Rebel Angel

December 23, 2008

We have a discipline problem in our house, by which I mean to say: discipline, we have none.

We try, we really do. We bargain, we barter, we cajole, we threaten. We will bake cookies, Emilia, if you will just please listen to Mommy! We will bake cookies and have hot chocolate with marshmallows if you will please, please listen to Mommy! Mommy will take cookies away if you do not listen to Mommy! There will be no more cookies, ever, in this house, if you do not this instant start listening to Mommy! Mommy will destroy all the cookies in the world and angels will cry if you DO. NOT. LISTEN. TO. MOMMY. NOW!

But we never prevail. She is stronger than are we, and she knows it. She is patient: she knows that even if she does not get cookies today, there is always tomorrow. And she knows that if she does not get cookies tomorrow, there will be cookies some other day. And she knows that even if Mommy did try to destroy all the cookies and candy and treats in the world – which Mommy would not, because Mommy loves these things too, and she knows it – she would still have a stash, somewhere, to tide her over until the next solicitous neighbor or little old lady or shopping mall Santa slips her a gingerbread man or a candy cane or some other non-holiday-specific confection. Or she will just get the cookies herself, when we’re not looking. She knows how the world works. And she knows that it works in her favor.

She is only just – just – three years old.

She is three years old, and a near-perfect angel when in the care of other authority figures (with the notable exception of my mother, whom she identified early on as possessing a spirit akin to her own and therefore as a potentially dangerous antagonist. Their relationship is loving, but fiery) and, for the most part, when in public. We spent three days at Disney World and Sea World and I – alone in charge of the girl and the infant boy – had very little trouble keeping care: he remained strapped to my chest, and she dutifully (if boisterously) remained within a shout’s reach. But at home, when the only authority is my own and that of her father, and no witnesses are present, all hell regularly breaks loose, and we are helpless to stop it.

Every evening is the same: a battle over the when, where, how and why of dinner, and over the why, how, where and when of bedtime. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say that she uses her wits, her charm, sheer force of will and, sometimes, fists, to forestall sitting still, consuming food, bathing, changing for bed, and getting into and staying in bed. The morning is a variation of this struggle (reverse the order of obstacles), and afternoons, after preschool, are another. The weekends sometime erupt into epic battles, wherein she charges, naked, from room to room, cackling madly, slamming doors and diving under tables, evading our reach and our calls and our pleas for compliance. Please, sweetie, we must get dressed! We must eat lunch! We cannot see Santa/build a snowman/bake cookies unless we are dressed/have had lunch/have stopped pummeling our mother. Sometimes, it is not her physical will that she imposes upon us, it is her will-to-independence, her psychic will-to-power – her willingness to simply ignore whatever it is that we’re saying and go, find a piece of furniture, push it into the kitchen and up next to the cupboards and go in search of cookies on her own, ignoring us as we stand, hands on hips, voices straining, hissing no, Emilia, we said NO. NO. Did you hear me? NO! Emilia, if you DO NOT CLIMB DOWN from that stool THIS INSTANT you are going into your buckle chair (the Stokke knock-off that functions as a naughty seat – which, yes, we strap her into because not even a team of SuperNannies could keep her in there with just a glare) and you will not have ANY cookies today, none at all, and WHERE ON EARTH ARE YOU GOING YOUNG LADY? and in the time that it takes to ask her to get down she’s snatched her contraband and has done a base-slide under the dining room table to make fast work of it.

And we are left, scrambling, pursuing her into corners, sweating and shouting and stumbling gracelessly, two Yosemite Sams to her Bugs Bunny, helpless and ridiculous.

Children, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, are tyrants from the first. Struggling against their natural helplessness, their natural, almost slavish, dependence upon us, they strain to exert their will. Thrust into our world, entirely dependent upon us, they must either dominate us or serve us; according to Rousseau, they invariably – they naturally – choose to dominate. Their every impulse, from their very first wail, is to dominate, and by dominating, compel us to become their servants in turn. Which in so many respects we do. This is why, for Rousseau, mothers are always and necessarily imperfect authoritarians – that is, at least, if they are what he understood to be good mothers, which is to say, unconditionally loving mothers – because they are always, in some important way, subservient to their love for their children, and so less capable of imposing the harshest boundaries and teaching the most difficult lessons.

I love Emilia’s domineering spirit; I truly do. But it frightens and intimidates me and – in some strange, confusing respect – shames me. She is powerful. She is fearless. She looks at the world around her and, for the most part, sees a world that can and should and will be conquered. That is a wonderful and terrible thing. It is wonderful (and this is the part that shames me) because it it is a remarkable, empowering thing, to regard the world as conquerable. It is something that I struggle to recognize for myself – that most of the obstacles that I see, or imagine I see, before me are conquerable. How extraordinary, to view the world through a lens that remains very nearly entirely unfogged by fear! But it is terrible, because – as Rousseau well knew, as we all well know – our children cannot advance into the world in that way, convinced of their utter entitlement to whatever it is that they desire, convinced of their ability to obtain it for themselves, convinced of their invincibility. They need to understand limits, boundaries. They need to understand that they must bend, give way, let go, listen, obey.

