We have all seen it. While shopping for our groceries, minding our own business, we see that crazy kid that throws a temper tantrum about something he/she wants but the parent won’t allow. For single people and couples without kids, you shake your head. When you are a parent you look at that with compassion and fear. Fear that one day you will be that parent who has to endure that public shame.
I am not the best father nor should I dispense any knowledge on how to raise kids. I try to be a disciplinarian but I end up being one of two extremes: (i) too hard or (ii) too soft. My wife is different. She thinks. She observes. She reads. I just want to share with my readers today something I learned from my wife when it comes to parenting. It is simple yet so profound in my opinion.
Private and public discipline are two entirely different beasts. You cannot conquer one domain the way you conquer the other. Your kids will smell that and pounce on you like a fat boy on a Krispy Kreme donut. For schooling you can choose private or public education. For parenting and discipline, you need both. This blog entry will be addressing toddlers to first grade only. Sorry folks, but its this age that the private/public school of discipline is most important. The rest of you will have to wait for the adolescent and teenage stuff till after I pass that stage. Also if you do it right at this stage, you won’t have to worry about this stuff when they get older.
NOTE TO READER: Please do not take any authoritative tone I use through this blog to mean that I am an expert. I really am not. More than anything I want to give my readers a window into a lesson I learned from my wife. Also, I don’t want to share too much about parenting advice because my kids will probably do something crazy the day after I type this so I try to avoid bad karma.
Here is the short of it…in private discipline (meaning when you are home) always discipline on the spot. In public discipline always remove the kid from the situation that is causing the tantrum. Let me explain…
When you are home and your kid does something they are not supposed to do, do not take them to another room and discipline them. Remember they are very young and cannot comprehend at times why they are being disciplined. The short time it takes you to remove them from the current location to another and to get started on the discipline process, it is not uncommon for a kid’s mind to be somewhere else.
Voice of Kid in Their Head: Hey throwing a spoon is fun. Yeah. Daddy is making that funny face again. Wow…thanks dad for giving me the spoon again. You are my slave. I will throw it again and see how many times you give it back. One…two…ten times!!! You are better than our dog. You fetch and entertain with loud noises and funny faces. I love it when his face turns red. Red is my favorite color. Whoah! He is picking me up…we are going upstairs. I love stairs. I love it better when daddy carries me. Oh…look a picture of me. Hundreds of pictures of me. I think my parents worship me like a mini-god. Wow we are in my room now. I have so many toys. I love my toys….ouch…daddy just did something…I think it was a MM. He is making that funny face and loud noise again. Why would he do that? What is going on?
Obviously this is a rude and silly caricature but nevertheless could go through the mind of a little child in the sixty seconds it takes us to remove them. So if your kid throws his or her spoon during mealtime, deal with that issue right there while they are in their high chair. So when they throw it after being told not to throw it, gently slap their wrist. It doesn’t even have to hurt. DO NOT do this ten times. After three times they will associate that gentle slap on the wrist with the throwing of their spoon. If they don’t get it and throw the spoon all three times, take the spoon away. This is not illegal or immoral. You can take it away. Kids will not die because they have their spoon and food taken away. Remember they aren’t eating anyways because they are entertaining themselves with throwing stuff and seeing how retarded it makes their parents.
Many parents will say no, no, stop, stop then take the kid out of the chair and spake them or give them a timeout in another part of the room. The problem with this method is that your toddler hasn’t made the connection between their action and the consequence. Going to another place will in some ways confuse them. Also, as frustrating as this is (because they will throw it and throw it again, and again) remember that if you lose it, they will be more focused on your tantrum than their disobedience.
Another thing…don’t be afraid to let things go and focus on this for awhile. Sometimes we parents give up too easily because we think we are the crazy ones. Calmly make sure your child understands and makes the connection between their action and your words even if it takes 15, 30, 40 minutes. It is worth the effort. Trust me. Some of you are wondering what the heck you do for that time. You take it away and let the kid just sit there in the high chair. After a few minutes go back and talk to the kid about what is happening. If they don’t get it, just let them sit there till they make the connection. I know some of you think this is ridiculous, lame, and cruel. What is more cruel…a parent who overcomes the strong will of a child taking away their control only to give it back or a parent is overtaken by a kid who can’t even wipe their own butt? You make the call.
