Discipline for Dummies: Reconsidered

Now that I’ve tried time outs with Petra a few times, I’ve decided that I’m not comfortable using them too much. I don’t want Petra doing what I tell her only because she’s scared of being sent to her room – I want her to feel safe to explore, learn, try things out, and be who she is, even when that’s not convenient for me. And, I don’t want to avoid the reasons for any conflict and ignore my own issues by simply sticking Petra in time out any time I get uncomfortable or annoyed. So, I need to think of alternative methods to add to my discipline toolbox. Cue more research.

I’ve just reread a lovely book called Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, which focuses on an empathetic, cooperative approach to discipline. The title of their chapter on managing tricky behaviour is “Moving Beyond Punishment” and the chapter heading is a quotation from a parent that reads:

Punishment backfires because the child isn’t learning to solve the problem. She’s only learning how to react to the force of the disciplinarian.

Their model involves considering what the child is trying to achieve and acknowledging their impulses and actions, offering choices where possible, reinforcing requests and instructions by going over to the child and interacting with them (helping them physically if necessary), and giving them as much room as possible to learn and find out things for themselves. It’s a busy, active style of parenting which tries to avoid both permissive and authoritarian extremes, and which demands a lot of self-awareness and observation from the parent.

That sort of approach feels much more appropriate to me than does over-riding the child. There’s a place for the time out in this model – but only as an occasional thing. As the authors say, “used carefully, they can sometimes calm down an escalating situation or make a clear statement to a child about unacceptable behavior.” But as they point out, a time out stops behaviour without dealing with the reasons why the behaviour is happening in the first place. It can also remove the child from a situation before they’ve finished learning from it.

So, more figuring out from me:
1) Although time outs have produced very quick and comprehensive results, I only want to use them when things have gone very pear-shaped indeed. (Hitting me qualifies here.)
2) Be pro-active about discipline and conflicts, so that I can come up with creative solutions before I’m frazzled. (Not always easy.)
3) Make sure that Petra knows that I respect and acknowledge her point of view. Involve her in decisions and solutions where possible.
4) Be consistent.
5) Have the courage of my convictions. My no really does mean no, whether I back it up with time out or not.
6) And, my old standby – if all else fails, take a walk together, or give Petra an afternoon bath/shower, so we both get a break.

I do a lot of this stuff already of course, but the difference now is that I’m trying to be a little more deliberate and conscious about my methods. So, I’m trying things out to see what works best for me and for Petra.

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