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.


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    fidget December 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    it’s a good thing I didnt bring Tessa with me when we met. Chances are we would have wound up tied to chairs and my car keys stolen.

    The best thing I ever started to do was sit down and tell Tessa the rules.

    I told her what she could do first and then what was a no no. After that every single time she did something she knew was wrong, I picked her up and took her directly to the corner (or the buckle chair in your case)

    I did this wordlessly and consistently. There was about 2 weeks where i felt like a damn prison warden

    slowly but surely things in the house improved.

    Now that she’s older we make her march in place. She hates it but it can be done anywhere (enforceable AND embarrassing)

    I think you did a remarkable job while on vacation with 2 kids ALONE

    Christina December 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Cordy has recently started doing many of the same things. (Which, btw, can I tell you how annoying it is for her special ed teacher to tell me that this is great because she’s exhibiting typical behavior for a 4 year old!)

    We’ve tried the bargaining, and it takes little time before kids learn to exploit that. Anytime I tell her she can have one cookie, she immediately says “No, 10 cookies!” and the haggling begins.

    My recent strategy is to give two choices for anything, with accompanying effects from those choices. She can stop what she’s doing and we’ll do something we both like, or she can continue and will go to time out.

    When time out doesn’t work, we start looking for things that mean a lot to her. Each further breaking of the rules results in one of her favorite items going away. We don’t say for how long, but her toys always come back the next day. If we needed to, it would be longer.

    She once went to bed in a nearly empty room due to a particularly bad day. I even took away her favorite blanket. Now I need to only threaten to take away something important and she stops.

    I know you’re strong willed. Meet her will with an iron will of your own. Hold firm. And then drink when she’s in bed.

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I haven’t had chance to read all the other comms so hope I’m not repeating! My little boy is 3.5 and so far has been pretty good. I’ve always been of the opinion that so long as they behave in public and at other people’s houses then I don’t really care how he plays up at home.

    However when he does decide to play up I try very very hard to ignore him. He doesn’t want to eat, I ask him three times if he wants it, he still says no then it goes in the bin and he can go hungry. He learnt pretty quickly that not having lunch wasn’t that great and if he didn’t eat dinner then it was hard going to bed hungry.

    He doesn’t want to put a coat on? He gets cold. I buy so many treats in a week, he steals them. Oh well, there’s none when he is allowed them. I don’t brgain, I don’t cajole. I just shrug and let him learn that his actions have consequences. Is she enjoying the reaction, is it the thrill of the battle for her? Take away the battle and see what happens.

    And the tapping hands? Oh man, my son has had so many tapped hands and legs. He’s perfectly fine and a very well behaved child. I find a little smack every now and again makes for a much happier child than the ones who get yelled at 10 times a day. What works for you works be it a smack or a yell. If your child respondes then do whatever it takes.

    Don Mills Diva December 23, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Oh Catherine,

    I sooo feel this post. It has just over the last few weeks dawned on me that Graham’s tantrums, his excitement, his refusal to listen is escalating to thepoint where it not so cute anymore. Almost overnight it’s gotten out of control. I seem to have no authority at all anymore and that’s a terrifying prospect going forward.

    I’m afraid I have no advice, but I will be rereading every single one of these comments…

    Amy December 23, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    As others have said, you could have been writing about my 3 year old daughter. We had her baby brother in September, so between that & her turning 3 in November, I lost my sweet girl and now have a little monster about 50% of the time. Only she acts up in public, too. I've resorted to spanking (never say never) and it worked for some time, but now she doesn't care, plus I hate doing it. So now we're back to time outs again. I like the buckling in idea, sounds much better than the 3 hour Supernanny standoffs we have had. Hang in there!

