About a month ago I made a bold decision that surprisingly no one challenged me on. I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t see the post, didn’t read it, didn’t care, or if they were just so shocked by what I said that they couldn’t think of a response that would be diplomatic enough to express their disappointment with me.
Whatever the reason, NOBODY has commented on that post and I haven’t heard a word about my new approach to discipline–or more accurately, the complete absence of it.
I will admit right now that I haven’t had a perfect transformation (yet). I still yell sometimes and there are still those moments when I want to just give up and MAKE my son behave. But I haven’t given into that strong urge that stems from my own lack of emotional regulation and for that I’m freaking proud of myself!
It’s been a rather interesting several weeks using this new model of parenting and it helps that I’ve been reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids every night and using the new tools that I’ve found in the chapters as well as in “The Whole Brain Child“, the latter of which I photocopied and taped to the cupboard doors in my kitchen. My son isn’t magically transformed into an obedient child, but things are definitely easier than they used to be. To put it simply, when I got rid of punishment I got results a LOT faster and with far less drama!
Power Struggles are Disappearing
It wasn’t always enough to just offer him the choices or calmly tell him what he needed to do. At certain times of the day (the morning, before mealtimes and a few hours before bedtime) it didn’t matter how nicely we asked him to do something (even something that he would probably want to do, like turn off the TV to get dressed and go out with Dad), he would put up a fight. He would scream “NO, Little Shithead!” He would throw things if we stepped in and just turned off the TV on him. He would turn a simple request into a huge power struggle and our default solution was always to tell him that if he didn’t stop right now he would lose his privilege we were offering him (“that’s it! NO park/bedtime story/treat at the grocery store/going out with Daddy later”).
I always hated that ultimatum because it was as much a punishment for ME as it was for our kid. If he lost special Daddy Day then I lost Special Mommy By Herself For a Few Hours Day. Lose the bedtime story and I lose that special time where it’s just me and my son settling down to read. No treat? Great! Now we’re dealing with a hungry AND angry kid in the grocery store who keeps whining for a treat anyway.
It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t working. And it made life SO stressful!
So what happened when I took those threats away? I turned the request into a game. No, seriously, everything I wanted him to do that he didn’t want to do has become a game when the initial request is met with unreasonable defiance.
Doesn’t want to pick up his toys with me? “How fast can you pick these up? I bet I can beat you to it! Oh no, you’re so much faster than me! Oh no, you’re going to win! Uh oh, I’m almost done…oh no! You beat me because now your sister is helping you! Yay! We’re done! Now we can go and play your game! Good job!”
Doesn’t want to brush his teeth? “Race you!”
Doesn’t want to put something in his room? “Can you do it before I get to 30 counting? Oh wow! You got it done in 24 seconds!”
Fight anger with more play time!
Sometimes the suggestion of a game wasn’t enough. Sometimes he was just so crabby and he would hit me. In the past I would immediately send him to time out in his room. He would scream and throw things and hit even more. I would spend an entire afternoon fighting with that child to stay in his room and stop acting out. I would take every single toy he owned and put it in my room and tell him he could have them back when he stopped hitting or throwing things. He would just get angrier. He would hurt his sister, he would hurt the cats, and he would hurt me.
I don’t punish him or even react to him hitting me anymore. I stop, I take a deep breath, and then I attack him…playfully!
I channel all that frustration with him and transform it. I say “THAT’S IT! I HAVE HAD IT! YOU’RE GONNA GET IT NOW!” I say it in my “fake mad voice” and then I grab him, thrown him to the foam mat that I lay down in the living room and I tickle him until all his hits and kicks and “mad” is out of his system.
It releases his frustration, he stops hitting, and then afterward he’s more willing to play my clean up game.
When he can’t calm down I change his focus
We have a big tree in our yard and squirrels live in it. When my son is bouncing on the couch and I need him to stop but he’s too wound up I no longer MAKE HIM sit. I don’t threaten, I don’t even yell. Yelling never worked and would lead to violent outbursts in the past. Obviously trying to calm him down would mean that the last two tactics I use (game playing and wrestling him into “submission”) would rile him up more. So I pretend there’s something outside the window.
“Shh!” I say. “Listen! Quiet! Watch!” I point out the window at the tree. “Did you see him?”
My son will stop and look out the window (there’s nothing actually there, but he thinks there is) and I keep watching. I tell him in a whisper that he has to watch and be quiet.
Sometimes he’ll spot a bird or a cat I didn’t see, other times he’ll say “he went home” and either way he has stopped jumping on the couch. He’s calm and I can then tell him “hey, would you like to do a craft/color/work on your letters with me?” And he will settle down to work on something quiet.
