Laughter at Discipline

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My husband and I bought your book "Positive Discipline A to Z" about two years ago and we have referred to it from time to time. It has helped here and there. However, there seems to be one thing I can't find in the book. Our two younger children laugh when we try to discipline them. Time-outs don't mean anything to them. They just laugh. Likewise when we try to put them to bed -- every time they come out of the room and we put them back to bed, they laugh. I remember somewhere in the book where it says to firmly but gently take them back to bed, despite any crying or wailing. But our kids don't do that. They just think it is a game and don't want to stop playing. Even when we resort to "gentle" spanking, they laugh.

We have a bedtime routine, and try to do what your book says regarding bedtime. It doesn't seem to work with these two.

These two children are ages 3 1/2 and 2.

Any feedback will be helpful!


It must be aggravating to try to "get" your kids to bed...and then have them just want to play. It's hard too, when things that "worked" for you before with your other children don't work anymore. I have several suggestions for you, but first, I want to acknowledge you for having nurtured your children's sense of play and humor. When I teach parenting classes a lot of the parents want to have more laughter at home, they want to be able to laugh at their mistakes and they want to teach their children to laugh more. Humor and laughter is such a valuable life skill. Adults with a sense of humor can handle some of the challenges in life more easily...and bring joy to others while they do it. Even though sometimes your children's sense of play and humor can be a challenge when they are really young, it will also be an asset to them as adults. The challenge for you (which you have recognized in your question) is how to guide these playful kids so that they can get a sense of balance and appropriateness without squelching something very important.

Here are some ideas: One of the basic ideas of Positive Discipline is that children don't create mischief to "get back" at you or just to create problems. They create mischief to get a better sense of belonging and significance. Bed time problems are common (especially in younger children) because that is when parents say "goodbye" for the night. It's hard for some kids to hold onto their feeling of belonging and significance at that transition so they do what they can to "hold on"... to you. In some families it is tantrums and stubborn refusals or repeated requests for water or stories. In your family it sounds like it's a prolonged game (from the kid's point of view). Here are some of the things that help kids make the transition.

At a time other than the evening, talk about bedtime. What needs to happen? What is the routine? What do they need before bedtime? (For these youngsters it sounds like some before or after dinner fun and games would be pretty important). Helping them make a list and a visual chart of things that happen will help. You can cut pictures out of magazines of a book, tooth brushes, something that symbolizes the type of games they play and put them on a large sheet of paper so that they can "see" the routine. The more you let them do, the more effective it will be. Talk about how things will happen at bedtime. Some families even rehearse the whole show in the morning or afternoon, to see if it will work, and ask the kids if anything needs to be changed.

Even when the child's response is laughter, the process of kindly and firmly (with NO words) putting them back to bed will work. It will not be magic the first night. Three or four nights of the identical response from you will help your playful kids get the message. (I'm going to repeat the "no words" from you part. Words seem to give children ammunition to defeat us.) Plan this so you have 4 nights in a row where you can be consistent (and will have the energy to keep your own sense of humor). Remember to let them know what you will be doing. "We worked together to make sure bedtime would be smooth and to make sure thatyou have what you need before bedtime. After bedtime, if you come for more fun and games we will just kindly and firmly put you back in your bed without talking".

It will help if you get rid of your "button" around laughter. Kids know what our buttons are, and they love to push them. When they laugh at inappropriate times, smile, and think about Hawaii or something so it doesn't affect you. Then kindly and firmly continue with the plan you have discussed with them in advance.

Just a word on time outs. Kids "misbehave" and create "mischief" when they are not feeling good, don't feel belonging, or don't feel important. It is hard to do better when you are feeling bad. The idea behind a "positive" timeout is to help a child learn how to restore themselves and feel better. It is not a time to make them feel worse. Parents can help their children plan ahead for times when they need to re-gather themselves by asking what kind of things might make the child feel better. Some families set up a bag, or box or special place for each child to go when they need to regroup. Coming out laughing would be a very successful outcome of a time out. That does not mean that the problem that made the parent realize that the child was feeling bad was solved (yet). AFTER the child is feeling better (and is really cooled off) you can help your child figure out a solution to the problem. Kids can be pretty creative problem solvers when they are feeling good. Sometimes the person who REALLY needs a time out is the parent. It is great to say to your kids...I am feeling grumpy right now...and I need to go take some time out to feel better. When my kids were younger I kept a comic book in the bathroom so I could read something humorous and cool down for a few moments. I came out when I felt better...and most often the things that were pushing my buttons weren't really a problem when I felt better.

The ideas that are the foundation for Positive Discipline may seem pretty different than the kind of discipline that we grew up with. They are for most of us. Now that you have played with some approaches you might be interested in understanding the concepts a little more. You might find that it is helpful to read either Jane Nelsen's book Positive Discipline, or Positive Discipline for Preschoolers (By Nelsen, Erwin, Duffy). These books provide a more complete context for the Positive Discipline approach. Another book that is filled with great non-punitive ideas is Positive Time Out and 50 Other Ways to Avoid Power Struggles in Homes and Classrooms.

Best wishes!

Jody McVittie MD, Positive Discipline Associate

PS. Just imagine 10 years from now. This might be a really fun family story: "Kids you were so GOOFY when you were little, we actually wrote for advice because when we tried to teach you to go to bed by yourselves all you would do is laugh!" Stories like these help families enjoy themselves for a long time.


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