In Which Her Bad Mother Quite Unironically Seeks Assistance In Her Efforts To Practice Good Parenting

October 15, 2006

I cannot thank you all enough for your tremendously supportive response to my last post (and to my recent, related posts over at urbanmoms.ca): your comments, your e-mails, and your many virtual hugs have been so much tonic for my frazzled soul. Things are still very challenging – WonderBaby is turbo-charged for as many hours in the day as she can keep her eyes open, and then some, if the night terrors come – but the knowledge that I am not the only one struggling with feelings of maternal inadequacy, that so many of you have felt or feel right now the way that I have been feeling, has gone so, so far toward easing my anxiety and frustration. But even though ‘thank you’ is insufficient, it needs to be said: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now to business. I need more feedback and advice: how does one approach discipline with a baby that is rushing headlong into toddlerhood? WonderBaby – 11 months old yesterday – cannot be reasoned or bargained with, and she has only the most rudimentary understanding of what it means to do something that Mama disapproves of. (I think. There have been many moments during which I have been convinced that she knows exactly what she is doing. The deafening silence that falls upon the house when she is about to do something naughty – like, say, reprogram all of the electronic devices in the house – is, for example, suspicious.) Obviously, sending her to a Naughty Corner isn’t going to work.

What we currently do, when she does something that she shouldn’t: calmly and slowly say no, and separate her from whatever it is that she is doing. This, as I related the other day, is sometimes very difficult if not impossible: she’s a strong and willful baby, and if she works her well-honed arch-back-go-limp-deaden-weight move (which makes it near-impossible to lift her), her push-self-against-Mama-arch-and-throw-head-back move (which makes it near-impossible to hold her), or her arch-backward-go-ironrod-stiff move (which makes it near-impossible to get her into stroller or carseat), it can sometimes be – how to put this? – impossible to manipulate her physically. In which case, what is one to do? Obviously, in an emergency or truly desperate situation I would just wrestle her and drag her away, screaming, but I am, as it goes, reluctant to do this under ordinary circumstances. So, what is to be done? Do I just ride some things out, pick my battles, etc, etc? Or will I spoil her by doing this?

She’s a sweet-tempered baby. With so many things, she is agreeable and adaptable: if, for example, I pull her away from my laptop – as I must do frequently – she lets out a holler and stomps a foot but is over the fuss in a split-second and moves on to something else. In some cases, simply saying, firmly, NO, WonderBaby, will be enough to dissuade her from pursuing whatever nefarious activity she has set her mind to. But often, when she is really, really determined to do or not do something (eat, nap, get in stroller), there is no fighting her.

(On that subject: how does one feed a baby who refuses to eat anything but random bits of cheese and cucumber and the occasional lemon, and who refuses – REFUSES – to be spoon-fed? She’s a healthy girl – the energy level described in my last post, and her seemingly superhuman strength are evidence of this, I think – but she can go days just picking at and playing with her food. Is this a problem? How do I battle it?)

I’ve always intended to exercise a form of discipline that utilizes reasoning and discussion and getting down to child-level and teaching. But I fear that that particular resolution is doomed to the same fate as the no-garish-plastic-toys resolution and the no-DVD/television resolution (let’s just say that the week I was sick, I spent hours hunkered down on the floor in front of the television with the remote control and a stack of DVDs, trying to get Miss Business to sit still and get addicted to the screen already. That I was profoundly disappointed with my failure speaks volumes about how very, very far I have fallen.) I can’t have empowering heart-to-heart talks with WonderBaby about why it is very important to not bite one’s mother. I can’t reason with her about how very unpleasant it is to listen to screaming. She’s a baby.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of raising my voice with her; my heart flips when I think of even speaking harshly to her. I much prefer the idea of firm and gentle – but is it enough with a despot-in-training? (Benevolent, but still.)

Despots-in-training shun toys. Despots-in-training sweep toys from shelves with one flourish of their tiny muscled arms and make those shelves their own. Despots claim territory, and if some idiotic department store employee has left a screwdriver behind with which to dismantle the structures of that territory, so much the better.

What do you all do? What did you do, when your children were very small? When did you begin exercising discipline, and how? And if you have a quote-unquote spirited baby, what do you do now?

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    { 71 comments }

    Jezer October 16, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    I wish I had words of wisdom, but I have none. Even with my relatively laid-back Al, I still say “God Bless Daycare” on Mondays because he wears me smooth out on the weekends (and the evenings, and many nights, and most mornings).

    I will say that before he was born, and especially before I knew he was a HE, I vowed to never let food become an “issue” (mainly because of my own food issues and the havoc they wreaked on my young-woman years, and also because of one of my sisters-in-law who chases her kids around the house with food and hand-feeds them and drives me ba-friggin-nanas). If the boy isn’t hungry, I don’t try to make him eat. Kids get hungry eventually.

