Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Parenting Style: Toddler Edition

When I wrote last about my parenting style, R was only 8 months old and I didn't have to worry about discipline. Instead, I just did whatever R wanted (with the exception of sleeping, because I like my rest). This might have been better for R (though who knows, really?): it was definitely easier for me, and above all my parenting decisions are about what's personally most pleasant.

Sadly, the days of R's and my interest being one are gone. Her need for discipline started making itself felt at 12 months. Now she's 18 months and in full-on toddler mode, which means defiance, being negative, temper tantrums and other antisocial behavior.

Once if she didn't do what I wanted, it was because she didn't understand what I was asking. Now she understands everything, but deliberately chooses to defy me. Sometimes this is for fun (like when she runs away from me shrieking with laughter), sometimes it's out of anger (like when she starts throwing all her food on the floor because I won't let her stand up in the high chair), sometimes it's just general muleheadness (like when she can't put on her own shoes but won't let me do it either). She also "tests" a lot, where she does forbidden things when she knows I am watching, just to see how I will react.

All of this irritating behavior is because she wants to know what the rules are. If they are not absolutely clear, she will keep pushing and pushing until she reverts into extreme naughtiness. So I've had to change my parenting style considerably.

Now there are rules for everything. If she breaks the rules, then she is reminded, scolded or punished (depending on the severity of the infraction). I feel a little bit like a policeman, patrolling my beat looking for signs of trouble: which I greatly dislike, because 1. it's a lot of work (see: my preference for easy parenting) and 2. it appeals too much to a side of my personality I dislike. Unfortunately there is no way around it. With constant rules (and enforcement), R is generally pleasant and fun to be around: if I slack, she quickly reverts into a hellion, miserable herself and causing misery to all around her.

Eating: R is only allowed to eat at certain times (breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner), in certain places (her high chair), and to some extent, certain types of food. Outside of meals, all she is allowed is plain rice cakes (as they aren't messy or filling) and water.

Exploration: There are so many rules here, about where (no climbing on tables), when (no looking through the drawers unless supervised), how (the words "careful" and "soft" and "not in the mouth" get a lot of play). While most things aren't forbidden, they all have guidelines: this means R can't ever be unsupervised, because she is not trustworthy yet.

Discipline: I used to arrange things to avoid telling her no. Now I arrange them in order to tell her no. For example, I introduced her to TV, but she's only allowed to watch it after 5 pm for 30 minutes/day. Her frequent asking to watch more is a perfect opportunity for her to learn that 1. she is not in charge and 2. I am. Since this is the most crucial piece of information for her to pick up over the next few months, I feel the more practice the better.

Behavior Modification: I am still really affectionate for no particular reason. But I now absolutely try to shape her behavior, both by noticing good things she's done (When helping me load laundry: "R, you are so helpful!") and not-so-good (Having tried to bite me: "Now you must be separated from me" and behind the baby gate she goes.) In general I use more subtle methods for punishment: ignoring behavior I don't like, frowning and saying "I don't like that", etc., because why go for the scorched earth policy? The biggest tool in my arsenal is still R's desire to please me (strong if sometimes temporarily interrupted).

Soothing: I let R have tantrums by herself now (instead of soothing her), which she prefers as usually she is having one because I forbade something. I tell her she can come see me for a hug when she's ready: usually she will come find me in 3 or 5 minutes. I still spend a lot of time helping her regulate her emotional state though (aka, helping her prevent tantrums): this is important as she's still working on her coping skills for dealing with frustration and disappointment.

Not surprisingly, I find this stage of parenting is much more work, by an order of magnitude. I practiced a lot of "benign neglect" during her infancy and later babyhood, but right now there is no such thing: any neglect results in very bad outcomes. I am definitely looking forward to the time when R has finally learned all the rules and expectations and become more civilized, because I certainly plan to revert to benign neglect as soon as is practical.


  1. It really is a ton of work. And not fun work either. I am more lenient in some of this - I don't necessarily identify strict guidelines (though reading this reminds me that I should) but generally follow same things. We're not as set of eating times (between daycare and what they do and what we're doing, it's just annoying...but I set when and what she eats). And I don't necessarily say "no" as much as non-nonchalantly just move away from activities I do not want: i.e. if she points to the TV bc she wants to watch it, I will usually say, "you want the tv on? it's not time for tv...we're going to go do XYZ instead. Come on, P"
    But to be fair - I see her for 2 hours on weekdays and leave most of the stuff to daycare since they have her most days.
    That has positives = they are doing it and not me and negatives = i cannot control what they allow, etc.

    1. R just started preschool (admittedly, quite different from daycare as it's only a few hours a week) and I have been very impressed with her behavior there. She's much better behaved than at home (in terms of obeying instructions, following the routine, etc.). Partly this is just because the defiance thing is developmentally about our relationship, so she doesn't need to do it with other people. But I think seeing the other kids do stuff really helps her to learn and be more disciplined (she is the youngest in the class). She's already picked up some good habits (like washing her hands enthusiastically).

      There's a lot to be said for involving other people in your child's care, I think.

  2. I wish I could find it, but I just read an article today (and if I find it I will link later) that talked about how saying no too often can cause children to be more temperamental and difficult (behavior wise). The reasoning being that inherently toddlers have a lack of control in their lives, and then on top of that, the things they could possibly control (like picking out clothes, what toys to use, or what's for lunch) is usually controlled by some one else as well. The solution being that letting them feel more in control of their lives makes them feel happier, and less likely to act out for "no reason". I guess the key here is to make it a monitored type of control. Setting out two outfits, options for lunch, and a timer for shoe putting on. "If you aren't done when the timer goes off then I need to help you so we can get on with our day.". I fully support doing what it takes to get your kid in line, but "no" can become over used and then essentially lose its meaning if said too often.

    Take it or leave it, won't hurt my feelings. :)

    I try to leave Ginny for independent play as often as possible, but I've also been able to have a completely baby proofed house (yah! for moving before she started walking!). My problem isn't that she gets into things, rather... she wants to be attached to my hip at all times. I guess I lean towards attachment parenting, but this is getting ridiculous. lol.

    1. I do the choice thing all the time! It's because it was a favorite technique of my mom's (maybe she read a similar article? she was big into reading parenting books. I remember reading them starting at around 8 to figure out what she was up to.) It's good for getting dressed for sure.

      I can see what you mean about the constant "no". I used to try to avoid it whenever possible partly for that reason (and reading Unconditional Parenting). But then I realized R was deliberately being provoking because she wanted to hear "no", because then she knew a limit existed. Otherwise she felt anxious. Like a dog I guess? There can only be one alpha.

    2. I guess your post just came across as "General Mommy, sir yes sir!" lol. "No" definitely has a place and time, but even at 18 months, sometimes a quick response (don't do that, we don't hit, you can't have cookies right now) and a distraction/redirection should be pretty effective. I find that I save a direct/attention grabbing "no" for things that are actually against the rules, and no just annoying or baby-ish, like playing in the dog food deserves a no, but everything else I respond to with an explanation and a redirect.