Family life

Why I'm not good at disciplining my preschooler

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk can't quite figure out how to discipline her preschooler.

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Tara-Michelle with her daughter, Anna. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

Like most first-time parents, I had a lot of clear ideas on who my daughter would be, and what kind of parent I would be. I thought she would be tiny and dark-haired—instead she was tiny, bald and than eventually blond. I thought I would collect lamb toys and decorate her room with them, which didn’t happen. I thought I would love reading with her all the time but—while we both love reading—the disappointing truth is that I’m often too exhausted by her bedtime. We still read, it’s just not quite how I’d imagined it.

Read more: Bedtime books we love >

Having grown up in a home with a lot of raised voices, there was one thing I felt certain of—I would never yell at my daughter. I get on edge when I overhear couples fighting in public, or see mothers who yell at their children on buses. I try my best not to judge and instead try to internalize it as something specific that reminds me of a bad time in my own life.

I’m sure you can see where this is all going: I yell. I’m impatient. I get frustrated, and I yell some more. The sound of my own raised voice upsets me; it’s not something I’ve come to terms with or feel OK rationalizing. It’s occasional, I like to think, and certainly not my go-to discipline tactic.

Read more: 6 discipline fallbacks… and how to fix them >

I knew the toddler and preschool years would be difficult for me. I love newborns, the newer the better. Five-year-old kids have developed brains that lead them to pick an argument with you the moment you’re about to cross a busy street, or demand peanut butter ad nauseam when you don’t have any peanut butter. However, teaching a baby to sit up on their own appealed to me, along with teaching them concepts and ideas—but the thought of doing counting and alphabet drills with a preschooler were boring to me even before the pregnancy books I was reading told me my growing baby was the size of a walnut.

Suffice to say that the following “conversation” is not exactly the favourite part of my day:

“Put on your boots, please.”
….
“Put on your boots, please.”

“Please walk to the front door and put your boots on your feet.”

“I don’t know hoooow to.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I neeeeed help.”

“Try first and if you can’t do it I’ll help you.”

“I can’t doooooo it.”

Repeat times a hundred. Repeat in variation at bath time, bedtime, tooth-brushing time and pretty much all other markers of routine set for her. Repeat every time we walk past the bakery and she wants to go inside for a treat. Repeat every time she remembers that candy exists.

My child is not a monster. She’s bizarrely smart. She likes kittens and babies (as long as I don’t hold them for too long.) She’s great to take out places, and likes to help make meals. She’s goofy and sweet and all the best things a preschooler can be, along with being whiny and defiant. In fact, I’d go so far as to say she’s quite well-behaved in general—but she tests me, and refuses to listen, and acts out because she is a kid.

Read more: Kids’ behaviour: 10 things to forgive them for (and why) >

I have tried time-outs, thinking that if her daycare was using that method than I should be consistent. However, she liked them too much because it was a “big kid” punishment to her, and she generally never gets in trouble at daycare. I tried sending her to her room, but she wouldn’t go. She usually sleeps with a lamp on and her door open, unless she’s not behaving. But I’ve since learned she can open her door and turn on the lamp by herself. I’ve tried ignoring her, which is the hardest given my impatience, but it doesn’t seem to get us anywhere. I try setting limits and negotiating to no avail.

I have my superstar mama moments, where I can manage to distract or deflect us into a better place. Where a creative idea sparks, I try it and it works. But overall, the things that I read and hear and see just don’t work for us.

I know my daughter’s behaviour mostly stems from the fact that she’s only three years old. My tiny preschooler currently has two main lines of questioning: why do people die and who is “in love”? She has decided she wants to be a plumber and a librarian (I’m in support of both). And she can draw a monster. That said, she is also wildly amused by Miffy & Friends, balloons and announcing every fart she hears. Sometimes I feel like I overthink my tactics and negotiate discipline with her intellectually, instead of just coming to terms with the reality of her being a regular preschooler.

Did you have a preschooler who refused discipline? What did you do?