"If you don't give me that, I'm going to hit you!" my four-year-old said to her three-year-old brother. I was shocked! Why was threatening to hit her brother her first reaction? Why couldn't she at least try asking him nicely? When I thought about it, however, I realized that she was only imitating me and that threatening to smack was how I was keeping the kids in line lately.
While I almost never actually gave my children a slap, I realized that lately I had been threatening to do so regularly. My parenting skills and the way that I was handling my anger, was affecting my children's approach to each other. If I didn't seem to have the tools to verbally resolve my conflicts, how would my children ever learn these tools?
If I didn't seem to have the tools to verbally resolve my conflicts, how would my children ever learn these tools?
It was then that I resolved to rely more on a different method of child discipline, one that had worked in the past with my oldest daughter: time-out.
Time Out Requires Effort
I had difficulty making time out work with my younger children, because of the extra effort it takes. My oldest stands in the corner obediently for time outs because I patiently stood with her there starting when she was two. But with my younger children, I no longer felt like I had the extra time to stand there. Instead, I had to clean up the mess the offender created before other little hands got into it and dry the tears of the injured parties.
After watching my children threatening each other, I made the decision to change my parenting approach and devote the extra time I needed to make time out work for my younger children.
I now escort the offending child to the corner - even if I have to hold another crying child with me. While the guilty party is in the corner, I tell her that she has to think about why what she's done is wrong, and before she can leave the corner she has to be able to tell me one of those reasons. This is obviously harder for the younger children, and I have to do a lot of cueing, but the important thing is that I make it clear to my child why she is in time out. When the time out is over, I give my child a hug and remind her how much I love her. I tell her that I have confidence she'll remember how to behave in the future ("I'm sure that next time you'll remember to explain in words that you're angry instead of hitting your brother.").
It's Worth the Work
Yesterday, my three-year-old son was playing with his Junior Erector kit when his little sister came over and starting taking all the pieces away. He immediately gave her a good whack on her head with what he'd been building! I picked him up and put him in the corner for a time out. While I was drying the little one's tears, I told him to listen to his sister crying and feel how hurt she was. I reminded him that he's three, he can speak beautifully, and he could ask her to stop or he could give her one or two pieces of the kit to play with instead of hitting her.
While he went into time out angry, he came out feeling like a big boy with lots of ways to deal with a crisis. Before he could go back to his game, he had to tell me why hitting is wrong - he came up with the best answer - "Because she hits me back!" While this was not exactly the answer I was looking for, I felt that the main point was understood; he was learning that hitting did not pay. I also made sure to repeat for him the other reasons why hitting is not the correct approach.
I certainly still see my children threatening and hitting each other, but these successful moments make me feel that my resolve to change my parenting approach is beginning to pay off. I know that the process of giving over the tools to work out their disagreements will take a long time, a consistent approach, and patience. Luckily, I have some time until they move out.