Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Failing at discipline

There are some aspects of parenthood that, despite having two children, I still haven't gotten the hang of. One of those things is discipline - whether or not to use it, when to use it, what to use, what to not fight, how to say and do what I end up choosing. Today I have a lot of questions going through my head as I battle my "spirited" (he is my payback for being a terror for my mother, I'm sure) four year old to get him to pick up his toys and do the few, easy things I ask him to do.

should I avoid discipline all together? Tempting, because it seems like the most friendly and AP method of raising a child. I don't WANT to yell, or feel like I'm getting angry or have reached the end of my rope. I don't like being frustrated, having to constantly count up or down to certain numbers, having to make EVERYTHING into a game that still ends with him complaining about being tired (he isn't) or getting completely distracted by playing with the same toys I've repeatedly asked him to put away. Should I have to make picking up into a game every time, without fail? Can't I simply make a request and have it fulfilled? Having my preschooler help me around the house when it's just the three of us is huge, it makes life so much easier to know that while I can't ask him for help with everything, I can give him simple directions ("Please pick up all of the shoes and put them back in the corner," or "Please pick up your toys and put them back in the boxes in the back room") and have him listen.

But he doesn't.

Should I agree and play along every time he insists on being a Pokémon or some other character while cleaning up, or should I insist that while he is cleaning up it isn't time to play pretend and he needs to be himself? The problem here, of course, is that pretending to be a character is effective in coercing him to pick up for all of two minutes, after which he again loses interest.

But this brings up a slew of other related problems - like his distinct inability to listen. Mind you, when it's my two year old I'm far more understanding; he's still learning rules and limits, and wants to test them to see how far he can push us. But G? He knows better - or damn it, he should at least, right? - so to me it becomes a neverending struggle when he continues to do something when I've asked him not to - or refuses to do something I've requested he does. For example, not a minute ago he was putting his feet on me, something I really don't like. I said, "G, please don't put your feet on me. It hurts because you kick me every time, and I don't think it's polite." So he stops. Half a minute later, he's doing it again, feet all over me and kicking me again, now on purpose.

We've done everything, including the detested spanking. Time out is irrelevant, no matter how long they stay there, spanking doesn't do anything but upset them, and yelling may as well be the same as politely requesting with an explanation for all the good it does (read: none whatsoever). I can't help but wonder if some of his issues come from his intelligence. Yes, there is a possibility that I'm just like any other parent, extolling the virtues and talents of my kids, presuming they're the smartest, but really, G is pretty darn smart. He's sounding out words and relating what he sounds out to words he already knows, and is able to "read" short books if given time and patience. He has a distinct understanding of a lot of concepts that seem to throw off kids his age, and has learned to add and subtract and do simple word problems aloud. He can count to almost any given number, assuming it's still low enough to keep his attention long enough to make it there, and is from a developmental standpoint so on-par that I'm actually concerned he won't make it into preschool after his screening this summer because educationally-speaking, he doesn't have anything to work on (it's the learning to listen and the socialization I'm concerned about). Maybe I'm tooting my kid's horn. Maybe I'm wrong. But I've looked up developmental guides and milestones, and from what I can tell he's closer to six or seven than four when it comes to his abilities.

G is smart.

So why doesn't he listen?

I'm truly at a loss trying to explain his behavior; it could be that he's also testing boundaries, and I'm the one failing on that end, or that he seriously does have an attention span so short that putting away toys without being consistently reminded of his goal and progress is impossible; he can't function for longer than that alone.

The issue with being a discipline-free household - one where we don't yell or demand, one where our children respect us just as much as we respect them - is that I have yet to have the alternative method explained fully to me. Do I ignore bad behavior, even when it's painful or potentially harmful, and only reward or praise good behavior? This doesn't seem plausible, especially when it's my two year old reacting through hitting, kicking, biting, pinching, or some other destructive behavior. How do I react when G politely asks to be excused from the table, but A, who has recently been moved from a high chair to a normal chair at the table, constantly gets down and sprints off? Do I assume that he is done, even when he's hungry again ten minutes later? How do I convince G that helping me pick up - even when A is doing the opposite to see if I'll react - is important and helpful?

What on earth do I do that will help my children and I respect one another enough that we can function as a group instead of as a bunch of argumentative individuals?

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