Parents and other members of the public sometimes respond to our advocacy of repeal by saying that disciplining children must sometimes involve ‘spanking’ – even though they would prefer to use other ways to resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in bringing up children. Many say that more information and help is needed to learn ways of teaching and guiding children that do not involve any kind of hitting. In this chapter, parent educators are unanimous in advising against any kind of hitting, in any kind of situation, and offer advice and practical tips on how to respond to difficult situations without hitting. The views expressed are solely those of each individual contributor.
Why Babies Cry – Jan Hunt
Jan Hunt, B.A. Psychology, M.Sc. Counseling Psychology, is the Director of the Natural Child Project and a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (CSPCC). She is the author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby, and the co-editor, with her son Jason, of The Unschooling Unmanual. Jan offers telephone counseling worldwide. For more articles and information, see link to The Natural Child Project website at end of section.
The Critical Importance of a Child’s First Years: a Baby Speaks
Current thinking about our failure to fulfill our children’s needs points to the importance of the earliest years of childhood, making it clear that the first three years are especially critical. What should we be doing during those years to ensure that our children have the best chance of becoming healthy and happy – as they deserve to be? Consider what a member of that age group might recommend to us – if only they could speak:
I am eleven months old. I can’t talk yet, so when I am hungry, tired, wet, lonely, ill, or in pain, I cry. It is the only means I have to let my parents know that something is wrong.
If my crying is ignored, all that happens is that my needs become greater, and I feel even more miserable. On top of that, I have to face the fact that apparently no one cares about me. I’m sure Mommy would feel the same way if she were crying and Daddy ignored her. Believing that no one cares about you is a very devastating thought.
When my tears are ignored, I begin to believe that no matter how hard I cry, and no matter what is wrong, no one will ever come. If no one ever comes, I worry that I will die, because I cannot meet my own needs yet. You see, I have no concept of time, and two minutes is forever to me.
Sometimes I stop crying – but I am not learning patience – I am learning despair. When I stop crying, it means that I have lost all hope of ever being loved again, and all I feel is helplessness and despondency. I worry that I will never learn to communicate with words if I am not allowed to communicate with cries. And I worry that if I feel this frustration too many times, I will withdraw and stop feeling anything.
It sure can be frightening to think that no one cares enough about me to meet my needs. In fact, when my cries are ignored, I begin to think the world is a really bad place, and I worry that this will give me a negative and selfish outlook on life. But when my needs are met, I feel loved and secure enough to return that love to others, and eventually to my own children. I do so want to become a loving, caring person, but how will I learn to be like that if I don’t see examples of it?
I get very lonely if I am separated from my parents. For nine months, my mother and I were inseparable, and I felt so much love inside her. She was all I knew when I arrived on this strange planet. It will require a certain amount of time – perhaps three years or longer – before my sense of trust is established and I am ready to spend extensive time with other caregivers. The more secure I can feel now, the sooner that time will come. If I am forced to face this separation before I am ready, it will take a lot longer; in fact, I may never reach the level of maturity that I hope to reach by the time I am an adult.
At night, I like to sleep next to my parents. Being able to touch them and hear them during the dark hours of the night are my only means of knowing that they have not disappeared. There are other reasons for wanting them near: their presence helps to regulate my heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and sleeping cycles, and their breathing regulates my own breathing.
I love to breastfeed. Breast milk is the best food for me; it contains important substances, not found in formula, which will help to keep me healthy for many years. When Mommy breastfeeds, she produces a hormone which keeps her happy too. Best of all, breastfeeding keeps Mommy and me close.
I have no desire to take unfair advantage of my parents. I love them very deeply. I am simply asking for the same care that was given to babies for thousands of years until recent history. If my needs are met, I will be free to demonstrate all the love and trust I was born with. All I want is a chance to express that love fully.
Ten Reasons to Respond to a Crying Child
1. A baby’s first attempts to communicate cannot be in words, but can only be nonverbal. She cannot put happy feelings into words, but she can smile. She cannot put sad or angry feelings into words, but she can cry. If her smiles receive a response, but crying is ignored, she can receive the harmful message that she is loved and cared for only when she is happy. Children who continue to get this message through the years cannot feel truly loved and accepted.
2. If a child’s attempts to communicate sadness or anger are routinely ignored, he cannot learn how to express those feelings in words. Crying must receive an appropriate and positive response so the child sees that all of his feelings are accepted. If his feelings are not accepted, and crying is ignored or punished, he receives the message that sadness and anger are unacceptable, no matter how they are expressed. It is impossible for a child to understand that his expression of sadness or anger will be accepted once he is older and able to use appropriate words. A child can only communicate in ways available to him at a given time; a child can only accomplish what he has had a chance to learn. Every child is doing his best according to his age, experience, and present circumstances. It is surely unfair to punish a child for not doing more than he can do!