    While it’s easy for me to say, “Oh, good for her, that spirited girl!” I also feel for you, her worn-out mommy. Just know that thoughts and wishes for WonderMommy strength and energy are being sent your way.

    Her Bad Mother October 16, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    All of this advice and support is so tremendously helpful. Life-saving, and I’m not exaggerating.

    About the redirection strategy – I’ve tried this, and it works *sometimes*. But if WB is really determined, it’s a bit of a lost cause – she gets totally focussed upon whatever it was she was pursing/doing/whatever and will. not. be. deterred. In which case, I have to remove her entirely from the scene, if I can (easy at home; tough at the mall). (Blog Antagonist – your comment about your experience with this kind of thing was tremendously reassuring.)

    She gets over it, but it can be insanely frustrating.

    So, I’m coming to understand that I really need to be strategic about taking her out, when and where these situations are more difficult to control?

    I also want to add – she really is a good little baby. So sweet. A defiant streak a mile wide – many miles wide – but always defiant with a smile.

    BIG SIGH.

    OSarah October 17, 2006 at 12:24 am

    A friend of mine gave me a great book called Secrets of Discipline – 12 Keys for raising responsible children by Ronald G. Morrish.

    It may not be appropriate at Wonderbaby’s age, but it does have a lot of helpful advice for the future. Perhaps not enlightening, but definitely practical.

    Things like: Never Give a Choice When it Comes to Limits.

    I have found it useful for things like aggressiveness.

    No Hitting. Period.

    Not, “If you hit, then we’ll go home” or “If you hit, then you will have to have a time out”.

    Just, “No Hitting”. Or the newly minted “Hands are not for hitting”.

    HTH.

    Kristen October 17, 2006 at 1:51 am

    on the feeding- just feed her whatever she likes however she likes it. For now if she’s still on formula or breastmilk, she’s still getting what she needs from that. When she switches over to regular milk, you can give her pediasure to make sure she gets all her vitamins and such. And if she won’t eat off of a spoon, cut it up and let her use her hands for now. She is at that age where she just wants to do it herself. and when she’s able, you can just give her the spoon to use herself!

    samalishy October 17, 2006 at 2:23 am

    Some things that worked for us (so far)

    Fight the battles you can win. If its not super important don’t fight it- then you won’t have to give in. Exploration is knowledge.

    Be consistant! If you say no- stick to it. If its not an issue, let it slide without a comment at all. So when you DO use No- you really mean it. We caught ourselves using No waaaaay too liberally then it meant nothing.

    Get down on the floor or sit down so you are on her visual level. Don’t be afraid to hold/hug if she cries/gets mad but let your point sink in and as she gets older use that time to explain actions/consequences.

    Food will happen- relax about it and you will save yourself and baby some anxiety. Continue offering healthy choices and she will eat when she is hungry. Both my kids were and are “grazers” and are very healthy.

    Our kids are VERY spirited and its important for us to keep them that way without sacrificing a healthy dose of structure. Its working out pretty well so far- we are all still trying to find our space in this universe.

    Good Luck and rock on-

    Jozet October 17, 2006 at 2:32 am

    Okay, I’ll shut up after this, I promise. I just love the topic of disicpline and teaching.

    We do “time in”, too. Or a “positive time out”. One of the goals of discipline is to work toward self-discipline and an internal locus of control. Time out should work toward becoming “taking a break” or “cooling down” that adults might use. I verbalize all the time. “I am feeling frustrated. I am going to sit and relax for a few minutes.” I model the behavior and show that taking a “timeout” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With my kids when they were very young, and when my older DD just did not respond to timeout at all, we switched to time-in together. It can be scary for some very little kids to be alone in timeout, so for timeouts to calm down or for some “naughty” behaviors, I would separate with the child, not from. Sort of the “kids don’t act good when they’re feeling bad” thought. Anyway, it’s good to have several forms of timeout and other parenting tactics in your parenting toolbox for different occasions, just in case – like with my daughter – traditional timeout just never worked.

    For biting and pinching and hitting (and we went all through three), putting baby down immediately or moving away can help get the message through. Although, with my girls, I found that I just had to be on top of it and not assume that “this time it won’t happen”. A lot of one-on-one at playdates.

    I’ll also say, I know that WonderBaby is so very young – a baby! – but don’t feel weird about reading ahead in the parenting books and talking the talk even now. Giving choices. saying out loud what the expected positive behvior is. Someday, WonderBaby will get it; for now, it’s good practice and a sort of look ahead down the road to stay in line with what your goals and philosophies are.

    I have two very spirited and storng-willed young ladies. Things like time out and 1-2-3 Magic and punishments in general just don’t work. I’d say, “if you hit your sister, you’re going in time out” and they’d weigh the risk-benefit and decide a little time out or losing a favorite toy was worth smacking their sister. Eesh.