    Twinsma December 23, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I have no assvice for you since I am currently dealing with the beginnings of this with my twins. One listens like a dream, the other completely ignores me and his daddy. I hope that it really does get better because mine are only 20 months and I’m expecting #3 in a few short months. I have absorbed the advice of the other commenters though and I can see a few things I have been doing wrong myself. I think from now on I’m going to start putting some of this into practice. I’m one of the beggars myself. I don’t spank and I have only smacked hands at very bad things like touching light sockets, playing with electrical cords, etc. I have all the safety measures you can imagine in my house but they still find those few things I missed on the first trip through, you know? Reserve the hand smacks for the really bad stuff and it truly does get their attention. Good luck dear with all of it and I hope that you found some advice in the other commenters that helped.

    anniemom December 23, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I know. I know. And I know. Here’s the skinny from child psychologist land…

    Get a book (again, I know) called 1-2-3 Magic. It’s a system being used in schools, counselor’s offices, at home, by caregivers, and I shit you not, IT WORKS. It’s a theory that there is some necessary training needed, under the old “I’m counting to 3 and then time out” umbrella. But you don’t talk. You don’t explain. You don’t show any emotion, zero. ie: Emilia throws her food at the table. She knows that’s not cool, and mommy says quietly, “That’s 1.” She gets excited, throws food again. You wait 5 seconds. “That’s 2.” She throws again. “That’s 3. Buckle chair time.” The key is, ZERO cajoling, zero discussion, zero emotion. When buckle chair time is over, STILL no talking or explaining. She knows what she did. When you read the book, it’ll tell you all the reasons you’re already thinking… “That will never work because…” But I’ll be damned, we are doing this with our son, and it’s unreal. We almost never get past 1 before he flies right, so to speak. These kids love to exert control over adults in any way possible – - even eliciting negative feedback is exciting. But this? They don’t get the emotion. They just get the punishment. And if it’s consistent and unpleasant enough, holy crap. Works. On that note, you are a GREAT parent, doing the hardest fricken job there is. I am a mom of a preschooler and a 3 month old, and dear God, I am an exhausted, piddling, fearful, guilt-ridden mess. But 1-2-3? Rocks our world. That, and Shiraz. xoxo, Email me if you want to know more, it’s hard to cram in to the comment section, and I’d be happy to paraphrase the book and save you $15. ;)

    Amy December 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I wrote a response on my own blog – something I’ve been ruminating on for a while, and you were my catalyst. See:

    Amy December 23, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Fabulous writing, as always!

    I was going to suggest what Sharon already suggested – instead of putting her in time out, put yourself in time out. Perhaps that would scare/upset her enough to know you mean business?

    The only other suggestion I have is – have you figured out how to hit her where it hurts? And I don’t mean actual hitting; I mean a punishment that actually punishes. Taking cookies away, time outs…if these things don’t phase her, then you should try something else. Does she have a particular doll or toy or blanket that she is completely attached to? A video she absolutely loves? You need to take away something that she cannot do without, and that she cannot get anywhere else. And no matter the heart-wrenching tears and cries, you have to stick to it. You need to find a punishment that actually hits home to the fact that you are in charge and there are painful consequences to misbehaving.

    I know this is what you have been trying to do. We are rooting for you! Good luck and I wish you all the best and a bit of peace this Christmas. :)

    Kate December 23, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Emilia sounds exactly like my younger sister. Smart, willful, demanding, clever, stubborn, and determined (and a cute little blonde kid!). I distinctly remember my mom crying when my sister was 3 years old because she just did not know what to do next to make her behave (I was 9 at the time; I’m 6 yrs older). Gotta admit, 15 years later not much has changed.

    Why nothing changed? A few reasons: My parents never enforced threats or “rules”, had no chores or responsibilities ever, never had to earn money, and she always got what she wanted: the new American Girl Doll, Skittles from the candy cabinet right before dinner, a magazine on spur at the grocery store, etc. She had her own dinner because she refused to eat most food, tore through Christmas presents super-fast then pouted if others were still opening theirs – and yet at school and in public, she was fabulously behaved.

    I’ve nannied and babysat regularly for over a decade now and I’ve found that, like most things, what works discipline-wise varies kid to kid (duh, I know, way to state the obvious!). What I’ve learned (especially from the week long overnight nannying experiences!)…
    - don’t yell unless its an emergency or very serious.
    - stay calm. dont let her know she’s winning or getting you upset.
    - follow through. if you say “no cookies” do no give her one.
    - ignoring tantrums is usually less stressful than fighting them. or, repeating “i’ll talk to you when you (insert something here, ie, stop screaming)” very calmly.
    - use “punishments” that won’t be worse for you than them. don’t take away time to watch a tv show if it means you’ll be dealing with a crabby toddler for that period instead.
    - give her choices. this is good for so many thing: independence, ideally cutting back on tantrums, and learning to take responsibility. “today you can have 1 cookie. do you want it now or later?” (and follow through). takes some time til they get it but often works pretty well.
    - find out techniques her teachers use and maybe try them too.
    - don’t forget, she’ll grow out of it eventually

    Get some sleep if you can!!