These are just some of the things I’ve started doing with my son instead of punishing him (his sister is only 22 months old and so wouldn’t be punished for anything right now anyway) and I am amazed at how much better the days are going.
Sure, he’s still got an explosive temper and he doesn’t always want to do what I ask him to, but he’s also ONLY 4 YEARS OLD! And he’s doing much better than a lot of kids his age; the final visit with the child development specialist confirmed that last week. She actually said “I’m not needed here; you’ve got this!”
As for whether or not my son is actually learning to control himself, well he was playing with his sister and she destroyed his block tower. He said “Mommy, she broke my tower but I didn’t hit her, no.” And when he has accidentally hurt me or even hit me out of anger HE is the one apologizing and it’s without me having to say anything to him. “I’m sorry I hurt you, Mommy” he’ll say. “I didn’t want to but my body was controlling me”. He gets it. He is working on his impulse control and the older he gets the easier it will get.
What about the baby?
His sister is probably going to be my biggest “experiment” but I don’t know if it would be an accurate comparison because she’s more laid back than her big brother was at her age. Their personalities are like day and night, despite being raised nearly the same way.
I do know that it is easier to calm her down when I acknowledge her feelings and just give her a hug.
“I know, that scared you”
“You want to go play now?”
“Okay, go play”
Progress, Not Perfection
I will say this now: I am NOT a Perfect Parent. I don’t aspire to be one either. I am still learning and I don’t plan to ever stop learning. But one thing that this new approach has shown me is that I am finally making progress after years of not knowing how to handle my spirited child(ren) in their most difficult moments. More importantly, I am no longer as frustrated as I used to be. I don’t yell as often as I did. I am actually succeeding in my goal not to spank.
Today my child tested my patience. EVERYTHING was a battle. It didn’t matter how many times I tried to redirect him, wrestle and tickle him, or cuddle him. He was just in one of those moods where NOTHING works.
But even when I was about to lose it on him, I was able to stop. I got SO close to that breaking point when I would normally storm off and lock him out of my bedroom or worse, spank him, and I DIDN’T DO IT.
I grabbed him, I dragged him into his room, I threw him onto the bed. I was SO angry with him because he would not stop hitting me or his sister and he BIT her. He had called me a “Shithead Mommy” and I was DONE!
But I stopped. After I threw him on the bed I stopped. I laid down on the bed with him and I just held him. He was crying and saying how sorry he was and begging me not to hurt him because he knew that he had pushed me to my limit, and instead of telling him he was to stay in his room until he was ready to calm down, I just lay there. I held him. He started to cry and I picked him up, no longer feeling that rush of adrenaline, and I rocked him.
And after he was finished crying he wanted to watch a movie in his room so I put on Fern Gully.
Did he act up again after that? Well, yes he did. He’s 4 and he’s dealing with some really big emotions. He needs to feel safe again after all that punishment he’s faced in the past. All those times when I would send him to his room and yell and take his toys hardened his heart. He was scared to cry so he acted out with anger instead. But he is acting out LESS than he used to; that’s the difference. He’s calming down faster than he did a month ago.
A few hours later I told him that hitting isn’t okay. I said “I’m learning to control my body and you need to learn to control yours. What can you do instead of hitting?” And then we came up with some ideas on what we can do.
It’s WORTH The Effort!
It’s going to take time, a lot more effort, and a lot more patience. But I’m confident that I will be able to get him to a point where he won’t need to repress his emotions and he won’t need to hit to release any frustration. Considering that emotional regulation is what’s severely lacking for many males in our society, this is HUGE! If I can raise my son to know how to control his anger AND deal with his feelings, then I will be doing every woman he ever dates a huge favor. I will have succeeded in raising a man who will not EVER hit a woman OR use his size to intimidate or control her. I will have raised a man who also won’t hit or bully others to get what he wants and more importantly he will go into parenthood with a gift of emotional regulation. He will have a new parenting model that will benefit my future grandchildren.
So yes, this new way of parenting takes a lot more creativity, patience, and it’s time consuming. I’m not going to get results overnight. He isn’t going to immediately comply with every request I make, but the long-term goal has always been to raise a MAN who will do right in this world because it’s right, not because it’s expected. My goal is to raise a human being with true empathy and compassion; someone who won’t “just follow orders” because someone evil is threatening him into compliance. I want to raise human beings who question the authority when the rules are unethical or marginalize a group of people unfairly. I want them to stand up against injustice and to recognize that injustice. I want them to smash the patriarchy!
The very LAST thing I want to do is raise another asshole like the ones I see on social media all the time. And if I do my job right, maybe, just maybe humanity might not be so doomed after all.