Emilia knows these things, at least as they pertain to the public spaces of her world – the spaces of school and neighborhood and friends and family. She is a remarkably polite and courteous and considerate little girl in spaces where authority emanates from some broader sphere or principle or institution, where everybody is expected to bend and give way equally, where everybody gets cookies if they say please (such are the cafes in our town, full of cookies for small children) and where everybody must wait their turn and where everybody must obey the traffic lights regardless of whether they are three feet tall or six. But in the private space of her home, where her parents loom over her like dictators – loving dictators, but still – where rules are issued that it seems only she must follow (no candy before bedtime no cookies before bedtime no playing after bedtime bedtime bedtime bedtime turn out the light put down your toys time for bed time for school time for dinner are you listening?) (she does not see that we deny ourselves – usually – cookies at bedtime. She sees only that we stay up later, and can and do reach the forbidden cupboards whenever we please) she resists. She resists, like (sometimes literally) a tiny little sans-culottes, or a tiny little Robespierre, or some explosive revolutionary hybrid of the two. She resists, and we cave to her resistance, and like France of the late 18C, we go down in flames.

It is, I don’t have to tell you, exhausting. I have, in recent weeks, invoked the coal-delivering incarnation of Santa too many times (a topic for another post, another time: Santa here replaces God, watching us all to see if we are bad or good so be good for goodness sakes) and in so doing broke one of my writ-pre-parenthood Rules Of Parenting (thou shalt not threaten thy children with retribution from Higher Powers, seasonal or otherwise); I also, just yesterday evening – OH THE SHAME – slapped her tiny hand – I did, I did – not at all hard, but still – after taking one too many punches from her wee flying fists (thereby breaking my hardest and fastest rules: thou shalt always endeavor to not react in anger, and thou shalt not ever, EVER hit thine children.)

I feel like the worst shit. But I also feel like a helpless shit, one who is fighting a losing battle.

What do I do? What do you do?

For what it’s worth, and because some of you have asked – we do enforce our threats. Time-out in her buckle chair is time-out in her buckle-chair – no negotiations. But she almost invariably, after time-out is over, bounds out of the chair and back into whatever she was doing that warranted the buckle-chair in the first place. We do physically stop her when, for example, she is stealing cookies (after giving her the opportunity to cease theft on her own), and our bargaining efforts escalate because she always raises the stakes – no cookies? She doesn’t care. No cookies tomorrow? Doesn’t care. NO COOKIES EVER? Whatever. She knows that there’s no such thing as a world devoid of cookies.

Help.

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    { 138 comments }

    Laural Dawn December 24, 2008 at 9:11 am

    My son is 4 1/2.
    Right around his 4th birthday I discovered the book “The Explosive Child”.
    The focus is on kids who explode, and kids with problems like ADHD, etc.
    BUT, the way discipline is explained is incredible.
    For us time outs/threats weren’t working and I was getting angry and shouting.
    I shout far less and Matt is way more cooperative. It also lays the groundwork for better communication.
    It’s worth a read (in all your spare time).
    And, just to clarify, I’m suggesting you read it for what they say, NOT because I think Emilia has ADHD.

    chichimama.com December 24, 2008 at 9:11 am

    My oldest is the child of which you speak. I have no suggestions other than what you are already doing (be consistent, etc etc). For us, the threat that worked the best was the TV, as he knew we could take that one away and it would never come back, and he loved his half-hour of TV before dinner. Cookies, eh, there will always be cookies ;-) .

    He is finally coming out of the awful defiance in the home stage, and has turned into a lovely child. He has finally channeled all that defiance into very perceptive and rational questioning (equally frustrating, but at least not in an anger provoking way.

    I won’t lie, it was a LONG, HARD few years. And I totally understand why some parents throw up their hands and give up, as we came very close several times. Keep persevering. It will pay off, eventually.

    Jennifer A. December 24, 2008 at 9:41 am

    My older daughter was slightly easier to disicpline. We used time outs, if she hit us with a toy, we took it away. There were rewards for good behavior, punishments for bad. And it normally worked.
    With out son, who’s going to be 4 in a few weeks, time outs are a joke. You can take away a toy and he doesn’t care. So we do time ins. We comment how nice his behavior is when he’s good and pretty much ignore him when he’s having a temper tantrum (we do make sure he’s not hurting himself, but that’s about it). His speech is delayed so we have to remind him to use his words and not hit. Othertimes when he refused to tell us anything and stands in the kitchen screaming,I walk away and tell him that when he wants to use his words, come find me or dad. its not easy, but its working for us.

    Brandi December 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Merry Christmas!