    Your kids are seriously beautiful and funny and wonderful. They’re a credit to you.

    And hell, don’t forget what the first commenter said: you can always drink. ;)

    Her Bad Mother December 23, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Clearly, I should be drinking more.

    Kate December 23, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I do likethe 1-2-3 idea, might start using that myself!

    Get out of the house more. Staying at home all day is asking for trouble at our house. We go to the YMCA (free child care!) and the library pretty often.

    Let her watch TV! Half an hour saves my sanity.

    Give her a cookie or a piece of cake/candy if she eats a good meal at lunchtime and dinnertime. Food should not be a reward for good behavior.

    Good luck. Three sucks.

    Sam December 23, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    What Kate said: Three sucks. Four is better. Anything is better than 3. Three is the new terrible twos.

    No Mother Earth December 23, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Well, I’m clearly no expert, but I will agree with a lot of what’s been said already:

    1) You already follow through on threats – say it once and implement it. I’ve noticed with a friend of mine that she does this – she does absolutely follow through on her threats, but she gives her son a lot of chances before she does, and he is running rampant.

    2) If the threat of no cookies doesn’t phase her, then find what does. Every kid has their price. (God, I’m a good parent).

    3) Give choices whenever and wherever you can. The choice is one or the other and nothing else. End of story. Gives them control, but also an understanding of your control.

    Again, I’m not perfect or an expert, but I do think the above things help, not hinder the problem.

    Good luck!

    mothergoosemouse December 23, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    I endeavor to keep both the rules and the consequences simple and consistently applied.

    I frequently fail, but I continue to try.

    Major Bedhead December 23, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    I have this, times two, at my house and I have no clue. I yell too much and want to run away much of the time. It was suggested to me today to try one-on-one time with each girl, which means staggering naps and I don’t know if my already-fragile sanity can take that.

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Holy hell, three is tough. Three runs circles around two – I have to say that I am partial to the even years.
    I say this with no judgement whatsoever, but I’m guessing that your daughter senses your fear and is thriving on it. Cut down on the warnings and negotiations, they learn to tune them out – fast, concrete reactions and no second chances may be necessary for awhile. You can be in charge while still demonstrating respect. I wonder if restraining her in time out is effective, although I appreciate what you’re saying about her staying put. If she does not stay on her own accord, I’m not sure that she is learning much by being there.
    Again, I say this without judgement. The early years with little ones can be dark, I know I’ve been there. Good luck.

    cheesefairy December 23, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    You have lots of great advice here. I am some 6 months behind you with my older boy so I won’t offer any. Advice, that is. But after reading the comments I am hyperventilating because I am only at 2.5 and 3 is coming and WHERE CAN I HIDE.

    Good luck. I have taken to baking during naptime and hiding all the cookies in the freezer.

    Lydia December 23, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    I feel for you, I really do. My Jake (4) has many of the same issues.
    I have found that–as hard as it is–ignoring the behavior has helped. When he acts in a way i don’t like, I walk away. Of course, if there’s harm afoot, I don’t go very far! But I don’t give him what he craves most–ME.

    It kills me to turn away from him. But I tell him “I don’t like your actions and I will not pay attention to you while you do them.” Then I turn away. Somehow–it’s working. We have much less hysteria now.

    And I have also decided– go ahead. Eat the damn cookies. Then when his tummy hurts, I don’t profess sympathy. One incident of eating JUNK won’t kill him, I figure. And maybe learning from one’s own mistakes is a better teacher.

    I guess what I’m sharing is–stop saying no all the time. Pick the battles. I’m not saying it’s all happiness and sunshine in our house, but there is quite a bit less yelling. I make it all about HIS choice.
    When getting dressed– “You can choose this shirt or that one.” There’s no choice of NOT getting dressed, only the choice of what to wear.
    “You can have a cookie now, but that’s it. If you want a cookie after dinner, you can’t have one now. You choose.”

    i keep hammering in–it’s HIS choice.

