Monday, September 28

Taming the Wild Thing

Since I take care of a three year old boy, I need a working strategy on how to discipline him when he does something naughty, like push his sister, dump all the crackers on the floor, or throw a tantrum when he doesn't get his way. Because he can't sit in a chair for longer than one minute without fidgeting, my wife and I considered that he may have ADHD, even though neither of us have any real understanding of what that is except through lists of imprecise "symptoms." When we compared his behavior to his girl cousin, who is particular and polite, and far more reserved, we noticed a huge divide between them.

Fortunately, we found this book. I generally have a hard time recommending books about parenting, because of the twofold reasons that they tend to be very self-helpish and authoritative, qualities which elicit my skepticism. When I saw that my wife had bought this book on a whim I thought, "Great, use time outs and positive discipline. I've heard it all before."

This is different though, because instead of applying a one size fits all approach, where the obvious differences between most boys and girls are swept aside due to politically correct ideology, the author instead explores the issue from a practical standpoint using studies to support his evidence. One critique I have is that this lengthy reference section at the end of the book should have been integrated into the rest of it, so that his conclusions are more transparent, but whatever. As if I'm seriously going to follow up on scientific papers anyway.

However, I had already been using exercise and the outdoors as a way to calm Justin. Instead of timeouts, I replaced them with "long walks" as in, if you keep doing what you are doing, I'm going to take you for a one to two mile stroll around our neighborhood. This is the first book I've found that specifically recommends this, though not as a punishment. (Which I realized at the time was counter to what I wanted long term, but I didn't see a choice, since time outs weren't working. He'd just sit and laugh at me.)

The most important thing I took away from this book is how to immediately apply consequences, then after he's calmed down, get him to explain to me what he did wrong, and what he can do differently next time. For example, if he's hitting his sister with a book, I take the book away, then he looks at me, tells me that he hit his sister with the book, and that next time, he could choose not to hit his sister.

The second thing was the idea that time-outs where he's sitting in the same room as me are counterproductive, and not really a "punishment", because he's getting my attention that entire time by screaming, squirming, throwing pillows, or just getting up and walking around. The author instead replaces a time-out with a "time-away" in which the kid is sent to a safe room where you can shut the door, and keep the door shut regardless of what they do (as long as they don't have a history of self-destructive behavior, like self-biting or jumping out of windows).

This has worked like a charm on Justin, and not only gives him time to calm down and reflect on what he's done, it also has dramatically reduced yelling in our household. Instead of lecturing him, or screaming at him that he's not listening, I can silently pick him up and stick him in the bedroom, and let him freak out on his own, not unlike this boy.

When he's calmed down, he can tell me what he did wrong, and what he can do differently next time. Also, this means I get to be a better parent, because instead of flipping out, I can remain calm and collected, and be the type of parent I want to be.

Perhaps there are two wild things that need to be tamed.

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