    Doesn't get it December 24, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Can someone explain to me why forcibly buckling a kid in a chair is considered a better disciplinary method than spanking.

    The principle of non-spanking is non-violence. Forcibly tying someone down is hardly non-violent.

    I also don’t see that humiliating a child by having them march in place in public is superior to spanking.

    The non-spanking orthodoxy seems to have produced alternatives that are, if not worse, certainly not better.

    Her Bad Mother December 24, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    How on earth is buckling a child into a chair violent? We don’t drag her kicking and screaming – she is carried to the chair and she sits and we buckle her in. She protests verbally but there’s little to no physical struggle. And even if there was physical struggle, physical struggle is not of necessity violent (otherwise, every mother of every toddler ever would have exerted violence upon her child just getting him or her into a car seat.)

    Spanking causes pain. It is believed to deter because it causes pain. Buckling a child into a booster chair does not cause pain nor the slightest discomfort. If all restraint is violence, then all children in our society suffer it constantly.

    Anonymous December 24, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    I’d like to respectfully point out that contrary to what some people say here, spanking *does* work for some parents and some children, however it is not a discipline for every parent or for every child.

    I was spanked as a kid and it worked for me. I did not repeat the behavior that earned me that spanking, and the idea of getting one stopped me from making other “bad” decisions–which is exactly what you want discipline to do.

    I don’t remember ever questioning my parents love for me (so far as I can remember) as a result of a spanking. For my brother, however, it didn’t work. My parents had to use other means, because for him, the spanking was over with (even if it did hurt) too soon for it change his behavior.

    But spanking is not for every parent either. If it hurts a mother’s soul to discipline her child in that way, then certainly she should not do it. Nor is it for a parent who is so emotionally caught up in the situation that they are not very aware of their physical bearing over the child. What I mean here is that it is okay to inflict a little corrective pain but one certainly doesn’t want to harm a child.

    I know there are people who will not separate the two–who will say that inflicting any pain is harmful. I respectfully disagree. Someone above said that when her child hits her, she slaps their hands, because it is better they should learn that hitting hurts from their parent, who loves them, than from someone who will simply punch them in the face in retaliation. I agree.

    I am NOT advocating parents who domineer over children, intimidating them into goodness, threatening them with pain. BUT, some children at young ages DO need to learn that there are physical limits and there are physical consequences to actions. And they do need to learn that their parents are capable of physically controlling them if need be. I, for one, think it is OKAY to use restraint, time outs, and spanking–all physical types punishments–because some kids understand themselves and their worlds as a primarily physical one, and consequences don’t mean much unless it is a physical one.

    I want to be clear, though, that the big big big condition is that whatever a parent uses–whether it’s physical or not–it should be done calmly, it should be done with instruction so the kid knows exactly why they are receiving the punishment, it should not inflict harm, and the kid should know throughout the entire time that they will have an opportunity in the very near future to do better, and that mom and dad love them.

    Parents can go over the line with physical and non-physical punishments. I remember the time my mother publicly shamed me for smarting off to her. It was a more appropriate “punishment” considering my age, but the way in which she did it…I hope I will never do that to my girls. It cut me down. It changed the way I thought of my mom for a long time. It made me question whether she was really on my side (and, as I said before, I was spanked).

    As a parent, spankings are not our primary form of discipline, because we find that other forms usually work just as well. But, if they’re having a particularly bad day… if those other punishments aren’t working, or if one (or both) of our girls are being holy terrors out in public and their behavior merits more than just “losing a privelege,” we calmly escort them to the nearest restroom. I tell them exactly what they’re doing that is unacceptable, tell them exactly what they need to do to fix it, then tell them they’re getting a spanking because I shouldn’t have to take them to the bathroom to get them to behave. Then it’s usually three swats to the behind. I’ll ask her if she understands everything I’ve said. Then I usually hug her and tell her that I know she’ll do better. I have tried this exact same routine without the spanking, and honestly, the talk is usually forgotten within about 10 minutes. But with the spanks, 98% of the time, the problem is completely resolved. But again, that is us, that is our girls, and it works for us. It might not work for other people.

    So you see, there is no one right or wrong method. If a parent can shame a kid because of their bad behavior, and the kid learns to do better from it, and the kid still knows that mom loves him/her after it’s all said and done… then perhaps that is what works best for that family.

    Discipline is such a personal and hot button issue. There are families that use methods that I would never dream of, but that doesn’t make them *wrong* in my book. The bottom line is that parents should be allowed to use whatever corrective method works best for them and their children (again, as long as it is not harmful) without being judged as “horrible, awful, bad, not-very-good parent.”

    Lin December 24, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I’m a grandmother, and perhaps like your Mum, I’m feisty. I don’t believe spanking a child is necessary although I well understand how it sometimes happens. Don’t sweat it. She won’t remember it. I also don’t believe that talking, talking, talking to a child is always necessary. Too many words that they’re not listening to and which are frustrating you even more.

