I was watching “Super Nanny” recently and she was teaching the father of a two-year-old how to discipline the boy through timeouts. Since he was two, he was to get two minutes timeouts at a bench whenever he misbehaved.
This day boy touched something that his dad had told him not to touch. The father carried him to the “naughty corner” bench and sat him down. But the boy kept wailing and stepping down from the bench. And his dad would put him back. This went on for two hours until the boy did the continuous two-minute timeout! The dad was exhausted and super nanny was impressed by the progress. I was heartbroken for the two of them. I hated to be in the dad’s position.
Every parent has been at that place where you find yourself having a battle of wills with a toddler that only makes you more angry and draws the heart of your little one away from you. We have all punished our children and watched them cry dejectedly, and at that moment we have wondered whether we did harm or good. Sometimes we get obedience we seek, sometimes we don’t; but we still remain frustrated parents with wounded little people in our wake.
Before I had kids the only thing I knew about disciplining children was “spoil the rod spoil the child.” That and the fact that I had my backside whooped whenever my folks thought I was growing horns.
Then came our son and I was at my wit’s ends on how to get him to do stuff the way I wanted him to, when I wanted him to.How do I stop him from hitting his sister or spitting at me? How do I stop him from grabbing toys from others or taking the teacher’s crayons? How do I stop the tantrums at the chocolate or toy aisle in the supermarket? How do I make sure I am not raising an entitled little monster and instead bring up a well-behaved, friendly, sharing boy?
Some of my friends had naughty corners for their tots. Others had a kiboko or slippers on standby full time. A few had their kids running amok, with no one to rein them in. I tried a little of everything to see what worked for us. Three years later my kids still drive me up the wall despite their pint size, they still disobey me outright and ignore me or talk back and I still get frustrated and act out in ways that damage our relationship. Sometimes I spank them and get instant results (or not), I feel awful about it, and wonder if I am teaching them to handle disagreements with hitting.
Lately I have been learning about positive parenting.
Positive parenting — sometimes called positive discipline, gentle guidance, or loving guidance — is simply guidance that keeps our kids on the right path, offered in a positive way that resists any temptation to be punitive. Studies show that’s what helps kids learn consideration and responsibility, and makes for happier kids and parents.
The people at positiveparents.org say peaceful parenting isn’t a method, a set of rules, or a “style.” It is a belief, a way of living that believes children should be treated with respect, free from fear of violence and shame, and guided with loving encouragement.
Hey, but what about Proverbs that says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child but the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” The rod did seem to chase away folly.
But here was someone telling me that I can get my kids to act right without resulting to punitive punishment and without damaging our relationship. Here was someone telling me I can be loving and still get disciplined kids. I wanted to stop being the yelling parent. I wanted the power struggles to end. I wanted to stop being in a foul mood by end of day because my kids have been pressing all my buttons.
Let me share some of the things that are helping me learn that I can parent differently:
First is the realisation that children don’t throw tantrums in order to manipulate their caregivers or because they are spoiled little brats. They are little people who are dealing with big emotions, too big for them to understand. When you are overwhelmed, you need someone to calm you down, to put things in perspective and to tell you things will be alright. A broken pencil may be minor to me but to him it is something awful that has happened and is causing him distress. His distress is real.
Second children may not react as we expect them to because they see their world differently from us. Normal things to us can be scary and frightening to them. Ever wondered why your child makes it such a big deal that you leave the house every day to go to work? It could be because they think you are abandoning them. Ever wondered why switching the TV from Disney Junior to KTN should be such a big deal that the whole neighbourhood comes to a standstill? Research shows that a sense of loss activates the pain centres in the brain, causing an agonizing withdrawal. Well, I am yet to understand why my son will roll on the floor because I bit his bread or took a sip from his soda 🙂 Try to see the world through their little eyes and you will be more sensitive.
Third, I have understood that above everything else, my son seeks a connection with me. He wants my attention, my comfort, my love. Whatever I do to discipline him should always involve connecting with him and his emotions, not severing that. Sometimes my son repeatedly does something wrong and then throws a tantrum about it and I am forced to take him to his bedroom against his will. Sometimes this is to let him calm down. Other times it is so that I can calm down. Most times it’s because I am hungry and I know sending him to his bedroom really gets to him. A minute later I find him sitting on his bed, crying, sad; and I am heart broken. Breaking my child’s spirit was never the goal, nor was it to hurt him or make him feel unloved. So I take him and hug him and remind him that I love him, while wondering how else I can discipline my child and leave a positive impact on both of us. Children only learn to behave because we want them to and because they want to please us. Thus a strong relationship ensures that your child will always try to please you.
Fourth, I need to meet the child’s needs before they arise. Hunger, fatigue, sleep and feeling ignored will lead to a meltdown. So will lack of an emotional connection. I try to ensure the children eat regularly and get their naps on time for a happier household. Cranky babies make for cranky parents. I engage with them, listen to them, and play with each of them. That way I know the tantrum is not an attention seeking ploy.
Fifth, I have accepted that tantrums come with the territory. Science shows that the part of the brain that regulates emotion and controls social behaviour in children under four years is undeveloped. The immature prefrontal cortex means that toddlers will misbehave because they can’t help it. In fact one explanation says that during a tantrum, the child loses connection with their logical brain.They can only access their lower brain, the one involved with survival. During that moment of rage, they can’t listen or hear anything you tell them.
Rebecca Eanes of creativechild.com says: “What I’ve learned about children in my years of research is that their brains do not take information in when they are dysregulated (or very upset). During times of emotional upset, children are functioning from their lower brain (which controls the fight, flight, or freeze response) and need to calm down before they can access their higher brain (responsible for logical thought and reasoning). Therefore, the calm down area should be a soothing place for the child to engage their higher brains so they can then best learn the lesson we want to teach.”
Thus the best way to handle a tantrum is to help the child calm down first.Then you can try and get to the root of the problem. Then you can help them re-access their upper brain. Understanding that helps me be more understanding and proactive during a meltdown instead of taking it personally as an affront to my sanity.
Sixth, disciplining is about teaching. Model what’s acceptable. Teach to share, to ask for something, to say sorry and thank you, to wait. That way your child knows what is expected of them.
My kids still drive me nuts at times. I act out instead of being the grown up in charge of my emotions. I still spank. Sometimes I yell. I “nuna” and stop talking to my almost four-year-old (don’t roll your eyes) because he is not doing as he is told.. But I am trying to always connect, always love, always inspire. Ultimately, love is the most powerful motivator. Some day I will talk of how I have succeeded at peaceful parenting.
For some laughs here are some hilarious reasons toddlers throw tantrums.