    Hope this helps.

    pinkme December 23, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    OMG. I just read your blog (first time – linked from Redneck), and it completely reminded me of my daughter – now 18 yrs. old. Here’s my advice – wait it out. 15 years!!!! My daughter was *exactly* like that. And it didn’t get much better until she left for college! So – hang in there. In 15 years she’ll be packing her bags for college. You won’t believe how fast the time goes.

    Loonstruck December 23, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Timers. The timer saved us. He was a nightmare when it came to transitions. We set the timer and said we’re gonna go in 5 minutes when the timer goes off. After about a week, he was practically sprinting out the door when the timer went off. Essentially, he thought we were stealing time from him. The sound also helped. He knows the sound means a change and it’s just easier to accept.

    I second, third, fourth the choices you can live with. All day long. We can take this route home, or that route home. You can have the big spoon or the little spoon. You can complain about brushing your teeth and we’ll read one book or you can brush your teeth and we’ll read two books. (The nights I took away books were the hardest nights for me, him too.) It is exhausting coming up with choices but it works. Mine just wanted some power. He understood the consequences so much better when he made the choice. Didn’t mean he wasn’t still mad. But he rarely made the same bad choice twice.

    Distraction and jollying are par for the course, even at 7. I don’t have to do it all day long, but I do have to recognize when he’s feeling out of control and help him find his way back.

    Lori December 23, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Less talk/explanation, more action.

    Think like the “Dog Whisperer” – and Be the pack leader that She needs you to be!

    Reesie December 23, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Lot’s of good stuff here.

    Perhaps a conversation with your pediatrician or a nutritionist is warranted. Some kids are very sensitive to certain types of food (i.e. dairy or wheat) and it totally whacks them out.

    I’m not suggesting if you eliminate wheat she’ll be a docile Angel, but she might be more bearable.

    I hate to add one more thing to your list of to dos, but keep a food journal of the things she eats (that you know of) and see if you can tie the explosive behavior to anything in her diet.

    Please keep us posted.

    Sierra (<3Helena, Johnny, Tim, and Danny <3) December 23, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I had no idea that Grace lived with you. I was under the illusion that she lived here. Maybe my life is just one long, mostly tedious dream…

    Lori December 23, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Oh, and hire Kate for your nanny! Her advice is right on :-)

    Mom101 December 23, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    I’m just glad I’m not alone in the “easily manipulated by my children” department.

    As for the light slapping misstep – been there, forgave myself. Try it? Maybe?

    Annie, The Evil Queen December 23, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    My son is 3.5 and we’re also battling. Same strong will here. We used to buckle him into a time out chair, but it didn’t really phase him. I’ve found that what he doesn’t like is to be isolated from us. So the new punishment is that he goes to his room. If I need to, I gate him in there with the baby gate. Usually, he doesn’t play with his toys, he stands up there and cries because he isn’t with us. It has been much more effective. Some days he spends a lot of time in there. But we’re seeing progress. Good luck.

    Shonda Little December 23, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    First, listen to Derfina and booze it up. It won’t solve the 3 year old blues, but it sure makes them funnier. Then keep blogging about it. Also won’t fix the problem, but it makes me feel better when I do.

    Being a parent is just hard. I’ve had these same feelings myself a million times. I have two GREAT boys. But, like both their mother and father, they have strong personalities. The thing that seems to work best with both my boys is taking away their favorite toys. The first offense leads to their trains being put on the refrigerator for five minutes. If they do it again, I put them up for an hour. Third time they lose them all day. My oldest loves going with my husband to check cattle. If he’s been bad, he can’t go. And, he has a teacher he loves. So, the mere mention of, “What would Mrs. Fryman think?” makes him freeze in this tracks.
    Yet, with all these and many other tactics, I still have several instances every day. The problems you are having with Emilia are the same in every home with a child her age. The important thing is you see it and address it, even if it is unsuccessful.