    Most of the time young children know when they’re pushing buttons, making you nuts, stepping over the invisible line, etc. Instead of attention from talking, I think perhaps firmly grabbing her arm (trying hard not to leave marks…jk) and leading her briskly back to her time-out spot the minute she screws up in a way that makes you nuts. Because of the shock of your reaction, she’ll normally carry on walking quickly beside you instead of dragging her heels or going limp. While you’re walking there and she is in shock, that’s when you say, “I have told you many times…and then say whatever story it is you need to share with her. And then, When you do these things I have TOLD you (not asked you, TOLD YOU) not to do, you will be punished immediately. We will not talk about it.

    Three years old rarely need to be asked much of anything, unless it involves their feelings. Often, when we’re telling young children what they can and can’t do, it sounds as if we’re asking them not to do something.

    Hope this helps. She’s darling!

    Veronica Mitchell December 24, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Best piece of parenting advice I ever received was from my sister: “You can’t make them stop doing something; you can only teach them that doing it is expensive.” Eventually she will decide the consequences outweigh the rewards. It just takes longer than we’d like. My oldest has some similarities to Emilia, and some of the things I have tried to train her out of took a year or more to really change.

    The other thing I have learned with 4 small kids is to focus on one or two things I want them to learn. There’s time for the other stuff later. If not-hitting is the big thing you want her to learn, structure the whole day around it. Let some of the other issues slide for awhile, and make that The Big Lesson for a month or two, or however long it takes till it has sunk in. Of course, there will be relapses, but you can handle those if they come later.

    I wouldn’t necessarily blame the hitting on the boys she sees. Kids have teeth and hands and feet and will use them when they are mad, even if they never see anyone else do the same. My girls have certainly never seen me bite anyone, but they sure went through a biting phase. As for your many commenters who insisted that their children only did such things once, um, I cannot imagine any wrong thing that my kids only did ONCE. Training always takes time. That’s why they’re born small. One reason, anyway.

    Ozma December 25, 2008 at 12:41 am

    They like limits. It doesn’t seem like it but they do.

    123 Magic is a great book.

    There are a bunch of things. NEVER HIT but BE SCARIER.

    Also, make up a small list of totally non-negotiable rules. Talk them over with your husband. Memorize them. Then: Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Then act incredibly horrified and shocked if she ever violates them.

    Repetition is crucial. Just constant and firm and extremely specific in the rules.

    You have to be really calm. It makes you more intimidating.

    Stare her down. Say ‘look into my eyes.’ Sounds bizarre but this works on my daughter. You really have to show you have more power. It sounds so blunt…I know there will be touchy-feeling moms who will object. But let me say that I never use physical force with my child. And I don’t have to as long as I’ve managed to be powerful psychologically.

    Finally, if your kid is smart and willful you may just need to give her an excuse to obey. Like kind of make things that are not important seem like her idea.

    In a VERY short time that will seem like an ETERNITY she will reach the age where she can be reasoned with. Still, be as scary as you can without ever being mean, angry or physical. Just intimidating. Like an immovable rock. But she will start to cooperate and want to cooperate and understand how to do it.

    For example, we flew on a plane and she actually played with her toys while I napped. Why? I explained to her how tired I was. Never got out of her seat. (We did have a few very brief incidents here and there on this trip…but easy.)

    Last night she said (after the turning off of the light, which she resists) “See mommy? I didn’t complain. I thought about it but I decided not to do it.”

    We are having lots of moments like this. She told me that when I wasn’t around, and there were cookies and healthy food, she ate the healthy food first and then the cookies.

    Another thing is to constantly reinforce good behavior. Just ALL the time. If my kid does something bad, I act really shocked. I’m like: I can’t believe it! That’s SO UNLIKE YOU! You are always so considerate (or whatever).”

    Whenever she is good, tell her how you appreciate it. Even if it is for 2 minutes and she’s been a nightmare for the previous hour.

    Two shocking things about the super willful child (1) They love rules and boundaries. It makes them feel safe. Everyone says this. It’s really true. (2) They are constantly testing you. Everyone says this. It’s also true. The way to win? NEVER GIVE IN. NEVER. NEVER.

    You have to out willful them for a period of time and then they are happy that you did that. They want to know you are the strong one. I know it doesn’t seem like that.

    My kid is INTENSE. Seriously, this is not an easy kid. If she came around, so will yours.

    She’s still a total handful. But a manageable handful.

    Anonymous December 25, 2008 at 1:41 am

    I dealt with the cookie thing by telling my daughter we shouldn’t(not couldn’t)have cookies NOW…there won’t be any later when we REALLY want them. It also worked with going out…we have to get dressed and go NOW so we can come back LATER. She always seemed to feel more in control of the situation when I gave her a glimpse of the future. She’d get this little look of Oooohh, riiiight, of COURSE on her face and off we’d go onto the next thing.
    I don’t know if something like that would work with your little one but I taught pre-school for a while and discovered that it worked with most of the three year olds.