3. A child who has been given the message that her parents will only respond to her when she is “good” will begin to hide “bad” behavior and “bad” feelings from others and even from herself. She may become an adult who submerges “bad” emotions and is unable to communicate the full range of human feelings. Indeed, there are many adults who find it difficult to express anger, sadness, or other “bad” feelings in an appropriate way.
4. Anger that cannot be expressed in early childhood does not simply disappear. It becomes repressed and builds up over the years, until the child is unable to contain it any longer and is old enough to have lost his fear of physical punishment. When this container of anger is finally thrown open, parents can be shocked and perplexed. They have forgotten the hundreds or thousands of moments of frustration that have been filling this container over the years. The psychological principle that “frustration leads to aggression” is never more clearly demonstrated than in the final rebellion of a teenager. Parents need to understand how frustrating it can be for a child to feel “invisible” when his crying is ignored, or to feel helpless and discouraged when his attempts to express his needs and feelings are ignored or punished.
5. We are all born knowing that each and every feeling we have is legitimate. We gradually lose that belief if only our “good” side brings a positive response. This is a tragedy, because it is only when we fully accept ourselves and others, regardless of mistakes, that we can have truly loving relationships. If we are not fully loved and accepted in childhood, we may never learn how that feels or how to communicate that acceptance to others, no matter how much therapy or reading or thinking we do. How much easier our lives would be if we simply received unconditional love throughout our early years!
6. Parents wondering whether to respond to crying might think about their own responses in similar situations. They may consider it appropriate to ignore a child’s cries, yet feel intensely angry if their partner ignores attempts to have a conversation. Many in our society seem to believe that a person must be a certain age before she has the right to be heard. Yet what age would that be? Infants and children are not any less people just because they are small and helpless. If anything, the more helpless people are, the more they deserve our compassion, attention, and assistance.
7. If children are taught by example that helpless people deserve to be ignored, they can lose the compassion for others that all humans are born with. If, as helpless infants, their cries are ignored, they begin to believe that this is the appropriate response to those who are weaker than themselves. Without compassion, the stage is set for later violence. Those who wonder why a violent criminal has no compassion for his victims need to consider where he lost that compassion. It does not disappear overnight. It is stolen, through unresponsive or punitive parenting, drop by drop, until it is gone. Loss of compassion is the greatest tragedy that can befall a child.
8. When a child learns by her parents’ example that it is appropriate to ignore a child’s cries, she will naturally treat her own child the same way unless there is some intervention from others. Inadequate parenting continues through the generations until fortunate circumstances come about to change this pattern. How much easier it is if a parent learned in childhood how to treat his or her own child. Perhaps the cycle of inadequate parenting can begin to change when bystanders no longer walk past an anguished child without stopping to help. This may be the first time the child has been given the message that her feelings are legitimate and important, and she may remember this critical message later when she herself has a child.
9. Crying is a signal provided by nature. It is meant to disturb the parents so that the child’s needs will be met. It makes no sense that nature would have provided all children with a routinely used signal that serves no good purpose.
10. Parents who respond only to “good” behavior may believe they are training the child to behave “better.” Yet they themselves feel most like cooperating with those who treat them with kindness. This is another example of how children are seen as a different species, when in fact they are human beings who behave on the same principles as all other human beings. Like the rest of us, they respond best to kindness, patience, and understanding. Parents wondering why a child is “misbehaving” might stop and ask themselves this question: “Do I feel like cooperating when someone treats me well, or when someone treats me the way I have just treated my child?”
For more articles and information, click http://www.naturalchild.org
Judy Arnall, B.A.is a parent educator, speaker, authorized trainer of Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) and course developer of Alberta Health Services ‘Terrific Toddler’s Program, and member, Professional Parenting Canada. She is the author of Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery and Plugged-In Parenting. Judy lives in Calgary and is the mother of 5 children.For more information, see link to Professional Parenting Canada website at end of section.
Toddlers & Pre-School Children
Discipline comes from the Latin word “disciple” meaning, “to teach”. Punishment is a different concept from discipline and means “to hurt in order to gain a change of behaviour”. It is not necessary to punish children in order to teach children proper behaviour (discipline). In fact, research consistently shows that children learn better through kind and firm teaching than by being hurt by punishment.