    Anway, I swear I’m done. But this is a great topic, and I’m going to be in the trenches again soon enough with The Adorable Siphon. You’re going great. And WonderBaby is my kinda gal! I can’t help but like strong-willed women of all ages.

    kittenpie October 17, 2006 at 10:15 am

    Oh, what Jozet said about not taking a tired or hungry baby anywhere is so key! It’s just a recipe for disaster. I try to do everything early in the day or after nap if I need to bring her with me.

    And what Jaelithe said about telling her why it’s a no, too. Pumpkinpie does hear “hot” and “dangerous” and “not for babies” and so on, and usually accepts it.

    We do give lots of choices, but sometimes she hears that we need to do something, it’s not a choice.

    And? We try so hard to do it all nicely, but ultimately, we have to remember that we have to be the boss. I remember well telling my greatly-beloved doctor how frustrated I was at around a year, too, with her budding will to say no, and she just shot me a look and told me sometimes we have to be tough with them to get them to do what we know to be right. It’s hard at first, I recall, but as you hit your limit, your resolve will harden a bit, and your skin will get thicker. I have now developed the ability to turn off my ears and am no longer devastated by the “I don’t love you, mommy” trick because I know it’s all passing attempts to push boundaries and tomorrow, she’ll hug me fiercely and love me again.

    mo-wo October 17, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    I just left the following with Mrs. Chicky.. It is important to note:

    Forgive them mother.. for they know not what they do.

    And, sorry she ain’t spirited… she’s smart. Sorry.

    ps.. Let me recommend Montessori from Birth to age 3.. At least get all the energy working on your laundry, right? –

    Lisa b October 17, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Seriously you are doing great. All the right stuff. Hang in there.
    In the next few months (by 18 mo) you will start to see her remembering more and you will be more and more sure that she does understand. You will feel better about giving the time out, or whatever discipline you use bc you will know that it serves its purpose.
    I remember when K was wonderbabies age worrying that it would just get harder and harder. In my experience it didn’t.

    gingajoy October 17, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Hey C–just read the last two posts. You’ve been having a tough time of it, aincha?

    Dealing with “spirited” children. Ha! There’s a good reason there’s a 4 year age gap between this one and numero uno. He was, uhm, let’s say “spirited.” our main problems were earlier–he was colicky. by the time he was 10 months and had got past that, we were just pleased he would sleep at all!

    hmm. what did I do for discipline? man, it pains me. but it’s tough to remember. for one thing, he did not walk until he was 14 months. so try and stem the walking a bit (HA!).
    Here is my list of ways of coping with my kid at that age and it is completly and utterly unhelpful to you. None of this advice is constructive or even healthy. SO it’s not really advice, just a sharing of bad mother tactics with you:
    a) t.v. Baby Einstein and lots of it. I managed to breed in my own t-v obsession with this one, and now it has come back to haunt me. Though I am grateful to always have that as a distraction.

    b) pacifiers. and lots of them. we only got rid of them *last month* (yes–i am BAD mother)

    c) Candy and other assorted food bribes.

    d) Scheduled naps. Protect nap schedule at all time. I was lucky–the baby was a sleeper after the colic passed.

    e) daycare. part time. oh yeah.

    Binkytown October 17, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    I am hesitant to leave advice since I am pretty much flying by the seat of my pants every single minute but I’ve had issues with eating and my advice is to relax. My little man still eats very little at 20 months, or rather eats large quantities of a handful of things. (cheese, bread & bananas). He is just starting to experiment with new things and take an interest in what we eat.
    Last piece of advice. Take a hot bath and tell yourself you are a good mother and this will pass.

    Tats October 17, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    You could have written that same description for my little girl. Usually she’s sweet-tempered, but if you cross her, then whammo. She especially likes to throw things, sweep things onto the floor, slam things, even hit my face.

    I have tried everything. If I move her away from said object, she will return as fast as her little legs will take her. Usually I sit down with her and play a toy that I know she loves (and makes lots of noise) so she will be so distracted she stops whatever she’s doing. But if it’s eating or drinking, then I just give up and let her have it her way. Eventually she’ll be thirsty enough or hungry enough to eat/drink.