    Jennifer December 25, 2008 at 11:30 am

    It seems like the cookies are a big problem. I would not introduce any more cookies into your home. And not allow her to ask for them in public until she follows the rules at home. But I am pretty authoritative when it comes to that sort of thing. I think I scare my husband sometimes with how strictly I enforce our rules.

    Good luck. And this was a great post.

    Kate December 25, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Hey, I normally lurk, but wanted to recommend he book “Love and Logic for the Earlier Years”. Really nice, simple, low-key approach to discipline that’s been helpful to me with my bouncing-off-the-walls two-year-old.

    Anonymous December 25, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Big hugs! and another round of drinks on me.

    My assvice:
    Stop talking so much. “No” without explanation is more effective. Stop negotiating. Decide where you need to have a power struggle on the non-negotiable issues, let the rest go. Choices and natural consequences [refusal to put on shoes? I let it go and she walked barefoot across the gravel in a parking lot in December - never had a problem with shoes ever again].

    We have a strong willed 8 year old – not as spirited as yours – but with a will that CANNOT be broken. We’ve tried. But it will BEND. Given an ultimatum, she wins every time for a variety of reasons [e.g. no bath, then no dinner]. Given the ability to chose between bath before dinner or after, then she will tell me which. Notice she has no choice about a bath or dinner but can control the order. It works. It takes parental ENERGY, which is thin on the ground for you right now, so if it works once or twice, I’ll buy the drinks that time, too.

    As far as the smack on hand. Aww. Another hug. Welcome to my private hell. I’ve done this about 5 times and I totally hate myself for it. I don’t if that’s worse than when I have the occasional perimenopause tantrum, but I’m certain that my daughters will let me know.

    If anyone has any advice on dealing with an 8 year old lawyer in training or a 12 year with ADHD going in to puberty, then I’m all ears. Mojitos anyone?

    Karen December 26, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Catherine – I didn't have time to read all the other commentors, so sorry if you are getting duplicate assvice here. Our Henry (4 now) is extremely strong willed – had to be to survive some early health issues – like you we know it is a gift of sorts, but it is a gift that regularly kicks our ass as parents. We have two other much less strong willed children. It is like a bad comedy routine around here. With him, we feel incompetent often. He rages against the machine at home & complies fairly easily at school.

    One book did help – Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Harvey Karp – it may sound too young for Emilia, but it goes through age 4.

    Like you we avoid what battles we can, but still end up standing on our heads to get him to eat dinner, but we have a few tricks that work – a timer for dinner, so we don't have talk about it every night. If the timer beeps & dinner is uneaten, there is no bedtime story. It is now a fact of life, not a mommy & daddy idea…does that makes sense?
    The book is clearer than I am on the day after the Christmas frenzy & joy, but email me if you want to about it. It saved our but when we couldn't potty train him or get him to eat anything but a cereal bar for two months….oh and also when he kept climbing the window casings…good times, as the old ladies at church remind me "treasure these years." We are trying.

    april December 26, 2008 at 11:41 am

    My now five year old daughter was a nightmare! The ages of 2 to 4 are a blur of tears, yelling, and time-outs. Do you know what worked? Age…she’s grown up and everything is clicking into place. She now instructs my youngest on the proper social behavior and offers gentle reminders of the expectations. I can’t believe it, but I find her downright edible now!!!

    What did work, at least for my husband, was to act like a total incompetent dote. He would pretend he didn’t know how to put his pants on and throw himself in the floor. He would pretend the pants were flying in circles all around the floor and told my daughter there was no way she could tame the pants and jump into them. He killed her with humor and it TOTALLY WORKED! But, alas, when I do all the preparation and have 15 minutes to get out the door with three kids…Let’s just say I can’t call on the spirit of Steve Martin in the jerk to get us there faster. I bet you guys are doing an excellent job with your child. If you just keep hammering away, letting her know the expectations, behaving reasonably yourselves, the rest will fall into place. As I said I have three kids and my middle just took a while longer for things to *CLicK*!

    Dinner time was the only thing she actually was good at. Our rule at home is we say a blessing (it DOES NOT have to be of christian origin) just the out loud proclamation that the meal is before you and you are thankful). This signified the start of the meal. Then all bets were off. Their food was left there and they could choose to run around or eat. Most kids aren’t able to sit still, they eat when they are hungry. Sometimes they’d only take a few bites and run around, never to finish the meal. BUT we never fought them on it. When we went out they always behave. They know that the rules are different for a public place and it’s easy to communicate that when we’re so lenient in this one area in the privacy of our home. IF they decide they want to act up. I take them in the bathroom stall and sit on the toilet holding them as they kick and scream while I repeatedly use my jedi mind trick of repeating the sentence “we will sit in here until you are able to sit at our table and behave” on a continual loop. They don’t like that much and straighten out quick.