    Tina C. December 23, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    my 3 year old was doing the same this summer with the no sleeping. we chalked it up to new baby bro, new house and new big bed, and potty training. now he’s finally settled down and will go to sleep without drama, but it took some time.

    they all act like polite angels to strangers, teachers, relatives, and like jerks at home. because they can? because they blow off steam at home? who knows, but when i can’t take it anymore i check out the appropriate edition for the age by this author, Bates Ames. E.g. – “Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy.” i like this series because the books are short, and the letters to the editor are funny and dated.

    i wish i had started using the santa threat months ago. but you’ve got to figure out what is their ‘currency’ or else they don’t care. obviously it’s not cookies for yours, but there’s got to be something out there that she cares about losing or getting or not getting. good luck figuring it out!

    also, if my guy doesn’t want to eat, he goes hungry. i try not to engage in that particular power struggle. it’s not fun to battle if you don’t take the bait! or, i’ll just spoon it in his mouth; some nights he fights eating until i put it in his mouth then he cleans his plate. lazy? can’t work the fork? no idea.

    Motherhood Uncensored December 23, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    You are a brave woman, opening the gates to assvice central, my friend heh.

    I’m still reeling at the fact that E doesn’t respond to the naughty spot (English accent required). She who climbed chairs at 9 months. I imagine needs more.

    Perhaps writing out Dante’s inferno backwards… NOW THAT will do it. :)

    Motherhood Uncensored December 23, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    And I second the dog whisperer thing.

    Although if you follow his advice, you’d have to walk her on a leash, which I actually do with Drew — except w/o the leash and instead of outside we let him run laps in the basement.

    Lisa December 23, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I have a 3 year old girl as well. She is testing every limit/rule we have. When I tell my mom this she said, quite sagely, find the thing she doesn’t like and that’s her punishment. My daughter HATES being alone right now, so punishment is first time out, if that doesn’t work then it’s time out in your bedroom. I have held the door closed to keep her in. She calms down and starts over. Some days are better than others.

    K’s new game – “naughty” words; the latest is “butthead”. I have told her that I will wash her mouth out with soap.

    I have figured out that some of this is because K wants attention. We also have a younger brother, J; he is one. A fix for this is K goes to the store with me on errands; the catch is she needs to be good BEFORE the errand. J is home with Dad – since we have no other family nearby.

    This is what works for us…take what you can and good luck!

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Who’s in Charge Anyway?
    by Kathy Lynn (Author))

    Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline
    by Barbara Coloroso (Author

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. Fantastic stuff! You can get books at your library or bookstore- and they also have sound recordings – one great one is re: toddlers. It’s common sense kind of stuff, but it works so well. I just got two new books for Christmas from my sister.

    Her Bad Mother December 23, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Ah, MU – it’s only assvice if it’s unsolicited. I *need* the advice.

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Two things come to mind. First, if she’s anything like my son, she thrives on the chasing and the begging and the negotiation and other forms of ATTENTION, especially with a younger brother.
    Everything worked better with my son when I quit talking. He got one warning. Then he was picked up and taken to his room for timeout — no explanations, no nothing. He stopped defying, and I stayed much calmer. If I couldn’t reach him, I stayed completely still and silent; the instant I could, into time out he went.
    Aall still works best when I stay completely zen, and act like what he does, doesn’t affect me.
    The second thing is, hitting me always, always promoted a timeout. Once when he was four (and 4 feet tall, 48 pounds — I couldn’t possibly have lifted him and carried him out if he was struggling), he swatted me in the middle of a church service. I grabbed his shoulder with one hand, and twisted his arm around behind him with the other (your basic half Nelson). When he opened his mouth to yell, I whispered in his ear “If you don’t fight me, it won’t hurt.” And out we went.
    He is never, never allowed to hit anyone. Ever.

    Baby in the City December 24, 2008 at 12:19 am

    ooooo, let’s talk. Hop is testing boundaries and driving us mad!

    I’ve read a great book on this stuff and we’ve had success using its methods.

    You mention that E understands and abides by the rules out in public; she appreciates that everyone needs to follow instruction sometimes, but inside your house she protests at being the only one with rules. Well, according to the book, she needs to see you follow her dad’s rules (and/or instructions), right along with her, and other times see dad do what you say, right along with her. Take turns as the authority in the house but more importantly, demonstrate that she is not the only one following rules – both of you do it too. I’ve tried this and it is incredibly effective.

    Example: Hop wants goldfish crackers before dinner. Just saying “Daddy is cooking dinner and has asked us to wait (and yes, he actually has to say it). I’m hungry too but Dad asked me to wait, so I’m doing what Dad says. We BOTH need to listen to daddy and he says wait for dinner.”

    This shit works. It takes time, but we’ve dodged so many power struggles through methods like this.

