agree with you almost to the letter. And as a mum-of-two (eldest 27 months) who’s still trying to work out how to do it, I am so encouraged to see that my take on it is supported. Hardest part – the not getting frustrated, especially when toddler is being hard work and baby is precariously balanced on hip…

    • amoment2think May 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      Welcome and thanks for the comment (I love it when new people comment!) I am glad you weren’t offended or outraged. I think anytime we talk kids and discipline someone is likely to get offended or outraged… so I am sure someone will be. But it is always nice to hear when someone agrees with you. 🙂

  2. Megan May 16, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    This is wonderful! I agree with it all, and you laid it out so well. I will definitely be rereading this when I need some guidance for disciplining Lotte. Once again, you and I are on the same wavelength. We do most of the same things, but you ave me some new ideas to try, too. 🙂

  3. janetlansbury May 16, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    This is wonderfully honest, positive and helpful! I’m so glad you liked my post on the subject. You’ve gone into lots of details that I didn’t get around to, but that I totally agree with.

  4. Barbara May 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Well done! Esp like your “Obligatory acceptance of others statement”.

    We did fine believing that our babies would not be spoiled up to a year, but it was so easy to control their little lives, even after 9 months. When I taught parenting to mothers in poverty it was important to break the spoiling myth as they attributed a much higher level of thinking to their babies than was real. They needed permission and encouragement to respond to their crying infants.

    • amoment2think May 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm

      I think you make a good point regarding the “you can’t spoil a baby under a year” statement, fair enough. I have seen this statement mostly in the Public Health literature, and I guess I just disagree with the way it is worded. When I think of ‘spoiling’ I think of giving into kids wants (like for candy or something), not being responsive to their cry’s. I think the intention of this statement is exactly as you say, to encourage parents to be responsive. But I am not sure the intention matches what most people would interpret as the meaning. But maybe I am wrong…

      Anyway, thank you for your comment.

  5. Mama Tortoise May 17, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Great post!

    I do generally agree with you. Although, I have to say that our original intentions have been challenged as our four-year-old has grown up.

    One, I HATE to yell. But I have given myself over to it because sometimes it is the only way to jolt our daughter back into the real world. She can be so consumed by her play that she is completely oblivious of what is going on around her.

    Secondly, our daughter is a complete drama queen with an unimaginable amount of energy. People like to call her ‘spirited’ but I’m not sure I’m on board with that definition. Anyway, she has temper tantrums ALL the time. And trust me, my husband and I are generally calm people who do not want to respond to this type of behaviour. We have tried to ignore it. But interestingly, we find that helping her through her frustration is better. We respond to her and ask her to take deep breaths and think about calming down. I guess the tantrum is more of a personality thing than a power thing. (I know that there are lots of people who will disagree). She really does need coaxing in order to help her through some things, she just has such a big personality. I should add that we never give into her demands when she has a tantrum.

    Finally, you mention not using reason or debate. I disagree. Our daughter has formed a healthy ability in the art of negotiation. And she wants to know ‘why’ we are responding in such a way. We say ‘no’ to the cookie before dinner. She asks why and we say that we don’t want it to spoil her dinner. Then she offers that if she eats all her dinner, could she have a cookie afterwards. And we think, this is reasonable. Plus, it helps her to contribute to outcomes and learn reason.

    We might be setting ourselves for a disastrous time when it comes to the teenage years. But at the moment, there are some things that I’ve given myself over to – things that I would have sworn I would never do. And I think they fit with our crazy energetic daughter!

    • amoment2think May 17, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      I am really interested to hear about discipline as it relates to a 4 year old. I don’t have one of those yet!

      And I do think, as always, it is good to shape your approach to match the needs of your child. I like the idea of helping her through a temper tantrum.. I could see that being a really good tactic when they are old enough to understand.

      Lol- I think it is great when kids master the art of negotiation. And I think giving a simple explanation and then listening if the kid presents an alternative is reasonable. But, if they aren’t accepting your explanation and continue to ask for a ‘better’ explanation, or argue with you that your explanation is valid, that is when I think it is better to just leave it at that. I don’t really like the statement, ‘because I told you so’, but I could see myself saying, “I have already explained why, so the conversation is over.”

      Lastly, I truly believe that our ideas of what we will and won’t do change (and should change) as we encounter the reality of what we face. I wrote a whole post about all the things I said we would never do when my daughter was a little baby, but ended up doing because it worked at the time (and kept us sane, mostly).