Effective discipline of young children requires knowledge about the development of children. Normal toddler behaviour is often viewed as “misbehaviour” by parents who do not understand the physical, cognitive, social and emotional capabilities and limitations of toddlers. Research shows that children under age five comply (“listen”) to parent requests about 40% of the time. This is normal child behaviour for that age, and does not require “discipline” or “punishment” as it will change as the child matures and develops self-control. Until then, parents can child-proof the local environment to make it safer and enjoyable, and can redirect the child. Children need adult help to calm down, as they have yet to learn self-soothing, which is a learned skill that comes with age and practice.
Toddlers have poor understanding of rules until they reach about age four. Even the word “no” is counterproductive, in that directing the child NOT to do something tends to inspire the child to actually do it! Toddlers and preschoolers are ego-centric and will develop empathy with maturity of the school-aged years. They are going through a necessary developmental stage to explore their surroundings with all their senses, and want to taste, touch, and smell everything. Toddlers may seem to be ignoring or deliberately disobeying you, but in reality they are just doing their normal job of exploring, which stimulates development of their brains. In summary, normal characteristics include:
- Toddlers do not possess abstract thinking skills.
- Rules are abstract, and a “don’t” rule is a double abstract which draws a toddler’s attention to the very action that you are attempting to forbid.
- Toddlers are in the here-and-now and can’t multitask.
- Memories of rules known yesterday have been displaced and they can only hold a few thoughts in their heads.
- Toddlers are driven to explore and have almost no impulse control.
- Everything in their being says “touch, taste, smell, look, hear!” Their immature brains do not allow them to restrain themselves.
- Toddlers do not understand cause and effect.
- They can’t relate their action to parent’s anger. Reflection skills do not develop until age seven so time-outs are pretty useless.
In any situation that involves discipline of a child, remember three steps:
Step 1. Calm yourself – Every parent feels anger at some point in parenting. Take deep breaths, and remove yourself for a few seconds to regain composure. Take your time-out after your child is safe;
Step 2. Calm the child – Redirect to another activity, or sit and breathe deeply together, or hold the child;
Step 3. Solve the problem – Childproof, redirect, substitute, distract, comfort, talk, prevent, and model.
How to Handle Common Toddler “misbehaviour”
1. Your child is about to run into the road.
- Grab and carry the child to safety.
- Keep enclosed in the yard or house.
- Discuss car safety and road safety rules.
- Supervise constantly around vehicles and roads.
2. Your child is about to touch a hot stove.
- Remove the child from the stove.
- Supervise closely in the kitchen and keep the child occupied.
- Explain in simple words that stoves are dangerous.
3. Your child runs away in the supermarket.
- This could be a fun game for the child, but not for you. Corner and grasp the child, explain that this is not a game, and that you will not play chase in a store. If necessary, head home.
- Distract with a toy or snack.
- A shopping cart is harder to escape from than a stroller.
- Re-think grocery shopping. Could someone mind your child while you shop?
4. Your child is in a whining stage.
- Ignore the whining.
- Request their “normal” voice.
- Model the “normal voice.”
- Give the desired item instantly when the normal voice is used.
5. Your child draws on the wall or rips pages from a book.
- Provide paper, and explain that drawings happen on paper, not walls.
- Get two cloths and a bucket of soapy water. Wash the wall together.
- Collect pens and crayons until you have time to supervise drawing. Provide board books.
6. It’s time to go, and your child is unwilling to leave.
- Catch and carry them out.
- Acknowledge feelings of unhappiness. Say “Are you sad to leave because you are having fun?”
7. Two children are fighting over a toy.
- Offer a substitute or redirect to a new activity.
- Encourage taking turns, or flipping a coin, or picking names from a jar, or playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see who will go first. (Warn that there will be a winner and a loser, and confirm that they understand and accept that.)
- Offer the first player a shorter time and the second player a longer time.
- Hold the toy until an agreement is worked out that both children are okay with.
8. Your child throws food onto the floor.
- Say “NO! We don’t throw food!”
- Calmly, get a bucket of soapy water and cloth, and clean up the mess together.
9. Your preschooler has toilet accidents.
- Keep up encouragement. Praise any tiny success.
- Show the child how to help you clean it up.
10. Your toddler hits, pushes or bites a sibling or another child.
- Provide attention, cuddles and comfort to the other child.
- When the other child has calmed, say to the toddler: “No! We don’t hit people!”
- When the toddler has calmed, take the toddler to the child, and demonstrate how to make up – give a kiss, hug, say “Sorry”, or offer a toy.
- Acknowledge toddler’s feelings and say “You seem to be angry. Here is a different way to express anger.” Show them.