    Logic doesn’t work at this age, but distractions do.

    petite gourmand October 17, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    It’s all about distractions for us.
    so far it has been working pretty well.
    There are times when lulu refuses to eat anything other than cheese (her favourite)
    It usually only lasts a couple of days or so.
    Then her normal appetite returns and she usually eats with relative enthusiasm.
    I give her one spoon while I use another to get as much fruit and veg in as I can before she wants “ooout”
    I remember her being especially challenging from around 10 months to around 14 months.
    Things have settled down though.
    But I picked up some pediatric vitamin drops just incase she’s not getting everything she needs from her food.
    good luck.

    petite gourmand October 17, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    It’s all about distractions for us.
    so far it has been working pretty well.
    There are times when lulu refuses to eat anything other than cheese (her favourite)
    It usually only lasts a couple of days or so.
    Then her normal appetite returns and she usually eats with relative enthusiasm.
    I give her one spoon while I use another to get as much fruit and veg in as I can before she wants “ooout”
    I remember her being especially challenging from around 10 months to around 14 months.
    Things have settled down though.
    But I picked up some pediatric vitamin drops just incase she’s not getting everything she needs from her food.
    good luck.

    petite gourmand October 17, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    oops sorry about that.

    Mary October 17, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Found your blog and I love it!

    I have a little bit of input, though it may be too late in your little girls learning to put into play.. And take it with a grain of salt as I myself am not a parrent but to a 4 year old step daughter to be.

    I have, however, worked in many day cares as an infant teacher and am currently a nanny for an 8 month old.

    The thing I have found that works the best is the Montessori approach of positive reinforcement. You never say No, don’t or stop unless it is an EMERGENCY or if you really need the child to stop that insant. Other times, you remove the child from the situation and occupy them with something else.

    The key is to only say no, don’t and stop only when it is crucial that they stop what they are doing- if they don’t hear it all the time, but still know what it means, they will, many times, stop in their tracks.

    Just from what I have experienced!

    Mary

    Her Bad Mother October 17, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    Mary – anyone? – babyhood isn’t too young to start Montessori method? I hadn’t thought about that before.

    Jaelithe October 17, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    I had been using some Montessori techniques with my son from the time he was WB’s age without even realizing it, actually, until much after the fact. The bit about having the kids help you do chores around the house from the moment they can walk around holding something in their hands? I was totally accidentally on top of that!

    When Isaac whined for attention and tried to climb all over me while I was doing laundry, I hit upon the solution of handing him wet clothes and asking him to put them in the dryer, pretending it was a game.

    Now he puts his own dirty clothes in the washer, puts wet clothes in the dryer, and takes dry clothes out of the dryer and puts them in the basket for me. He jumps up and comes running whenever he hears me open the laundry closet door. He actually gets quite annoyed if I do laundry without him.

    I’m gonna have to pinch the first kid that reveals to him the fact that laundry isn’t supposed to be fun.

    Exiled to Canada October 17, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    Um, Distraction never worked for our little guy. And I do mean NEVER. We would try the move him somewhere else try to distract with something else trick but his memory from infancy was UNCANNY. He just can’t be put off of something once he has it in his head that that is what he wants to do, have, eat, etc. So Montessori might work for you but be prepared because it might not. We pick our battles and completely remove him from harmful situations, sometimes this means leaving an area entirely. Now that he is old enough to be reasoned with to an extent, we can talk things out a bit and hopefully that will continue to improve the situation. I think he’s just extremely persistent and pig-headed which is not necessarily a bad thing, just a challenging thing. I hope it means he will be independent and not easily led by his peers, because if that is the case it’s worth the headaches now.

    Mommygoth October 18, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Miss K didn’t walk that early, thank the gods, but otherwise was much as you describe Wonderbaby – off the hook, unreasonable but good natured, completely uninterested in subjugating her will to anyone else’s. My pediatrician and her daycare teacher keep laughing at me and telling me it’s a good thing – it means she will be a strong woman and an independent thinker, but it wears. me. out. I have no advice for you – I wish I did. I think we just have to suck it up and hope that “No, dangerous” and “No, that’s Mommy’s” eventually start to mean something.

    Izzy October 19, 2006 at 1:26 am

    Honestly, if I didn’t know you were speaking of WB, I’d swear you were talking about P. He is her slightly older male doppelganger and a total shock to me. I thought my daughter was a bit spirited. Hah! what a joke. THIS is the baby that makes me realize how ungodly easy I had it the first time around. He has no use for toys, scales my desk and destroys it on a daily basis and can frequently be found standing on the door of the dishwasher unloading knives and glasses. Another trick of his is to climb on top of the toilet to get into the sink. He then sits in the sink and turns on the water and proceeds to waterlog the entire bathroom.

    He has been this way since he discovered locomotion and nothing but nothing slows him down EXCEPT taking him outside to explore and run himself ragged.

    Why do you think I hardly read blogs lately? Because I’m trying to keep him from dialing 911, wrecking $1200 of camera equipment or drinking from the cat bowl by taking him places where he can get his ya ya’s out. Oh and the tantrums have already begun at 16 months.

    Take WB out and let her exhaust herself. That’s my only advice. I hope there are wiser people than myself helping you here! I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone :)

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