The title of this book is “Discipline Without Distress:135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment, or bribery.”
This had me intrigued.
South Africa is currently drafting a new law to outlaw hitting children and I have no idea how they will enforce it, since people in this country are used to solving problems violently. Domestic violence is high, rape is high, and hitting children is socially acceptable.
I sometimes feel a bit weird, or different, because I want to raise a non-violent child in a connected way where we problem solve instead of smack. I know it is going to be challenging, and I might just lose my temper and fail, but this is what I want to do.
I think people need a book like this to have alternatives to punishment. I know discipline has always been a struggle for me as a teacher, and I’m hoping this book and my own resolve will help.
One of the best illustrations in this book explains is a image of an iceberg with the child’s behavior on top and their need or feeling underneath. It is the parent’s job not to be the ship on top, just looking at the behavior, but a submarine to investigate the need or feeling (NOF) underneath. If the NOF is addressed, the behavior will be taken care of, if not, it won’t.
The thing I really like about this book is that it divides discipline up into age groups (after also going through all the different personality types).
Age 0-1: ATTACHMENT:
The word “discipline” means “to teach”, and at this age they need to taught that they are loved. The first year is all about building trust. The kind of discipline tools you will be using are re-direct, substitution and distraction. Childproof your home so that you have less of this, and supervise your child. Also make sure that as a parent you have your own “time outs” to recharge your batteries, or else you won’t be able to keep responding to your child’s needs and you will lose it!
Arnall is also in favour of co-sleeping, (I Googled her, she is the chairperson of Attachment Parenting in Canada), but what is interesting is that she says it is more important to be in tune with your child – if he feels more comfortable in a separate bed, so be it.
Which brings me to an update on our sleeping situation. We have been struggling for space for quite a while now, and it has been hard for my DH to keep leaving the room. He definitely feels more comfortable sleeping with us. But it’s hard when I was sleeping at the bottom of the bed with my feet sticking into his, or bunched up at the top on my side with no room to sleep nicely. So in a stroke of genius, he suggested putting a single bed next to the queen bed. It works so well, even the dog can come back. (Coff-dog is happy!). Of course it doesn’t solve the bad crying nights which we still have every now and then, but on the whole he is sleeping through and the whole family is sleeping together
Age 1-2: ACTION:
The toddler stage is not a stage for real reasoning yet. They are just beginning to learn they can’t have their way all the time. Hence, the temper tantrums. The toddler’s physical development allows for lots of freedom and access to danger, yet his brain development has no self-control, internal restraints, logical reasoning or negotiation… The most parents can do at this stage is keep the toddler safe by childproofing, supervision and teach by redirection and substitution. (p213)
Arnall has a long list of discipline tools that I would struggle to summarize on page 217, but if you read the above paragraph, you’ll get her drift. These little people are at the sensitive stage for movement (see Montessori Baby post) so obviously they need to explore. You just need to be there for them so that they don’t hurt themselves in the process.
She also has more info on why they like to say “no” so much (asserting independence) and how to get through that (offering choices (only between 2 things), allow clinging, use “later” rather than no, acknowledge feelings, don’t expect them to share).
She has a whole lot of useful suggestions for picky eaters. She suggests 6 meals at 6 specific times: offer for 20 mins then put away. She says you should stick to the table but I find more success when I feed Nicky on the floor, while crawling, although I probably shouldn’t. I do the main meals at the table, but the snacks are a lot easier on the go.
A good suggestion I picked up from her was to practice with the sippy cup in the bath. In my quest for Nicky to drink water, I tried this with a sippy cup with a straw. It worked quite well, except he thought it was a hilarious new game. He sucked up the water and dribbled it out again, laughing like anything.
Arnall says toddler aggression is normal. She says: find the attacker’s need and tell them how to ask for what they want. Say “Ouch! Hitting hurts! I don’t like that!” “You’re frustrated that he grabbed the toy? You want your toy back? We can’t hit, but we can ask to have the toy back.” Restrain, redirect or remove your child. If hitting repeats, they may be hungry, bored or tired. Fix the underlying problem.
PRESCHOOLERS 3-5 YEARS: ACTION AND TALK
This is the age where real discipline begins (and you can give them basic chores e.g. fetching and carrying!). They have a bit more restraint but not a whole lot of self-control. Bring a backpack of toys, colouring activities, snacks, spare clothes and wet wipes.
Again, Arnall has a whole long list of discipline tools. She said young children struggle with transitions so you need to give them five minute warnings before you are leaving, for example. “You can have three more slides.” You can even use a timer.
You can now give them three choices. You can also use “Grandma’s rule” – “When you finish your milk, you can have desert.”
An interesting way she suggests dealing with all the “why” questions is to ask them questions too. “If everyone stole sweets, how would the store owner make money to feed his family?” You can start parent guided problem solving too. Give them natural consequences for their actions. “If you make a mess, clean it up.”