- Give the toddler a teething ring and say, “We don’t bite our friends. Here, bite this.”
- Give the toddler extra attention every day, though not right after the “hit”. Take her out on “dates” and lavish special attention on her so she can acquire attention in positive ways.
- Notice and praise when you see the toddler doing something nice for the other child.
- Don’t leave siblings together unsupervised until the youngest child is 6.
11. Your child damages another child’s toy.
- Say “No! We don’t break other people’s things!”
- Ask your child to apologize to the other child. If your child refuses, say to the other child or parent: “I’m very sorry, but my child doesn’t have the words right now to say sorry. I’ll deal with it.” Model an apology that you give to the parent.
- Take your toddler away to calm down.
- When your toddler is calm, offer to fix or pay for the toy. Encourage an apology, but don’t force it.
12. Your preschooler ignores your requests to pick up toys.
- Make pick-up a game in which you both participate.
- Assign one task instead of the entire clean-up: “You collect the blocks, and I’ll collect the crayons.”
13. Your toddler says “NO!” to your requests.
- Offer choices between two or three acceptable options.
- Reduce your use of the word “No”. Alternatives include “later”, “not now, but you can have…”, “Let me think about it”.
- Acknowledge feelings. “You seem angry and don’t want to try this?”
- Don’t expect a child under age 3 to share possessions.
14. Your toddler won’t try new foods.
- Provide healthy foods from the four groups. Offer three meals and three snacks per day, about two hours apart. Leave the food out for twenty minutes and then clean up. Do not punish for not eating. Don’t turn it into a power struggle.
- Offer water between meals and snacks. Serve milk at meals.
- Allow toddlers to explore food with their fingers. If your toddler starts throwing food, mealtime is over.
15. Your toddler won’t stay in bed.
- Develop a routine – snack, bath, pajamas, clean teeth, read a book, prayers, bedtime snuggle.
- If your child keeps getting up, consider two “bedtime excuse” tickets. Two tickets can be used for requests such as a drink, extra kiss, a cuddly toy.
- Each time, lead the toddler back to bed without talking, and close the door.
- Spend extra time to talk, read, cuddle and listen as part of the bedtime routine.
- When you find a routine that works, keep it up. Where children sleep is unique to every families’ culture and beliefs and co-sleeping is not a safety issue after age 1.
Temper tantrums occur when your child is overwhelmed and over-stimulated. The child feels frustrated and angry, and expresses those feelings through body language instead of words. Tantrums are part of normal behavior for a child between ages 10 months to 4 years, decreasing in frequency with age.
Prevent tantrums: Provide rest, sleep, cuddles or food. Try to meet these basic needs as soon as possible.
Handle the tantrum: It often helps to just ignore the tantrum, and carry on with your activity as if nothing is happening. If you have denied the child some item, this not the time to hand it over! If you have said “No!” then you must stay with it. Other methods are to just hold the child, and move to a safe, quiet place to wait it out together.
After the tantrum: Label your child’s emotions and provide words to develop a vocabulary of feelings. Ask: “Were you angry when you couldn’t have that cookie? How can we express our anger? Here is something to do.” The toddler usually understands the intent of the question and feels understood, and will later learn to use the words of feelings instead of the body language of a tantrum.
For more articles and information, click www.professionalparenting.ca
Kathy Lynn, B.A. is a parenting educator, professional speaker, broadcaster, columnist and author of Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. For information or to book Kathy for a speaking engagement, see link to her website at end of section.
Can We Discipline Without Spanking?
“If we can’t use physical punishment, then our kids will run amuck.” In my workshops and keynotes parents let me know that they are concerned that this will take away their ability to discipline misbehaving children and lead to a permissive society in which there are no rules.
There’s a world of difference between discipline and punishment.
Punishment is about causing pain or discomfort in an effort to change behavior. If we hurt the child he will think twice about misbehaving. And it often works, in the short term. It works as long as we hurt them enough to dissuade them from repeating the misbehaviour. And it works only as long as they are afraid of their parents.
All the motivation is external. Children learn that parents will hurt them if they don’t follow the rules, but they don’t learn why those rules exist. They learn to be sneaky so they won’t get caught, and that they can misbehave when nobody’s watching. We’ve all heard about teens who throw parties as soon as their parents are away.
Discipline, on the other hand, is neither about pain or punishment nor about revenge or retribution. Discipline is about teaching, guiding and training. When we discipline children we are teaching them the difference between right and wrong. We’re helping them to learn about the consequences of their actions.
They learn why rules exist and how breaking the rules impacts on others as well. They slowly internalize the information so they can behave appropriately in future.
