Gentle Discipline for the Middle Child

Alternate title: How I Learned to stop Arguing and Love The Informant.

Did you see THAT video? You know the one of the dad who finds out his daughter was writing rude things about him on Facebook and so he SHOT HER LAPTOP?!?!?!

I was both intrigued and appalled.

Intrigued because I have been known to let my temper get the better of me. When a nerf bullet hit me in the head, I put the nerf gun in the trash. When one of the girls threw a barbie during a temper tantrum, I broke barbie’s neck.

Sorry, Babs. (Flickr/SamJUK)

But seeing that dad on the video nervously smoking a cigarette, absolutely seething with anger — and I’ve read comments that he was sooooooooooo relaxed, but personally, I didn’t see that. I saw a dad who was incredibly agitated and mad as hell — stopped me in my tracks. It was really appalling. His absolute lack of control really shocked me.

I don’t want to ever get there. I will happily embrace my approximately 100 page views per day on this blog, rather than get a million hits for doing something really traumatizing to my family.

This relates to The Informant because she’s a very… challenging… child. She is contrary. She is sneaky. She likes attention, and she probably gets less than her siblings, especially from others. She’s not an identical twin, and she’s not a cute baby (or a cheerful 4-year-old).

Already, at almost-7-years-old, disciplining her is difficult. She totally smirks at me — and if I rip the head of an inanimate object who merely smiles blank-eyed at me, you can imagine what I think of doing to an almost-7-year-old who smirks and rolls her eyes at me.

Angry Bale! (Flickr/Nomadic Lass)

Meanwhile, I try to avoid threatening my children. Not because the threats are empty, but because I don’t see the point. I want my kids to LEARN not to blow their nose on the couch (true story!), but if I say, “Don’t blow your nose on the couch or I’ll XYZ to you!” they’re only learning to avoid punishment. They’re not learning why not to blow your nose on the couch.

Hand to God, I was literally speechless at the nose-blowing-on-the-couch incident, which happened Friday. I really did not think I’d ever have to explain to my children WHY YOU SHOULDN’T BLOW YOUR NOSE ON THE COUCH. I mean, really? And no, it was not the 1yo, 4yo or 7yo who did it, nor was it the 9-year-old you’re thinking of! It was Animal! 

But old habits die hard, and I find myself threatening occasionally. Most often with The Informant. My Chemical Romance gave me a list of things I should take away from her as a consequence of various infractions, but again, that’s just teaching an avoidance technique.

One day, she was arguing with me, and I found myself searching for something to threaten her with. It was one of those rare moments where you really see yourself for a second, and I thought

This is totes cray-cray.

"Crazyhouse Welcome!" (Flickr/Tom Ravenscroft)

I keep upping the ante and upping the ante, and one day, I’m going to find myself saying, “Wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom counter or I’m never letting you brush your teeth again!” (You’re welcome, future dentist) or “Pick up that jacket, or it belongs to me now!” (Size 7/8).

This is totally crazy.

I walked out of her room, back into my room, and decided to stop threatening her. At some point, she’s going to learn that toothpaste on the bathroom sink is gross — or not — and I can’t force her to see that. And if I try to force her by blackmail/threatening/consequence, it’s only going to make her resent me, and that will drive a wedge into our relationship. And while I don’t want toothpaste on the bathroom sink, or jackets on the floor, I want a positive relationship with her MORE.

What I am doing rather than threatening is (1) telling her my expectation and (2) walking away if she argues/objects. It’s surprisingly difficult (again, old habits). But I’m finding that it’s way more effective than threatening/blackmailing/consequence. And I feel better about our relationship when she’s free to be herself and I’m free to be myself.

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11 Responses

  1. Daughters are tough. xoxox Mom

  2. My 2 year old blows her nose on the couch. blankets. pillows. towels. and recently, she wiped her tushie with a jacket. I usually raise my voice, but I think I’ll try explaining and walking away from now on.