    My grandfather used to say…there’s nothing wrong with that child that growing up won’t fix! You lay the foundation through modeling and reminders and it will work out! Keep on trucking, many of us know your pain!

    neeser December 26, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Ditto what April said. Humor can diffuse a bad situation pretty quick, and now, all of a sudden, they WANT to pay attention to what you are saying and doing.

    The only problem is sometimes we just don’t have it in us to be funny. We just want the kids to straighten up and OBEY, darn it!

    My husband is better at this than I am… but I am so glad he is able to do it.

    Haley-O December 26, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Oh wow, do I ever relate to this post. The “disciplining” is constant, and I don’t have a solid game plan. We do the threats, the bribes, the “time out.” One thing that tends to work well — that a friend of mine insists on — is the “1 – 2 – 3.” This gives them a little time to act out, and then they know that when “3″ comes ’round, we mean business. It usually works. All I have to do, if she doesn’t behave by “3″ is shut her door if we’re in her room (even if I’m there, she hates it), or I put her on her time out chair…. The threat of time out seems to work well for us.

    But, it is exhausting. I feel like I’m constantly chasing her….

    Jan December 27, 2008 at 12:18 am

    Some thoughts from someone who has worked for more than 25 years in the field of child development with kids from birth – school-age: You say you are helpless a couple times in this post. Your child may be picking up on this and using it to her advantage. You are not helpless- you are bigger than her. Keep it simple. Pick a few important rules and stick to them. Don’t ask Please or tell her she “must” do something- kids don’t feel they “must” do anything and they have all the time in the world to resist you. Don’t beg her to behave. It should be “if/then: if you do this, then this will happen. This applies to good and bad behavior. Don’t buy any more cookies, then there will be no need for her to drag a chair over and get them. She can have them at parties and from Santa, because there will always be cookies. I know I am making this sound simple but it is not. I struggle with my own boy at times and I had been working with kids for 20 years before I had him. Some kids are tougher than others and it may always be hard for your girl to accept limits. But don’t give up. Good Luck.

    Aurelia December 27, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I’m with Jan above me. Delurking to say that yes, there is such a world as a place with no more cookies or other treats. Just don’t buy them, and when the people in cafes or other places offer them, say no thank you. If you have to have treats in the house, lock them up. If she sees you stay up, tell her too bad, different rules for grown ups.

    I have three very willful boys, 12, 8 and a new baby just about the same age as your son. Your daughter sounds the same as my sons at that age, so we got rid of everything in the house that was a treat, took all the stuff out of his room, and if he hit or threw a tantrum, he lost all fun and privileges.

    ALL of them.

    It was very very hard, but we never allowed him to win, because we knew we’d be dead meat if he ever did. You are going to have to go right back to the start, and just make some rules and enforce them, no mercy, no nothing. And why is there any kind of stash in her room? Children do not have the right to privacy when it comes to health and safety. Search her room, regularly. Start now and you won’t have to figure out how when she becomes a teen, cause trust me, you’ll be searching it when she turns 13.

    This may sound harsh but I got my parenting philosophies from Barbara Coloroso. You should get her books. Then follow the advice.

    If you let this go on like it is, you are in for a nightmare later on. If she thinks she is in charge, she will run roughshod over you for her entire life. It killed me when the first kid cried and wept and demanded their own way, but I steeled myself and now he asks politely. I laughed when the second kid threw a tantrum. Puh-lease. Much easier to say no when you are used to it.

    And now they are both incredibly polite, nice kids. They have their moments and I blog about it, but those really are the only times they misbehave.

    On a separate note, I meant to email you, because I am adopted and found my birth mother, and I know you are going through some issues like this. If you would like some help, or just want to chat, please email me. (I promise not to be so bossy on that subject!)

    Mimi December 27, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Sorry, I’m late to the party because I’ve been busy salving the wounds inflicted by my spirited 2.5 year old. She’s not so physically wily as Emilia, but she’s STRONG and has that same will.

    Hon, we’re going through exactly the same thing, and reacting in the same ways. I won’t give you advice. I’ll just say, hell, me too and pass the egg nog.

    Anonymous December 28, 2008 at 11:50 am

    My mom says that the best way to calm a kid down is to catch them being good and reward them for it, and the best way to stop them being bad, unless it is a physical emergency (they are running out in front of a car), is to turn your back on them. It may have worked – I’m extremely well behaved : ). I’m sure it isn’t going to fix everything, but it might be a tool for your arsenal. My heart goes out to you.

    Booba Juice December 28, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    First of all let me say, you have made my year. Finding your blog, and being able to read about you and your world, have let me know that I am not alone, that at least in one spot on this world, there is another little three year old girl, so much like my own, that I am sure they must be twins.

