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...