      Thanks for your comment. I will have to pick your brain when my daughter is 4!!!

      • Cheryl May 19, 2010 at 7:26 pm

        Really interesting! I’ve never thought of tantrums in terms of personality or thought about helping him work through it. This is why I love blogs, always food for thought! 🙂

  6. Partial May 17, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    I am taking the “give a reason” point to heart. I think that makes all kinds of sense.

    I hated the “because I said so”, response, or the “because I’m the mom” response.

    I’m sure at some point I will be too frustrated/tired/irritated to give a reason, but it’s a nice goal.

    • amoment2think May 18, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      Ha. Yeah, being a parent now I understand why my parents sometimes said “because I told you so”— frustration, tiredness and irritation is just part of the gig along with the good stuff.

  7. The Disgruntled Academic May 18, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    I’m so with you on this, so much for controversy! And thanks for the link to Janet Lansbury’s post on disciplining toddlers, totally right on. And I’m totally going to use the “How many times do I have to ask you?” line, I just hope I remember it when it comes up!

    • amoment2think May 18, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      I always find the great irony of this blog is whenever I post something I think will stir up the controversy- it doesn’t. And when I post something expecting very little reaction- that’s when I will bother someone.

      Anyway, Janet’s got some great stuff on her blog, I am really enjoying reading it. I am not really a ‘follow just one philosophy’ kind of parent, I prefer a la carte, but I rarely disagree with Janet in principle, even if I choose to not always follow her advice. I always like reading her thoughts regardless and I love how she presents them.

  8. Cheryl May 19, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Great post, as usual!

    This is such a hard one. We’re at the two-and-a-half year old screaming stage. (Suggestions welcome!) I try my hardest to stare blankly at B while he screams and then say, “Are you done?” He seems mildly annoyed at my non-reaction but usually is done. This, however, is not stopping the screaming.

    I definitely fall into the reasoning trap. I explain/talk too much. Because he can communicate really well, I try to tell him more than he can take in sometimes.

    I do agree with most of what you said, it seems like a balanced approach and it will changed as your needs change. I know ours has! I do wish I didn’t yell, but sometimes, I react before I breathe and it happens.

  9. Amber May 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I would say I agree with you on most points. I frequently tell my children ‘no’. I set limits and boundaries, if for no other reason than to keep them safe. I try my best to be respectful. I don’t hit, in fact I don’t use punishments in general. I actually don’t use positive reinforcement either, I tend to opt for natural consequences as much as possible.

    That said, I definitely do allow some ‘negative’ behaviours to slide based on age. My daughter, who is now 5, had TONS of temper tantrums. Like, 2-3 times daily for years screaming meltdowns. We tried dozens of tactics. In the end, the thing that really worked was waiting for her to get older. It’s the same thing with my son and biting. When he was around 15 months old he would bite my shoulder and he thought it was HILARIOUS. I would say no and move away, but I didn’t really press the point because he was too young to really get it. But if my 5-year-old bit me, my reaction would be different, because she would understand what she was doing.

    My expectations do increase with my children’s age, because kids often engage in annoying behaviours that are totally age-related. They’ll grow out of them at their own pace, more or less regardless of what you do. I’ve found that respecting my children’s development and abilities has made parenting easier. As they grow they gain both rights and responsibilities, and my rules for them change accordingly.

    • amoment2think May 22, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      Amber, I think you make a really good point about what is developmentally appropriate and what expectations are reasonable for what age. It totally makes sense to me to have expectations increase with age.

      I think the challenge for a lot of parents (maybe particularly first time parents who don’t have a second kid to remember as having also gone through a stage) it is hard to know what is developmentally appropriate. (When I say a lot of parents, I mean me!!) We are in that spot right now with A (14 months) and hitting. She smacks me in the face often. I tell her no. She smiles (smirks in fact) and hits me again. I tend to think she knows she shouldn’t do it, but doesn’t understand yet that she is hurting me. Our only solution at this point is to say no and put her down. But if she were older, we would provide more consequences.

      There are certainly some things that it makes sense to just wait out, but it is hard to tell sometime what those are. So I tend to go back to is this behavior just annoying? Or is it dangerous or anti-social?

      Anyway, my point is: good point!

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