Fine words, but how do we do this?
You start with a strong foundation, which is the family’s rules and expectations. Initially, the parents determine the basic family rules and outline behaviors that are simply not permitted. This commonly includes being respectful of others and co-operating to make the family unit work.
Once the basic foundation is in place each family can build a discipline plan to suit their needs, but shift gears as children grow and mature.
There are several logical steps to child discipline. Following them makes it straightforward for both you and your children. When a child misbehaves, we sometimes find ourselves arbitrarily reaching out for the first consequence that comes to mind. But if this choice doesn’t fit into any long-term plan and doesn’t consider the age of the child or the circumstances, we’ve created another problem for ourselves.
Depending on the age of the child, the first and most important step is to prevent some of the more predictable misbehaviours. Some behaviours are simply a child’s way of letting us know that some aspect of their day-to-day life just isn’t working for them. They’re unable to tell us exactly what’s bothering them so they fuss, they refuse to go to bed, they cry or they create an uproar.
If we can anticipate the situations that will cause this reaction and respond to the child’s needs, we can prevent it from happening in the first place. Every parent is familiar with the child-proofing which goes on when toddlers start getting mobile. We child-proof the house so no harm can happen. If we take that example and extend it to other aspects of a child’s life, we spare our children and ourselves a lot of grief and aggravation.
Other situations can be prevented with a little planning.
You’re going to visit your elderly maiden aunt Rose on Sunday. She loves your kids but can’t stand any noise. You just know the kids are going to get in trouble. It’s going to be a nightmare. So, you take the kids to the park on your way to Rose’s home. The kids get rid of all their pent-up energy before they arrive for the visit. You make it a short stay, and bring some favorite quiet-play toys. Things can work out pretty well with a bit of planning.
Not all misbehaviours can be prevented through planning or prevention. Certain situations can simply take care of themselves. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I did nothing?” If you’ve been in the habit of saving your children from the consequences of their actions you may discover that you can stay out of it and let your children handle the consequences on their own.
As an example, you notice that your daughter has once again forgotten to take her gym clothes to school. Normally you’d run them up to her to save her from the teacher’s wrath. Or you can do nothing and let her face the consequences of her actions. Mind you, if you’ve been saving your children for years, first warn them that it’s over and they can now handle their own school stuff. Children learn a lot from experience. Let them learn from the experience of dealing with the teacher.
In many situations doing nothing isn’t an option. You need to make sure that the consequences of your child’s misbehavior relate as closely as possible to the learning he needs.
For example, your son leaves his bike lying on the driveway. If you did nothing it could be stolen, it could be run over or damaged. You want him to learn to treat his belongings with respect and protect them from damage and loss. Denying him TV for three days may get his attention, but that would be punishment. It won’t teach him the lesson he needs. Removing his bike privileges will. Explain that owning a bike carries certain responsibilities. When he chooses to ignore his responsibility to put the bike away safely, he loses the right to ride the bike for three days. Now, that makes sense!
Dealing with child misbehavior takes thought and planning. The clearer you are, the easier it will be. When your children know that you have a plan and will follow it, they’re more likely to behave because they know the consequences of misbehavior. When the consequences make sense, children learn why we have certain rules.
So, we can first consider what we might do to prevent misbehavior and by making a small change in our plans, avoid the problem all together. We need to determine whether we could just do nothing and allow our child to deal with the consequences or we need to determine a consequence that will teach our child why his actions are not appropriate.
Let’s look at a few typical examples with school-aged children.
Nine-year-old Justin will not get to his homework. First to prevent the problem take a look at the environment. Does he have a place to work? Some kids do best at a quiet desk in their room, other kids need to be around the rest of the family so the kitchen table is more appropriate. Sit down with him and plan when and where he will study. Offer to help. Then give him ownership of the work, it’s his homework, not yours. If he doesn’t do it, he will have to deal with the teacher.
Eleven-year old Madison is constantly bugging you for money. In order to prevent the problem, give her an allowance. Have her list all her weekly expenses, negotiate with her for a reasonable amount of money then give her that money weekly. From then on, when she asks for money, you can point out that she has an allowance. If she runs out of money before the end of the week, she simply must wait until allowance day.
Six-year-old Owen will not behave at the dinner table. He gets up and down from his chair; he picks at this food and complains that he hates everything on his plate. Let him know that there are rules for how to behave at the table and if he leaves, you will assume he is finished and remove his plate. Involve him in the meal preparation. In this way he will be motivated to like the food and more likely to eat well.
There are many more hints at tips at the Parenting Today website which is at http://www.parentingtoday.ca.