    So that being said, I do not have any answers for you. I too have tried the cycle of EVERYTHING! I have tried just to remind myself that I believe that God put some wonderful traits in my daughter, and someday, with his help, she will grow into a beautiful woman, one who is strong, and will do a great many wonderful things. And in the mean time, I try to see, and enjoy those moments when she is peacefull, and happy. I treasure those moments and try to bring them back to mind when my little tyrant is waling against the injustace that I impose upon her. :-)

    Lu December 28, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    I have two boys who are older, and when they start acting all crazy we make them do pushups until they cant push anymore. I just read on Twitter that someone said your buckle chair was violent or whatever, so I am sure my option sounds like Gitmo. That being said, it works on older boys. They really hate pushups. And the bonus is if anyone messes with them on the playground I am quite sure they can hit harder.

    Parenting at its finest.

    iMommy December 29, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Wonderfully written, despite how absolutely maddening this must be.

    I’m no expert. Far, far from it. I’ve only just managed to figure out how to deal with my own little darling; and all children are their own people with their own issues and wants and needs.

    But if I found you in my situation, I might decide to spend every single bit of my energy for several weeks, knowing it would be hard and horrible and that I would cry nearly every night, making sure she understood that Mommy and Daddy are to be listened to. And I would probably do this by instituting a policy of one warning, then time out. Three minutes, since she is three years old. Three minutes at every time out, and if she gets out of that chair and goes right back to it, another three minutes. I would require an apology after time out. I would make sure that the little time that she wasn’t in time out she would have hugs and kisses and love, love love…. but that if she broke the rules? Time out.

    I would also spend every moment that she wasn’t in time out making sure to tell her what I DID like about what she was doing. Sitting and playing quietly? I’d tell her that Mommy is proud that she is sitting and playing quietly like a big girl. Holding hands in the parking lot? I’d praise it. And I’d try to show her, with every fiber of my being, that if she wants Mommy and Daddy’s attention and approval at home, that means following rules.

    Oh, so much easier said than done. So, so much easier to type here, where there is no screaming in my ear (at the moment)… but that’s my advice. Know that it will be hard, but you and your husband could resolve to dedicate yourself to this one task. Forget laundry and housework and fun activities… just this one thing.

    If you get desperate enough, it might be worth a try. And it might work.

    Most of all… know deep in your heart that for how stubborn she seems.. you can win! You can prevail! you are older, wiser, more stubborn than she! If you believe it, she’ll feel it… and she’ll respond.

    ewe are here December 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    I’m behind, but had to comment.

    This post completely freaks me out, because it really sounds like BooBaaa, our now 21 month old, in soooo many ways. We’re already struggling with Mr Spirited Plus, and I can’t even imagine what he’s going to be like by the time he hits three. Heck, he already thinks he’s three like his brother!

    Bea December 29, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Interesting reading you’ve got here. I notice that there are two schools of thought:

    (1) the Discipline Boot Camp approach of stripping all privileges and starting a new regime using any one of a variety of methods (the most popular of which seems to be the one-warning-only rule)

    (2) the Pick Your Battles approach of letting the unimportant things slide and focusing your energy on one problem at a time.

    I prefer the second approach – it was the one I was taught at a behaviour management seminar I attended last summer. As much as possible, look for environmental solutions (locks on cupboards, no cookies in the house, etc.). That done, address one behaviour at a time. The behaviour analysts were (unsurprisingly) really interested in documentation: keep track of exactly when and how often the behaviour occurs and then look for patterns. If the hitting always occurs at mealtime, try the scrambled eggs approach. Once you’ve decided on your strategy, all that record-keeping can also show you if your strategy is working.

    Personally, I’ve never actually done the record-keeping because it seemed like a lot of effort. But I like the idea in theory – and I like the idea of becoming more lax in as many areas as possible and focusing all your disciplinary energy on one thing so that you’re not suddenly turning your house into a police state.

    zchamu December 30, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Talked to a friend of mine, a mother of a 3 year old, about this. Immediate and final consequences. “If you do not stop X rotten behaviour, that toy right there is going in the garbage.” Behaviour doesn’t stop. Toy gets picked up, marched to bin, goes in garbage. “Nooooo Mommy nooooooo I’m sorry Mommy noooooooo!” doesn’t matter. Toy/book/whatever in garbage. Permanently. And it works. Behaviour stops and generally doesn’t recur.

    Mamalang December 30, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I have a long winded story to tell that ends with the fact that my MIL, who definitely believed in spanking as a parent, decided after earning a degree in pyschology, that spanking was bad. After watching several of her friends that earned those degrees with her raise their now teenage children with only timeouts as discipline, she has re-thought her stance on spanking.

    My children only earned swats for very bad behavior and only after at least one warning.

    But I will also advise you, that you have to find the right “reward” to remove. No cookies isn’t working…it takes time, but you have to find that item. For my oldest, as a school age child, it was making her go to soccer practice, dressed for school, and watch practice. Just missing practice wasn’t enough…she would have just entertained herself some other way. She was required to participate whenever the coach talked to team, but she was not allowed to actually participate in the running and kicking. And when someone asked why, she had to explain. I’m sure that someone will talk about how we demoralized and embarassed her, but after the third time of her getting into some pretty serious trouble at school, we had to find what worked. TV, Treats, etc didn’t work, but this did.

