My Journal - Week 74 (21Jan11)
Hunter is only 17 months old, but it would appear that age is certainly not a factor in determining when the "trouble" starts! One thing about Hunter is, despite his lack of words - he is very vocal in expressing his emotions. He is also quite aware of when he is doing something that he shouldn't be. Add those two behaviours together and you can have a recipe for a tantrum of sorts.
Hunter is now at the age of discovery and testing limits. An example of some behaviour that I am not liking very much is his hitting faces and biting arms and shoulders (ours not his). Now, understandably it's very easy to explain WHY he is doing either of these two "problems" but the solution is not as simple as just saying "NO". Nor is the solution black and white. The hitting I have realized is Hunter's way of trying to get our attention, regardless of whether he has it or not (for food, attention, fatigue or whatever it is at the moment) and the biting started with teething. In psychology and general common sense (both of which I have backgrounds in...) I know that patience, consistent discipline and understanding are the basics for dealing with behaviour modifications.
Discipline requires us all (as parents and caregivers) to do the same for the learning to be effective. If an unwanted action occurs, all the responses must be the same so the child understands that the behaviour or action is unwanted. It's clear that it isn't okay for one person to demonstrate being upset and another to say nothing. It sends a mixed message that no one person would understand let alone a child.
Saying it nicely, “Don’t do that” is not enough. The message must be obviously clear so that in each instance Hunter knows it is NOT okay to do it. But lately, our showing a discontent emotion for his negative or unwanted behaviour hasn't been enough. If I raise my voice, he now raises his back. If we tell him "No" in a stern voice, he holds his breath, turns red and literally shakes - fists closed and all! This kind of response is one I have never seen in a baby! And I should elaborate, I am not even sure where he got that from, since one would think that he could only do something like that by imitation, and no one in our home has ever done something like that. This reaction that Hunter has (as weird as it is) is simply bizarre and cute all at the same time. But, it's clear to me and makes me understand he comprehends by reaction and that he is responding to our displeasure.
What is frustrating however is, despite our discontent look or look of complete displeasure, he is not changing his behaviour. I am aware that every child reacts differently to discipline and no one model fits all. Some children simply need a look and they can burst into tears. Some, a raised voice is enough. Some are resistant to all but physical discipline. I don't think any person has all the answers, and that any person can criticize how another parent disciplines their child. I think when it comes to parenting and discipline, just like any other investigation of how something works, you have to start with the least invasive methods and see what works. I do however believe as a rule, excessive anything is not okay. Everything has limits.
With the onset of new behaviours it appears that the people of parenting magazines and online resources also feel that this is the key time to provide me with information on this very topic. Just today I received an email from Pampers.com which actually talks about Discipline at this age. I found it ironic since today has been one of our troubling days. Hitting, biting, screaming and all in one day.
The Pampers team seem to discuss and put a lot of stake into what most parents today are using as a discipline tool. "TIME OUT'S". Funny, today I think I needed a "TIME OUT". They explore the idea of starting to introduce the "Time Out Chair" or "location" and how consistence with delivery is key. If not one time, or one hundred times, you must keep at it until you reach the level of success for that specific "punishment". Any deviation or buckling can cave the whole effort and stall the entire process of learning. Worse, it can create rebellion. They explain even at this age (18 months or so) the teaching of the "time out" can be effective, so long as you are consistent in the punishment and also the delivery. For example, if there is an unwanted behaviour, minimize the explanation to "No" and if the unwanted behaviour is repeated, then announce what was done wrong IE: "You are not to hit your sister and you must have a Time Out". At this point you are to remove the child from the unwanted behaviour (and area) and start the time out. If the child moves from the location (perhaps a chair or corner) then replace the child and explain the Time Out starts all over. At the age of 18 months, the time must be short enough (example, one minute) to redirect the attention. The advice on how to do this is strict to the parent though, as they explain in order for effectiveness, even if the child has to be placed there once or one hundred times to achieve the full minute, it must be done. They advise once the time has been met, bring the child back, give a hug and move on with life. Do not talk about the problem again. At early ages, it serves no purpose to bring the topic back up, as it will only confuse the child. The idea (while targeted for the age of 18 months up to the age of 5) is that isolation from the event or parent is what modifies the behaviour. If it is impossible to keep a child in a chair or there are issues of abandonment to consider, it is advised to move rooms and not to communicate with the child for the length of time. It is noted, NO child should ever be left completely alone or in a dangerous location. Once the punishment is over, talking and normal communications should resume. The child in essence learns that unwanted behaviour has negative consequences - but it is warned that if there negative consequences achieve more attention then normal good behaviour, your child will soon learn that acting inappropriately gets attention. So it is mentioned that there should be an understanding of better behaviour gets good attention and negative behaviour gets bad. It's important to ensure that you are normally giving your child "well" attention, and by that they also indicate it is better to spend 20-30 minutes a day playing on the floor with your child to potentially avoid a child associating negative attention for getting any attention at all.
After all this psychology, (and in fact I have been doing some of this without even having read it in the first place) I may try timed - time outs. One thing that I was actually pleasantly surprised to read in the Pampers article was that they did include a section regarding children with delays. They do want parents to be cognisant that you have to adjust your discipline on understanding of behaviours rather then chronological age. And that makes the most important sense. So we shall see how it goes now that I am somewhat studied up on discipline. I just hope that everyone in our household can ensure that it's the same and consistent. Nothing is worse then having one parent trying desperately to discipline using a certain method while another one or caregiver is doing something completely different.