Arnall has a whole section about dealing with a new baby’s arrival, and sibling rivalry. She says to make the child a part of the process, going to the ultrasound, being involved in purchases for the baby etc. When the “babymoon” is over there will typically be some regression, which you should indulge e.g. with regards to potty training, breastfeeding / bottle feeding or thumb sucking. Redirect aggression.
With regard to sibling rivalry Arnall puts together four reasons why children fight:(p 266)
1) Attention: feeling ignored: => notice good behaviour
2) Boredom: feeling bored => give new activity (work or fun)
3) Issues: feeling victimised => give children input in rules
4) Underground accumulated resentment: feeling hate, jealousy, unworthy => avoid labels and comparisons.
SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN: 6-12: TALK AND ACTION:
These are the best years to teach and guide because they can understand reasoning behind the rules, have more self-control and moral thinking. They still want to please their parents.
Active listening is a good tool for this age. The stresses of school can be dealt with by acknowledging feelings and listening. Arnall gives the example of two boys hitting each other in the car. The mom came home, separated them and talked to them individually. “You seem angry. Let’s calm down and then we’ll talk.” They will feel better to have someone listen to them about their day.
I distinctly remember teaching Grade One/Two and almost every break the “mean girls” were up to something and I had to listen to a whole lot of stories at the end of break. Sometimes it was difficult to keep track, but I let them tell their tale and then make everyone apologise to each other. Often it was about who was playing whose game. At different stages I actually had to draw up a schedule in my diary as to whose turn it was to play their game! In the end I could say “Do I need to draw up a schedule, or do you think you can sort it out yourselves?”
Children this age are very sensitive to modelling, and leading by example is a great way to show your kids how serious you are about doing the right thing.
Again, Arnall has a long list of tools.
She then goes on to describe problem solving. I remember learning about this in school, so I’ll mix up both hers and mine to put together some steps.
1. Define the problem (fuzzy situation => summarized)
2. Who is involved and what are their needs?
3. Brainstorm solutions.
4. Brainstorm criteria. Put the solutions in a grid against your criteria, just like a spreadsheet.
5. Implement the winning idea.
6. Check back – is it working? You might need to problem solve again.
Arnall talks about school work and how you can get co-operation instead of power struggles. She suggests giving them choices about the time and venue for homework, supplementing the material with their learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic), write about their passion and brainstorm ideas to get the work done.
She then has a section on consequences, rather than punishments. These are problem solving solutions to making amends. If they don’t work, you need to do active listening to get to the bottom of the problem and start again. She describes how a boy refused to wear a helmet even after the bike was taken away for a month. She says maybe he is being teased, or it doesn’t fit.
There is loads more in this section, including swearing, grounding, peer pressure, bullies and changing the environment. She has an interesting take on cyber bullying: rather make them aware of the dangers e.g. not giving out personal info and keep communication lines open rather than taking their computer away.
TEENAGERS: 13-19 YEARS: NEGOTIATE:
Hormones and emotional changes make teens sensitive, moody and distracted. Rules work better when there is respect both ways.
Children whose parents rely on negotiation, problem solving and modelling tools seldom have rebellious children, …(whereas)… there are plenty of studies that show teen rebellion, risk behaviour and crime are linked to harsh physical punishment and neglect. (p 321)
One of the best discipline tools for teens that Arnall suggests is “Offer a one-time consultation”. You present your findings on an issue, e.g. smoking (facts, statistics, videos, cost analysis, death rates, photograph of smoker lungs etc). You then leave the decision to smoke or not up to him. Stop there without nagging.
Keep communication lines open by chatting “Tell me what you think about…”, while at the same time respect their need for silence.
The other most important tool is problem solving, again. But this time you may need to frame it: “Would you like me to help guide you through the process of solving this problem or stay out of it?” (p335).
The teenage years are particularly known for “attitude”. Again, look for the need or feeling (NOF) behind the behaviour. “When I hear your tone, I feel disrespected. I would like to talk about this. Can we try this again?” (p341)
Arnall also covers values collision, dating, driving, school problems, teen pranks, high risk behaviour, sexual behaviour, drugs, suicide, crime, weapons, eating disorders and technology. You’ll have to read the book to find out more on that.
One interesting section she has is on “How to change another person.” It isn’t by nagging, lecturing, harassing or preaching. Influence is more powerful than control. So what you have to do is be ready to change yourself. Model the behaviour you want. Confront the issue with an I-statement that reflects your feelings e.g. “I feel sad when the kitchen is in a mess because I have to spend time cleaning it up.” Of course the hardest is letting go and leaving change up to the person, but that is true acceptance of them.
Well, that turned out to be a very long review! But I feel there is so much in this book I did not include. I hope it gave you a glimpse into creative, peaceful parenting. I’d be interested to hear about your own creative parenting techniques.