When in public places, the game changes totally. When we lived in Boston, we were eating at our favorite breakfast joint in Ipswich, MA called The Stone Soup Cafe. If you are ever in that neck of the woods, it is amazing. Being a great place to eat and a very small place the wait was long. So we get seated. #1 starts throwing her spoon (this is when we only had #1 and #2). I said very sternly, “#1, please stop throwing your spoon.” She persisted and started screaming because she intuitively knows that when she does this her father’s IQ drops 100 points and doesn’t know what to do. However my little girl did not know what she was in for, for I was trained by the Kung Fu warrior, “Five Births With No Epidural”.
SIDE NOTE: It is true. My wife gave birth to all five kids with no epidural. No joke. This woman is amazing. The long nickname is because we just watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
As soon as she started screaming, I did not wave her favorite toy frantically. I did not give her the spoon so she would shut up. I did not make weird noises hoping that she would be distracted. I immediately picked her up and made a B-Line for the bathroom. There I very very sternly warned her that if she keeps this up she will not be welcome at the dining table. She says ok. We go back. Two minutes later she starts screaming again. Trained in the ways of “Five Kids With No Epidural” I immediately pick her up again and this time we hang out in the bathroom for a long time.
My wife taught me and told me that in public places parents will jump to one of two extreme reactions: indifference or over-reaction. Both are fatal. Indifference…need I say more. I hate it when parents think that ignoring a screaming child is good parenting. It is not good parenting because you are teaching your kids that other people in public places don’t matter. The other extreme is dangerous too because your over-reaction will embarrass your kid, and they will be more focused on their shame, than the issue at hand.
So, let’s say the kid is screaming at the market because they want a bag of Twizzlers and you say no. While they are kicking and screaming, the removal from the candy aisle is a punishment in and of itself. Wait…didn’t you just say that removing them is ineffective at home because they can’t make the connection? Trust me. It is different in public. You have all seen this…your kid wants candy and is throwing a hissy fit. You remove them from that place. While you are doing this, your kid is reaching out their hand like a person reaching out for their lover as they are taken away on a train. Are you seeing that imagery? My point is that in public when you remove them from that place of tantrum, during the removal process they are thinking and are fixated on the issue and the consequence. STELLA!!!! The battle is half won by the time you get to the other destination.
Remember they will calm down. One minute of screaming to you seems like thirty minutes but it is only one minute. Now I know it lasts longer than that but you get my point. One more thing…when they act crazy like that, be prepared to leave the public place. If you are grocery shopping and your kid acts up, do not be afraid to leave the cart and take them home. Kids need to realize that they are not in control and that you are serious when it comes to them being responsible little kids in public.
One time when I was single I was in line at Rubio’s. I love that place. A mother was behind me with two kids. They were messing around and hitting each other. She told them to knock it off or they would go home. The kids paused and did it again. She gave them one more warning saying that she was serious. They paused and started it all over again. She took each one by the hand and calmly walked to the car and drove off. No yelling. No screaming (except the kids because they really wanted Rubio’s). This is good parenting. Those kids now know if they try to pull rank on mom, that is not gonna happen.
This is so important because we parents are so task driven (because we have so many) that we forget to make our kids a priority in a way this healthy. Be prepared to put your child above the task at hand. Sometimes you will wonder, “How will I get anything done?” First of all, they won’t do this all the time. Second, if you are able to handle the public tantrums, the kids will respond and you will be freed to do your stuff without their demon possession.
In short…private lessons should be addressed on the spot. Public places call for removal. We have seen too many parents do it the other way around including ourselves.
Look I know that some of you are really annoyed with me right now. Either I am criticizing your style or I am speaking with an authority that seems like I know what I am talking about. You have every right to be annoyed. My wife did not come up with this stuff. She learned it from mothers and fathers who have an amazing track record with their kids: love and discipline hand in hand. This stuff works. I am telling you it is not an art. It is science.
Don’t let your kids rule your lives. You are the adult. You are the parent.
Please share your thoughts and comments. Love hearing from you guys. It really helps me and others.