    You can go so far as telling K to get dressed in the morning (at the same time you tell E) and have him declare that he is going to do it right now cause Mom said so (and he does need to do it). You can ask/tell as nicely as you like, the nicer the better, but E must see it happening, and even if she doesn’t follow at first, she’ll get it, just like she does in public.

    The book? Positive Discipline. Awesome book.

    Her Bad Mother December 24, 2008 at 12:34 am

    BITC – we’re gonna talk about that on Thursday, FOR SURE.

    Now – am still wondering – when she hits me – what’s the best thing to do? At the moment she gets automatic time out, but it’s not stopped her from doing it occasionally (for the record, I think that hitting is being learned at school – she talks about certain boys hitting – the teachers address it, but still – she’s getting the message that it’s a way to express anger)

    We are THAT Family December 24, 2008 at 12:47 am

    You’ve just described my firstborn daughter.

    She’s NINE.

    And we’ve experienced the ebb and flow of this strong personality for years.

    I think the number one piece of advice is consistency. Whatever you do, do it all the time. Every time. She’s waiting for you to alter your resolve.

    When she hits, grab her hand firmly and put it to her side. “DO NOT hit mommy.” And then walk away, don’t have anything to do with her for a couple of minutes. Let her feel your pain and disappointment. Do this every time. Deep within her she wants your approval, attention, affection.

    My daughter is the strongest, most determined person in our home. And even now, there are days…

    But I love her strength, passion and I’m so glad she can let her hair down at home where she feels safe. I’d hate for others to see her at these times. But she knows we’ll love her and accept her no matter what.

    Even if she drives us to drink wine after she goes to sleep.

    Tootsie Farklepants December 24, 2008 at 12:47 am

    The occasional spanking worked on my oldest son. It didn’t phase my youngest son. I spent a lot of time physically removing him from situations…repeatedly. It was exhausting but necessary. I never negotiated.

    I’ve also resorted to removing gifts from under the Christmas tree, opening them, then returning them. It broke my heart to watch them crumble when they seemed to physically ache from my following through with my threats but it worked.

    None of my children ever hit me but my daughter did give me a good kick to the stomach when I was changing her diaper once (she was about 2 at the time) and I smacked her bare ass. She never did it again.

    That being said, I still had many MANY moments where I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.

    Binkytown December 24, 2008 at 12:54 am

    I have a son who is just like your daughter. I got the book Parenting your out of control child. In it, it suggested if they hit you (and he did, again and again) it’s an immediate time out while holding their arms down either at their sides or behind the back. It sucked and I hated it but it did work to improve the situation. He still does it from time to time but it’s much better.

    Overall, that’s a great book. You may have a method and your husband may have a method but we didn’t see any real results until we both got on the same page. Instead of deciding which offenses warranted what kind of discipline when they were happening, everything went straight to the time out/naughty chair; no yelling, remove the emotion, no negotiating.

    Sorry this is rambling. I really recommend the book. It didn’t solve all our problems but it was a really good start.

    Velma December 24, 2008 at 1:00 am

    I’m sorry to say I don’t have the time to read through the other comments, so I apologize if this has been said before. One of the big lessons I’ve learned about discipline at this age is to frame the interactions in such a way that it is easier to say “Yes” to your child than “No.” And then, when the behavior is clearly unaceptable, to have zero tolerance for it.

    So, in our house? YES, you may have a (teeny tiny) cookie if you do X, and YES, you may have another (teeny tiny) treat if you do Y! (We used a couple of Smarties or Tic Tacs or Tootsie Roll midgees or Trident gum, etc.)

    YES, you may take off all your clothes and run around like a crazy person and shake your bum at me… for 5 minutes before your bath.

    YES, you may talk bathroom talk, but only in the bathroom….

    As far as the hitting, that’s when we shut down on the fun. I remember holding my son for time-outs because he wouldn’t stop thrashing. We have certain things that are unacceptable, like hitting and (really) bad words and unsafe behavior, and for those things, we timed out the kids like crazy.

