Before I had kids, I was convinced I would be such a good disciplinarian as a parent. I’d worked with kids for years, both at summer camp and for a year as the coordinator of a youth centre. I was proud to be stern but fair, to follow through on consequences, and to be liked but also respected. If camp kids acted up, it was time-outs and minutes withheld from fun activities. It was meetings with parents and, when things were really bad, behaviour plans. For the youth centre tweens and teens, it was a demerit system and potential suspension from drop-in hours, when all else failed. I had a pretty good idea when a kid was just having a bad day and needed a reminder, and when I was being tested. But then I had my daughters.
It’s different when you can give the hooligans back at the end of the day. I knew that, after my shift, I could go home and flop on the couch and unwind. I was a teenager, and then in my early 20s, so I didn’t have to juggle work and laundry and meal prep and hockey practice and temper tantrums (and so much more). And I had an ace in my pocket: The kids wanted to come to camp and the youth centre, most of the time. They didn’t want to lose that privilege, to miss out on spending their days and evenings with their friends. I don’t have that secret weapon anymore.
Don’t get me wrong—Sophie’s a pretty good kid. She’s down to minor temper tantrums (as opposed to epic meltdowns) and she usually does what she’s asked, at least the second or third time she’s prompted. She helps with her baby sister, and she goes to bed without too much of an issue. But she has this problem with the word “no.” She doesn’t like it. She blocks it out. Case in point: Last week, I said, “Soph, please don’t touch the Halloween facepaint. The sparkles will get everywhere.” I said it three times. The third time, without even glancing at me, she picked up the paint and proceeded to get it all over her hands and the table. I said, “Sophie! Stop! You’re making a huge mess!” She then wiped both hands on her pants. (Because to a nearly-four-year-old, getting a paper towel to clean your hands is the worst idea ever.)
If she’d been a camper, I would have said, “Go wash your hands. When you come back, we need to talk about where your listening ears are.” But because I was already flustered with the business of our morning routine, I snapped at her: “Sophie! Why can’t you just listen when I tell you something?”
This isn’t a good technique. Of course it isn’t. I needed to count to 10, send her to clean herself up and dole out a proportional consequence. But I find myself in this situation a lot. I want to be more patient and even more creative with my discipline techniques, but I’m just so exasperated most of the time. And now that Juliette is learning about the joys of free will—trying to give her a bath, for example, is like trying to bathe a rabid baby alligator—it’s so not easy. I imagine in a year, when we have a two-year-old and an almost-five-year-old, it’s going to be worse.
Someone once told me, “The kid you’re raising is the kid your child is with other people.” Soph is polite and friendly and doesn’t seem to test boundaries in other arenas, like school, with her grandparents, at swimming lessons. So maybe we’re doing something right, but I know we could be doing better. I’ve actually reserved two books on kid discipline at our local branch of the public library, to get a little perspective. I’m not looking for all the answers, really—just some context and some new ideas. Because these days, someone gives them back to me, rather than the other way around.
Walmart Live Better editor-in-chief Katie Dupuis likes structure and organization—a lot. Now imagine this Type A editor with a baby. Funny, right? We’re sure you’ll love Katie’s musings on life with Sophie, Juliette and husband Blaine. Read all of Katie’s Type A Baby posts and follow her on Twitter @katie_dupuis.
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