Nov 16, 2010

count your blessings--30 days of gratitude--day 16

I am thankful for advice.

Last night, Cara climbed onto the hearth and played in the ashes of the fireplace.  This is not the first time she has done this, and I suspect it won't be the last.  It made for a rather messy situation for Cara and for me. 

I feel a little confused about disciplining my 16-month-old.  Part of me thinks that she is still a baby, so she doesn't really know any better.  Following this train of thought, the fireplace situation is more my fault than hers because I should have been paying closer attention; therefore, the fireplace/toddler mess was caused by parental negligence. 

There is another part of me that thinks she most definitely knows better than to play in the fireplace.  Her face when I caught her digging in ashes sort of gave her away.  PJ and I have said "No" more times than I can count, we have removed her from the hearth kicking and screaming, we have tried to distract her, but she is a determined, stubborn little thing.  Imagine that.

When we went for Cara's 15-month visit, I asked her pediatrician how to get her to understand that no means no.  He said that the strongest discipline tool we have is withholding our affection.  Doesn't that sound so mean?  He said that we should make it clear in our voice and body language that we are serious about "no" and then ignore her.  No hugs, kisses, conversations, or anything.  When I discovered Cara in the fireplace, I figured I would give this no-love thing a try.  It was relatively close to Cara's usual bath/bed time, so I just sped the routine up a good bit.  No toys or playing in the tub, no books before bed.  Cara's feelings were very hurt by the time the bath was over, and by the time she was in her jammies, she was a very, very sad little bear.  I put her in her crib to go to bed, intending to lay her down and leave the room, but she just laid there and cried.  She didn't try to stand up and protest; she reached her little hands up and cried and cried.  I sat in her rocker and felt like a jerk.

Do all parents feel like jerks when they have to discipline their children?

I ended up rocking her for a good 20 minutes.  She sat in my lap, hugging me, staring up at me with those big, sad eyes like "Mama, I am so sad.  Do you still love me?"  I told her over and over that I loved her, but mama said not to play in the fireplace.  I realize that I am probably projecting my own reaction and emotions on Cara; she probably felt like she got what she wanted since I picked her up and rocked her. 

I call my method an epic fail because I don't think Cara connected the punishment with the crime, and I didn't exactly follow through.  I don't think I can do the withholding affection thing, and I wasn't sure that Cara really even knew better than to play in the fireplace.  So, I decided to take a very informal survey of my coworkers with kids.  I asked people with kids Cara's age or older if 1) a 16-month-old knows better; and 2) how do/did you deal with your toddler when he/she was defiant.

The response was overwhelmingly in favor of 1) yes, she knows better; and 2) time out, Supernanny style.  In fact, I heard more than once that I am probably underestimating what Cara knows and is capable of, which I think is because I don't want to see her as a toddler instead of a baby. 

Time out sounds okay, but I'm not sure how this will work out in real life.  Will she really stay in time out?  I know I will have to put her in time out immediately after she does something she's not supposed to, and I know I need to get down to her level, eye contact and all that, and explain that mommy said no.  Does this really work?

Still open to suggestions and grateful for advice...


  1. No, she won't stay in time out, but do it anyway. I have a timer I set with Jude and Penn and put them on a rug when they break the rules. Jude is still learning, but Penn knows what's going on. I tell them why they're in timeout quickly, "You're in timeout for hitting your brother," then I leave them alone. I have to keep putting Jude back multiple time usually. When the timer goes off, i sit on the floor with them and have a talk, hugs and then try to get them to apologize (roughly). Cara will eventually "get it" and things will go a lot more smoothly (most times). As I say this, Penn has been screaming "MOOOOMMMYYYY" from his bed in tears because I won't come in his room and coddle him for having a tantrum at bedtime, so obviously, it won't fix everything.

  2. Do you have a designated time out spot, or is it wherever is convenient?

  3. I WISH I could have a designated "time-out" spot, but unfortunately, they don't JUST misbehave at home. Time-out at home is usually right around the corner from wherever I am (usually a rug in the kitchen). Anywhere is fair game when we're somewhere else...

  4. Time out is the key (for us anyway). I am very anti-spanking cause I cry harder than they do! We have a time out stool. And it's kind of funny because when he needs that stool to stand up to reach something, he will comment that time out is over and it's okay for him to move it to reach the sink. Parents ALWAYS think they are harsh, mean, or just not making the cut. But you do the best you can and that's all you can do! It's okay to try something and when you find something you like or that works, it's okay to revamp in a few months or so. We used to have time out on his bed, which worked for a little bit, but then he easily got distracted with toys and then there was the "we can't see him" factor. So that's when we switched to the stool. I, too, set a timer. And as he gets older, he has to sit longer (3 years old=3 minutes). You are a GREAT mommy! Keep going!

  5. I think that the challenge is to separate your own adult interpretation of knowing what's "right"/"wrong" with a child's ability to interpret this. There is definitely a developmental continuum where I imagine children have a more and more sophisticated understanding of this, but I think for Cara and Jack it's VERY rudimentary. (Like all the big words?) So I think we should react in a way that takes into account that they don't understand what they just did the way we do. I know I get frustrated when I'm repeating myself or removing the same object (just like I used to get with my 2nd graders) but that's because in adult interactions I'm not used to not being listened to. My goal is to not act out of that frustration since that has more to do with me than Jack.

    I think this is a really interesting subject so keep posting!

  6. @awbeare: I think I would be a crying mess too if I tried spanking. I'm not tough enough or something. And, thank you so much for the encouragement! You are an awesome mommy too (which I why I am glad to hear your perspective)!

    @Courtney: I am have questioning how much Cara understands about right/wrong and how much she remembers about what things she has previously been told not to do. My concern is where something more dangerous than fireplace ashes is involved. How do I teach her what is right and what is wrong and make it stick for more than 5 seconds?

    One of my coworkers to said to use 5 words or fewer when explaining the "No" and "What she did" part because she will not listen to anything more. I thought to myself "no one else does either." Who are these people who are always listening to you?? :-)

    And I love all the big words. I feel smarter just reading your comment!

  7. I am from another generation but we spanked, not beat, spanked. There is a difference. It is quick, not painful, just attention getting and the lesson is usually learned. I am sure Cara knows she was doing wrong because of the look she gave you.
    Whatever you decide, please never withhold affection. I hate to disagree with a physician (then again, I don't really care) but that is the most cruel thing to do to a child. A small child's parents are his/her world and rejection, however temporary is shattering.
    Just saying...
    Love you all,

  8. Jessica, we use time outs as well. Tantrums get you sent to your room until you stop crying, even my 18 month old. Anything other than a tantrum gets you time sitting in your chair. Krystian sits for 3 minutes (length of his age) and Aydyn sits for 1 minute (again, length of his age). As they are sitting down, I say, "We don't (whatever the offense is)."

  9. i know i always enjoy a swift pop on the backside...wank! ;) ;) ;) oh, wait a minute...i think i got the topics confused.

  10. @Christie: (while laughing) I don't even know what to say...

    @Jen: I am glad to hear that your 18-month-old responds to the timeouts. I think that's the direction I am heading. More to come on this later today, I think.


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