    With clever preschoolers, though, they will just keep hammering away at you. Exhausting as it is, in the long run, zero tolerance for those particular behaviors makes it much clearer for them to understand what is acceptable and what is not. Even if you have to give 16 time outs in a single night, like one memorable evening in my house a few years ago…

    Good luck with it – it’s a tough age. Once they get to school, you will be amazed at how much easier it is, really. Small comfort, I know. :)

    daysgoby December 24, 2008 at 1:12 am

    I really liked 1-2-3 Magic. He (the author) has a newsletter on the internet and his book is available at the library (even on DVD!) It felt strange at first – not explaining, not bargaining, just ‘That’s three – take five! Up to your room!’ but BY GOD IT WORKS. With BOTH my boy the aspiring politician (he can talk his way out of anything) and the drama queen.

    My mother used to tell me that kids needed a Mom to be a Mom, not a friend. (squirms) She was right, but the hardest bit for me is knowing how to do that.

    Good luck, C. Boy, you’ve had a hell of a time lately, huh?

    daysgoby December 24, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Oh, and every time I see that picture I think ‘Why does E have a coffee cup and a cigarette?’

    But that’s just me.

    Velma December 24, 2008 at 1:20 am

    Adding to my assvice after reading through the other comments. I did make a special effort to schedule one-on-one time with my daughter after her brother was born. It’s something to keep in mind, because it really helped her – especially when her brother’s behavior became problematic – to know that she would have me to herself for a chunk of a specific day each week. We would do something low-key but special together, like go fly kites at the beach or to a far away new playground, and it also gave me something to hold over her head for blackmail purposes!

    I have tons of friends who swear by 1-2-3 Magic, although with my son’s issues we pretty much used “1 Strike and You’re Out.” But by the time he was 4 1/2, all I had to say was, “Do I need to start counting?” and he’d stop. It WILL happen for you, so hang in there!

    Carrien December 24, 2008 at 2:05 am

    I don’t comment much, I also don’t usually pitch in with parenting advice on a blog post, but since you asked…

    First, I have 3, ages 2, 5 and 7. I was also mentored as a mother by my grandmother mother to 11, and my mil mother to 8. They were smart women.

    Second, I spank. thought you should know before I go ahead and give advice. but I spank as a very careful and well considered response to disobedient behavior. In other words, I haven’t ever struck a child when angry or as a reaction. I calmly and quietly take them to their room, repeat the ritual, “What did mommy say to do? Did you do it? What happens when you don’t obey mommy? That’s right, you choose the no no stick? etc.”

    It’s a consequence that works effectively with littles. It’s immediate, it’s dramatic, memorable, and unpleasant enough to be an effective deterrent, without doing any real or permanent damage. It stings a bit, and then it’s over.

    And that’s what discipline should be. Otherwise it’s not going to make enough of an impact.

    Most important though is the time spent after hugging kissing cuddling, restoring the relationship together again. This is important no matter the form of discipline, This is what ties your hearts together through any experience. This is the part missed by many.

    That said, I suspect you are a parent who would prefer not to spank. I understand, I wanted that too at first, I still wish there was a better way, but as my husband says, I love my kids more than I love my parenting theories, and it works.

    It’s important that it works, as you point out. Will must be tempered with self control, respect, etc.

    Whatever the consequence, you must be willing to administer it relentlessly.

    And so, with all that preamble here are a few things I can say from experience that you may want to change to make your discipline more effective.

    As soon as your voice is straining you have already lost. She knows, can here in your voice that she is in control and you are not. Do not wait until your voice is straining, do not give her time to stop herself. She has shown you that she won’t, and she knows how far she can push you.

    Say it once, calmly and quietly. Count to 10 in your head. Then you pick her up and strap her in her chair. That’s it. When she gets out of the chair and goes back to the forbidden things again do not even speak/threaten/cajole. She knows she is breaking the rules. Don’t change the consequence and tell her no cookies ever that just confuses things and tells her that you don’t really have a plan. Simply pick her up and put her in her chair again, calmly quietly, in spite of the raging. Do not stop this until she has submitted to your authority. Be prepared to do this 20, 30, 40 times over and over again, especially at first. This is where spanking is helpful, it accelerates the process, takes less time, especially if you are cuddling after the disciplinary action.

    My son and I spent an hour or two one day locked in a power struggle like this, he was 2. My MIL came out to where we were at the time and mouthed over his head as I held him in between, “You know you have to win this one?” And I nodded. I thought he would never obey. And then, to my wonder, he finally just did. He is still my most obedient child. Because I stood my ground. Calmly, firmly, lovingly, refused to let him get away with it, no matter how long it took. That’s all it takes. My children are calmer and happier when I am disciplined enough to maintain firm disciplinary boundaries. It makes them feel safe to know that the rules are going to change.