    Good luck. And while it probaby isn’t that comforting, most children do act much worse at home, where they feel more secure. The fact that she is willing to be so willful speaks to how secure she feels in your love.

    the new girl January 1, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Are you still reading these comments? LOL. There is a lot of info here.

    1-2-3 Magic is great. Hitting = automatic time out. Consistency is the absolute key (along with non-emotion.) Choice giving between two favorable (to you) options and I agree with Bea re: the environmental solutions.

    Often times, too, kids who are able to ‘hold it together’ outside the home or in school do so because there is increased structure in those places…adding some consistent structure, schedule, etc. can also be helpful.

    Anonymous January 2, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Piling on:

    favorite toys banished to the penalty box [top of the wardrobe or attic] for various amounts of time depending on infraction, but you have to announce the time up front and follow through;

    my sitter used to punish us by having us stand on one foot, no hands with our nose touching the wall – it takes about 2 seconds for an active kid to become compliant – and you can use it anywhere! [bonus!]

    we’ve found the counting method effective, too.

    Hang in there . . .

    Crystle January 3, 2009 at 3:05 am

    OMG, I stumbled across your blog and LMAO right now at this post. It’s as if I could have written it myself. I too have a fiesty 3 yo by the name of Emilia, who is by the sounds of it, your Emilia’s twin. Just want you to know, you are not alone, and perhaps the name is the problem? LOL

    Gunfighter January 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Wow.

    The good thing is, that they finally get the idea about rules by the second or third time they get arrested.

    Poppy Buxom January 4, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    A lot of people resist establishing routines with the first child, but when the second comes along, the value of routine and discipline becomes clear.

    Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to parent when you don’t have to convince your child to bathe and go to bed. Trust me. It’s a good thing when the answer to the question “Why do I go to bed at 8:00?” is “Because 8:00 is bed time!”

    I have an 11 and 13 year old and your daughter is the perfect age to do 1-2-3 Magic. There is a book and a video–you should check them out.

    You might look into it and think “it’s like training a dog.” And it is. But for her own safety’s sake, you must establish a hierarchy. She must understand who is boss.

    It’s also a good thing for the sake of your sanity. Who needs to explain that 8:00 is bed time every single night?

    denverdoni January 5, 2009 at 4:39 am

    I don’t want to scare you but watching the videos reminds me that this child of yours is so much like my oldest. She was just too gifted and I believe had to create challenges in everything she did to amuse herself. Get ready for a rough ride. She could be quite charming and had all of her teachers enthralled with her giftedness, which allowed her to get by with many shenanigans she shouldn’t have. BTW she is 34 now and mother of two beautiful children and a software engineer, still able to pull the wool over her boss’ eyes. Your little Emelia is just one who is too smart to toe the line! love your blog.

    pisceshanna January 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Egg Timer
    Love & Logic
    Happiest Toddler on the Block
    Counting
    Choices
    Timeouts in her room (taking away your company)

    If you say no more cookies, throw them in the trash and don't buy/make more. Show her you are serious. Then catch her doing something good and say "Yay the cookies can home back to the house!"

    "Pay attention to what you like, and ignore/discourage the rest."

    Mine is only 2.5 but she does all this stuff too. I can't wait till 3.

    beyondjems January 7, 2009 at 1:00 am

    I'm new here. But your Emelia is like my Emma. I always said Emma's motto in life is run first, think later. She's fearless & can look deep into my eyes like I'm a piece of shit that she can live without. She once sat in time out for 45 min as a 2 yo because she refused to pick up the cheerios she dumped out of her bowl. (Yes, I know it's a minute per year old. but it wasn't working. I'd take her out of time out & try to even help her pick up the cereal and she'd refuse. So I'd put her back in.) I insisted she pick it up & put it in the bowl. Know what she did – she ate it off the floor when I was out of the room. Looking at me like "it's not in the bowl, take that you…"

    I've used time outs and smacked hands and spanked butts. But the most effective thing for me has been to remove her from me. "You've lost your turn to be with mommy. It makes me sad when you do this. It hurts my feelings, etc. You can't be with me until you follow the rules." Then I'll make her sit somewhere she can't see me. It kills her. TIme out seemed to not be a big deal to her for quite some time. But losing time with me was key. Turned her behavior around very quickly. Good Luck!

    Stacy January 8, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I don’t have kids (so discount this if you want) but have babysat and taught religious school a lot. One thing that’s worked for me when a kid’s getting in trouble with an item (can’t share a toy, can’t stop stealing cookies, etc.) is to put the OBJECT in time-out, rather than the KID. (say “wow! it looks like you’re having trouble using that properly!” and put it on top of the fridge or something).

    I also agree with the idea of not buying cookies for a while.

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