The answer might seem obvious to most, but a scene I recently saw play out at a children’s museum made me wonder what qualifies as discipline. I saw a three-year-old boy push a one-year-old baby who was just beginning to stand. The baby fell back, and his head slammed against the hard tile floor. The parents of the aggressor immediately swooped their child into their arms, hugged him vehemently, and showered him with kisses. As an afterthought, they apologized to the mother of the screaming one-year-old. The baby continued crying for the next half hour.
I was shocked as I witnessed the scene play out. The last time I checked, snuggling up to your toddler or child while whispering sweet nothings into his ear doesn’t exactly qualify as discipline. Is this a new approach toward aggressive behavior that I’m just not aware of? Maybe I’m missing something. This approach would seem to me to inhibit a child’s ability really to understand consequences and distinguish right from wrong, because he could easily confuse it for praise. Left unchecked, this type of aggressive behavior could easily spiral out of control into bullying when the child is older.
A time-out along with some meaningful eye contact and a serious but level tone of voice works well for me, and always elicits an apology from my own two-year-old daughter, indicating to me that she is just beginning to understand right from wrong, and that the actions for which she is being punished (even if it’s just 20 seconds in the time-out corner) had hurtful consequences.
However, I’ve recently discovered that most daycares don’t use time-outs anymore, so I’m left to wonder what kind of discipline is acceptable. I don’t condone corporal punishment. The ruler, the belt, the switch, and the dunce cap have mercifully made their exit as acceptable forms of discipline. As recently seen by the case in Texas, using violence for punishment can spiral out of control in horrifying ways. Even yelling can spiral into verbal abuse that can cause our children irreparable harm. I’m in complete agreement with the experts that parents should avoid these.
But coddling a child with kisses, smiles, and even tickles after he carries out a fairly serious act of aggression doesn’t strike me as the right approach. So what tools is a parent left with? Discussion and working through feelings is a valid approach. When children are older, taking away privileges is also effective, such as no TV, iPhone, or Internet.
My primary interest is instilling a moral compass in my daughter, so that she learns kindness and compassion, and that her actions have consequences.
Discipline is a very touchy subject, and not one that many parents are eager to discuss. But it’s a conversation that I hope to start right here on this blog. What works well for you when it comes to disciplining your toddler or child?