Friday, October 5, 2007

Discipline 101: Maintaining an even keel

You will never meet anyone more vocally against corporal punishment than I am. I don’t hit my kid, period. No matter what he does, and no matter how many times he does it.

With all my heart, I believe that even if it seems to work, spanking teaches children “valuable” life lessons like “Pick on people who are smaller than you” and “When you’re mad at someone, you should physically hurt them.”

I know that not everyone agrees with me. And I’m not here to start a big fight about it.

But I can admit that sometimes my 22-month-old son really pushes my buttons.

In fact, he’s found buttons I didn’t even know I had.

Attention please
My goal was to read about an eighth of the Sunday paper so I wouldn’t be in the dark when I showed up to work on Monday morning. I knew I was ignoring Ben, but he seemed to be OK playing by himself in the kitchen. But it didn’t take long before he grabbed a few pellets out of our dog’s dish, showed them to me and said “No Holly-dog food. Time-out” and then burst into hysterical tears before I even picked him up.

Clearly, he was seeking out my negative attention. But even prior to this incident, I was not feeling comfortable with the way he was reacting to his time-outs. They only caused him to cry and they did NOT stop him from repeating the behavior.

Something needs to change
I decided to get a few books from the library for tips and suggestions. It didn’t take long before I figured out what my husband and I were doing wrong.

Basically, we were letting him go too far, giving him too many warnings and second chances, before finally getting angry and sweeping in with a punitive time-out. “That’s it! You’re going in time-out!”

Instead, we’re now trying to do the time-outs earlier, with just one warning, and be much less emotional about it. “I’m sorry you chose not to follow that rule. Now you have to have time-out.”

After the time-out, we used to go through a complicated apology ritual that I thought was helpful, except that nothing was changing. So now, when time-out is over, he gets nothing but love at first.

Later, when he’s calm, we can talk about why he got the time-out and think of ideas together about how to avoid another one. (If you think a 22-month-old is too young for this, you’ve never met my kid.)

“Ben, I see it’s hard for you to leave Holly’s food alone, even though you know the rule is ‘No dog food.’ What do you think would help you to follow this rule?”

“Holly dog food pick up please”

So we picked up the food. Problem solved. During Holly’s meal times, we explained that Holly had to have her dinner now and maybe it would be easier to leave her alone if we went and played with blocks upstairs.

Consistency is the key
Obviously, adjusting to this new regimen was hard for him. It was hard for me too, as I am used to being more lenient with him because I don’t have the energy to go through the time-out ritual every single time he does something wrong.

By the end of the first day, he was clearly exhausted, frustrated, angry and sad that his whole baby world was being turned upside down.

You could tell he was thinking, “What do you mean I get a time-out for taking a box of Cheerios off the counter? I ALWAYS do that!”

But soon, he was telling us when he needed a time-out. It didn’t stop him from crying about it, but things were better. We gave him choices. “Do you want to walk up the stairs or do you want Mama to carry you? Do you want time-out in your room or Mama and Papa’s room?”

Of course he still cried, but they were manageable tears, not hysterical tears.

The differences we saw in his behavior were clear. When we finished his bath, I told him it was diaper time and he laid down in the diaper changing area on his own.

(Previously, we had to chase the naked baby around the house for a few minutes to get him wrangled down for a diaper and pajamas.)

When it was time for stories, I told him, “This is the LAST story. After this one, it’s bedtime.” And when it was over, he said “Night night time!” and marched up to bed.

How awesome is that?

Yah, so normally i don't put mama talk here, but i wasn't wanting to put this one on lj for lots of reasons. one of them is that quite a bit of this column is lifted word for word out of lj entries! that's not something i've really ever done before, but they asked me to write it on an off-week with very little notice. so you gotta do what you've gotta do. i don't think i can get in trouble for plagerizing myself :-)


*Kate said...

I know this is kind of an off thing to talk about, but it will be better for your dog to only have meals at meal-times, too. They get confused when food is down for them all the time. In dog packs, the person in charge decides when and what you get to eat. So when they have access to food all the time, they get confused about who is in charge.

thesynergizer said...

we don't leave her endless food all day. we feed her at meal times and she doesn't eat it all. then she snacks a little throughout the day.

oh and she pooped and peed on our carpet this weekend, even though she'd been put outside just an hour before it happened. she used to just stand on the deck and yip at the glass door to get back in, so we started walking away so she'd go use the grass. so, now, i guess, she's learned to FAKE it by going to the grass and then coming right back and pretending that she went. stephen then decided even though its rainy and cold that he'd have to go out WITH her and make sure she went potty. well, last night, even though she had been in since 4 p.m., she would not go at bedtime. he stood there. she sat in the grass. he waited. she did not go potty. thankfully, when i got up at 6:45 a.m., there were no messes and she was very eager to go out and actually do her business.

sigh. we're working on it. she's pretty crazy, but i've lowered my expectations of how a "good" dog should behave and have started to just try to appreciate her good points. maybe one day we'll have the $$$ for doggie training class ...

Kate said...

Call me the queen of unsolicited advice, if you want ...

But what we learned when we were in training with our dog is that, even if they don't finish their meal when you give it to her, you should pick it up at a certain time. If you're worried she didn't have enough to eat, put the bowl down a little later and then pick it up again. Some dogs will actually purposely leave food in their dishes because they're nervous they're supposed to be the one in charge. It's really confusing to them, and no dog actually wants to be in charge. They want someone to take care of them and provide all of their needs. Anyway, our trainer stressed over and over that it can be really difficult to train a dog when the dog has left food in it's bowl, even if it's just a couple kibbles.

That *stinks* that she went on your carpet. How old is she? Has she had issues with this before? I thought she was older AND trained, so I'm thinking this is just further evidence that she's a little confused right now. I do know that once a dog gets it in her mind that it's okay to go on the carpet, it can be *really* hard to break. So, if this wasn't a one-time, rare thing, I would make sure she's not allowed on the carpet at all until this is broken. Use baby gates and keep her in the kitchen, if you have to ... and if you have any rugs on the floor, take them up.

I have often toyed with the idea of becoming a dog trainer, so although I'm not a professional, feel free to ask any questions. :0)

thesynergizer said...

she's 4, and we've had her for nearly 2 months and this is the first time she has gone in the house. she is clearly getting weirder. she has also chewed some of ben's toys and socks and my underwear (gross!) i've told stephen we need to get some dog toys for her to chew, but he wanted to try feeding her more first, thinking she was chewing stuff because she was always hungry. i said, don't dogs just like to chew stuff? we are so hopeless ...

the advice is not unsoliticed. i already asked my friend brad all about dogs and now i'm asking you. advise away.

oh and i answered your "joe" question on lj too. sorry about that! :-)

PS: go ahead and sign up for bloggerwave if you want. there is no referal program.