    Here’s the real secret, to discipline one’s children effectively requires extreme self discipline on ones own part. It requires the belief that proper discipline is important enough to spend real time on.

    It will pay off in the end.

    That’s what I’ve got. If you were my best friend sitting in my living room asking the same question, that is what I would tell you. Though if you were my best friend you would already know that about me anyway, and would have seen it in action.

    I hope it helps.

    Carrien December 24, 2008 at 2:14 am

    On hitting-A child usually only ever hits me once. And I take care of a lot of children these days.

    The instant they hit, even just a little bit with anger behind it, I grab both wrists, hold firmly, get right in their face and in a scary firm sort of quiet voice say, “You don’t ever hit me!”

    They usually burst into tears, and then I comfort them, and they don’t ever do it again. One child I had to restrain physically for a minute or two he was so angry, and when I finally let go of him he ran away. And then we moved on to other things and were friends again in a little while, and he never hit me again. Still hit his mother, but never me. But she was too timid to say no and mean it.
    They have to know they have crossed a line. They have to feel it. And they have to learn a healthy dose of respect for where that line is.

    Anonymous December 24, 2008 at 2:32 am

    OH my lawd, lol! I’m not laughing at you, but with you. Either by luck or the grace of God himself I’ve not been where you are right now. I suspect luck, because God loves us equally.
    Ignore the people who are saying to hit that child. The few times I’ve resorted to it, it did not help. It only made the situation worse.
    Keep doing what you feel is right. If it still doesn’t work, it’s time to call in a professional. There may be something in that child’s precious little head that is a tad bit different than what’s in most of ours, and someone can help you figure out what that is. Hitting is NEVER the answer.
    Ame I.

    Mommy Melee December 24, 2008 at 4:47 am

    Re: Child hitting parent. Let me know if you get good suggestions. Chipmunk has been hitting me for about six months, and more often now that baby brother is here. He also hits the baby. We’ve tried time outs, stopping playing with him, putting all his toys away, a smack to the top of his hand, and lots of conversations about not hitting. (At various times over the past six months, not all at the same time.) He’s 32-months-old now. I hear its a pretty common thing, but it sucks. There’s nothing as heartbreakingly insulting as being smacked in the face by your own kid.

    Anonymous December 24, 2008 at 5:04 am

    I have a strong willed daughter who is finally coming out of the stage of always needing to test boundaries in such a defiant way (she’s 6).

    I wanted to second the advice of a couple of previous comments:

    1. G would thrive off of the attention and chaos she was creating, so I learned to stop giving her that kind of attention. I don’t bargain or negotiate when it comes to her doing what she is told or stopping when I say stop. (We do bargain/negotiate on things like what toys can be brought on an outing or how much extra t.v. time she gets on a rainy day, etc.) If she persisted in something I asked her to stop, I physically removed her to her room and shut the door. If she doesn’t do what I have asked, I try to allow her to feel the natural consequences of it like going hungry because she didn’t eat, but sometimes we have to create a consequence if the “natural” ones are too far off to make an impact. Now that she is older, we also talk about, and sometimes have to address, her attitude in these matters as well.

    2. I also wanted to echo what someone else said here first, and that is that it is okay for children to be upset at the discipline you give them. In fact, I would say that if they do not seem upset by the consequences you’re imposing, then you may need to find something that does. We tried time-outs with G, but they didn’t seem to have the corrective effect we were looking for. She didn’t like time-outs, but the threat of one didn’t stop her from misbehaving. We discovered, though, that if we took away a treasured toy, THAT stopped her dead in her defiant little tracks. Now, the first few times we took away her “buddies,” you would think we were killing somebody the way she carried on. However, we only had to follow through on that threat once or twice before the mere warning of it was enough to get her to listen. For your daughter, if taking away cookies doesn’t really matter to her because she knows that there will be more cookies eventually–then you need to find a punishment that has an impact. And it is okay if it is an upsetting impact. The whole point is to make it something that she will want to avoid in the future… something that she is willing to make a better choice to prevent from happening. Before long, she will be regulating her own behavior… as long as you are consistent.

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