As parent to an increasingly willful toddler and five year old who's testing boundaries, my arsenal of behavior management techniques is dwindling quickly. The thing is, I don't really enjoy being the disciplinarian, but I'll be damned if my children grow up as wildlings. It seems that nowadays I spend a nice chunk of our quality time barking warnings, counting down and reminding my kids of my expectations. Frankly it's exhausting and unlike many folks my patience seems to be waning, not growing, with age.
My son spent 4 years as an only child. Compared to some other mischievous boys his age Nigel is well behaved. He's a good listener and really sweet kid who doesn't rock the boat much. Since he turned one I've drilled in our "3 Rules": Be a Good Listener, Be Respectful and Be Safe. All of the infractions that disappoint and anger me fall somewhere under the umbrella of the "3 Rules". He knows the rules inside out and grasps the concept pretty well for a little guy. Spankings are few and far between. Timeouts in the naughty chair are the bread and butter of my behavior management strategy with him. Couple that with a stern 3 or 5 count and he used to be scared straight. I've got a mean Mommy face! But, lately I've been noticing some defiance and I don't like it. It's so funny that until you become a parent you think "controlling" a child is easy. Ha! You cannot make a kid do anything. The more you try the more angry you get and antagonistic they become. They will make you spaz out and guess who's angry, exhausted and teary afterward? The parents - not the kids! What does work is assessing your personality and that of your child. Lay out your expectations and tell your kid why right is right and wrong is wrong. They are smarter than we give them credit for. Speak to them at their language level and they'll get it. Parents sometimes skip the explanation of expectations. I make a point to always give a why to my what. Still I wonder if he focuses more on the reward or punishment in place, instead of the lesson I need him to learn. I discipline to establish my son's self-discipline. That's my end game. I want him to recognize what is appropriate behavior for himself when I'm not around to check him. With any amount of luck this habit of self regulation will start now and follow him into adulthood.
I'm maturing beyond the naughty chair. I swear by it's effectiveness, but Nigel needs something more now. (I pray that baby girl adheres to the timeout rules, so far keeping her in any one spot for longer than a minute is a trial.) We use our responsibility chart religiously. I switch out the tasks and chores every other week to keep it fresh. Nigel, like most kids, thrives on positive feedback over negative consequences. Good behavior is expected so we don't reward it with "stuff" daily, but he can earn weekly treats. We're trying to stay away from buying toys because he has too many and has gotten a little spoiled in that department. Instead allowing him to pick our dinner or dessert, a surprise visit to an event or exhibit, even a simple DVD rental works well for him. I'm relying more on an "if,then" approach and natural consequences punishments. For example "Yes, you may play with the Kindle Fire (substitute for any electronic device). But, IF you don't properly care for it THEN I will take it away for two days." "Yes, you may eat lunch on the back porch today, but IF you make excessive spills THEN you must clean it up yourself and come back to the kitchen table." "Yes, your friend may come over to play in the yard, but IF you guys can't share nicely THEN you have to come inside." There are still mini meltdowns and crying spells, but I've noticed I'm less frazzled and frustrated because we both know the consequences. After a few moments we're moving forward with our day.
It recently occurred to me that my goal is not to have my children function as little well mannered robots. I hope that my rules and regulations, system of punishments and rewards, will help them learn self-discipline. Part of being a kid is getting dirty, being loud and making mistakes. Part of being a parent is knowing what to let slide and when to tighten up.