  3. Children are inherently irrational by adult standards. They simply are not equipped neurologically to understand that actions have consequences, often not until their frontal lobes have finished “hooking up” when they’re as old as 21. We are constantly telling our children to “think about the consequences” and we’re just beating our heads against a wall because they simply CAN’T. They can, on the other hand, learn to respect authority, and that is a parent’s job to teach. They need strong leaders who set boundaries, rules and limitations, with understood consequences for their actions which the parent is then responsible for upholding. A “positive” relationship with your child is not one where everybody is free to be themselves if that freedom means there are coats all over the floor, snot on the sofa, or toothpaste on the bathroom counter. A positive relationship with your child is often prickly for what seems like years and years because you simply MUST make rules and uphold them if they are to grow up to be strong responsible adults who CAN understand the consequences of their actions. We can still have fun with our children and enjoy them when we get the chance, but our children need PARENTS, not another friend. Think in terms of “positive reinforcement” if you don’t like the idea of constant threats (although you’ll still have to make them) – for example, every day that coats are picked up and the bathroom sink is left clean, a star goes on a chart or whatever creative device you can think of, and when a certain number of good behavior days have accumulated, there is a reward – not a bicycle, or an iPod, but a trip to the ice cream shop just the two of you, or something similar that has the value of fun time spent with you built in.

    • I support positive reinforcement — but I do not want to reward my children for something I expect from them. No making a big deal about eating vegetables or clearing the table or doing their laundry.

      • I feel the same way about going down the path of rewards for expectations…I now look at it from a different angle; If they don’t clean the sink then I have to clean it and my time is very valuable and worth a lot of money 🙂 Thus, they don’t clean the sink, they have to pay me out of their allowance to clean the sink for them. This has worked great in our house. Honestly, if this didn’t work I still would have looked another direction to get a clean sink from them. I really don’t want them to get in the habit of messy. Habits are too hard to break when we are older.

        I’m curious what do you do when you tell her your expectation and walk away, but she ignores your expectation?

      • Well for me, the toothpaste thing wasn’t a great example because my house IS a mess. But… when there’s something that needs to get done, we can’t leave until it’s done. We are fairly busy with activities and co-ops and friends, and I will tell the kids, “we have to be at the park at 10 AM and the laundry needs to be done before we go.” If it’s not done, no park. I do struggle with chores-as-punishment though. I want them to value a clean house and a clean body.

  4. Don’t think of cleaning the sink as a punishment for cleaning the sink. It’s just the price you pay for being messy. I’d probably say, “You have a choice, keep the sink clean or clean it for us when you’re done so no one else has to deal with your mess.” And then probably do it with her. Kids don’t learn that mess is a problem until they’re the one cleaning it up!

    But you’re right: a big part of the solution is taking a deep breath and deciding to be zen about a little toothpaste. In the long run, it’s not a huge deal.

  5. […] I said YES! ABSOLUTELY! but later that day, I thought, This is totes cray-cray. I went to Whole Paychecks and bought a non-SLS/SLES shampoo and started using it every day. My […]

  6. Both of mine are like this. UGH! I don’t know what to do other than send them outside to run around like the lunatics they are. I agree with whomever was talking about the frontal lobes… the older my kids get, the more I think that it’s not my goal to raise them a certain way so much as get to a place where I can live with them day to day, in the here and now. They are going to grow up to be who they are, and teaching them adult skills when they are children is really pointless, if you think about it. I was a LAZY SLOB as a kid and a teen, no matter how my mom felt about it or what she tried to get me to help around the house. As an adult, I now work my rear off non-stop to clean my house … from my own slobby kids. I know people who never, ever ate veggies as kids and now love them as adults, and people who always had to eat veggies as kids and now never eat them. I think 90% of parenting philosophy is just delusional thinking that we have control over the people our kids grow up to be … when really, the main thing you have to do is live with these small people while you can, and yes, try to have a good relationship with them if you can. Everything else will be what it is.

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