A significant part of my day job involves correcting/ advising/steering inappropriate teenage behaviour.
I’m pretty good at it, too. I almost never get told to eff myself by the charming young hooligans in my care and I can almost always coach them through a renegotiation back into another teacher’s good graces. I do good work.
However, you can imagine my surprise (and the colossal shift in my ego) when I found discipline with my 3-year-old to be far more challenging than almost any of the rebellious man-children I’m paid to deal with.
For one, G’s a three-foot tyrant. Two, I love her. Three, she doesn’t give a flip (the concept of future consequences does not seem to register anymore for her than for a goldfish – a cute, blonde, defiant goldfish dressed in an octopus T-shirt. I know there are solid developmental reasons for this).
However, the principles of discipline with a 3-year-old girl are almost identical to the principles of discipline with the 16-year-old boys (except – top tip – you don’t hug 16-year-old boys you aren’t related to).
There are a million different approaches. This is just what’s working for me and my kid … at the moment. This is for low-level, everyday, normal boundary testing (not years of entrenched anti-social behaviour). At our house, our most common triggers are not turning off the iPad when asked, general non-compliance involving clothing and/or shoes and peanut butter….don’t get me started on peanut butter. Shouting, hitting are rare for little G – I think because we have been pretty consistent in how we deal with it.
Catch it early
You are not doing anyone (not your child, not you) any favours by giving seven chances and trying to play the good guy. Name the behaviour. Politely ask them to stop. If your kid ignores you, ask them to stop less politely (with a more serious tone). If they do not stop, either remove the object or remove the child from the situation; the third strike. This may result in tears or otherwise. Do not reverse your decision based on their reaction. As we say in NZ, Kia Kaha. Stay strong. (Your kid is not the boss – unless of course tears and screaming do cause you to reverse your decision. In which case, good luck for 10 years from now.)
Name the behaviour, not the child
When you and your child are calm enough to discuss, keep it simple. Never name call. Do not say, “You are rude.” Say, “It was rude to ignore me.”
Point out what happened, “I asked you to stop. Twice. You didn’t. I love you very much but I don’t like it when you .” If the kid is a toddler, this is enough. Be done with it. If the kid is older, see if you can get them to identify why the behaviour upset you.
Don’t drag the conversation out. Try not to lecture. Kids do not have a long attention span. And it’s not fun. Not for you, not for your kid. Always offer the reminder of unconditional love and the opportunity for grace. Make redemption an option.
Teach older kids how to apologise and negotiate future solutions*
“I would feel better if you said sorry. Are you ready to say sorry?” If not, walk away for a minute, regroup and try again calmly. I have done this as many as 5 or 6 times before getting a positive result with my girl. I have even taught some really stubborn boys how to apologise for a miscommunication, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come across as disrespectful.”
When a child does apologise, say thank you.
I think it’s important to acknowledge the effort of an apology but it is also important to not say, “It’s okay.”
“Thank you. I feel better. Do you want a hug? Now let’s go back and do…” Give a child an opportunity to have their parental love reaffirmed, comfort an upset or embarrassed child and carry on to a new activity. Teaching the ability and confidence to apologise is one of the greatest social skills we can equip our children with to live happier lives.
*This step is age specific because there’s little point in asking for an apology from some 2-year-olds (depending on the kid). Removing them from the situation will have sent a clear message. Early days, Step 1 is enough.
Give them a clean slate
Forgive. Let it go. Grudges have no place in a happy life. Give kids a chance to change future behaviour without reminding them of their past. If they can’t be redeemed, then what’s the point?
If ever you get angry, get out.
Take a breath, use the toilet or have a cup of tea. Try again later. Your kid is better off having five quiet minutes of reflection in a room alone than learning from an angry parent. Because that’s what all this behaviour and boundary testing is about: Learning