Is Something Tougher than Positive Discipline Needed?

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Question:

I am the mother of a 3-year-old boy (his birthday is actually tomorrow) and he is also a student in my Montessori school. Over the year he has been at school we have had many challenges with me being "around" a lot and never really having that separation from me that other kids get. (I don't teach anymore but still sub sometimes in his class.) He recently turned a corner, seems to be doing well and is settling down. He is also very bright. He has a fantastic vocabulary and wonderful memory retention. He is independent and capable.

My question really is about Positive Discipline. We have practiced Positive Discipline since he was born and have adjusted as needed based on his development. My problem is that sometimes I feel like he needs something tougher than Positive Discipline, but then I know that the traditional ways don't work. He is just so wild sometimes I get really frustrated. 

He usually does "annoying” things when he is very happy or likes someone a lot. We will be cuddling and suddenly he will head-butt me or he will be with a friend and out of the blue he will grab their work and make them cry. He seems like he is constantly seeking attention from everyone but he gets so much attention to start with!

I can't ignore him sometimes because I have to help solve the conflict with the other child. He has now taken to saying "sorrrrry" if he does something to me and I ignore the behaviour. Interestingly I always said to him, "Ask your friend how you can make him feel better" instead of insisting he apologize. He would reply "I don't want to; I just want to say sorry" As you can tell I am conflicted and frustrated! Please advise.

Answer:

You bring up a trend that concerns me a lot lately. I get so many questions about children wanting too much undue attention, and about children who are behaving disrespectfully. Some of this is normal and developmentally appropriate, but what I’m hearing seems to go beyond what is normal. So I wonder what is going on. Some questions I’m asking:

  1. Is there too much “over-parenting” going on—where children get way too much attention and never learn self-sufficiency? Are parents acting like “helicopter” parents who hover over every move and think they need to control every move, over-protect, rescue, fix?
  2. Are children watching too much TV and learning too much violence?
  3. Is some of this over-parenting due to a misunderstanding of Positive Discipline where people think that no punishment means permissiveness? Do they misunderstand the “kind” and “firm” foundation?
  4. Do parents understand that "kindness" helps fulfill the need for "belonging", and "firmness" helps fulfill the need for "significance" through the development of responsibility and capability?

I want to talk more about kind and firm. I think that many parents think that kind means giving children everything they want. This is not kind to children at all. It teaches them to be demanding, spoiled brats. Kind might mean:

  • Saying, “I love you, and the answer is no.”
  • It could mean validating feelings, “I can see that you are very upset that you can’t have this right now.” Period—nothing more needs to be said or done.
  • It could mean simply allowing them to have their feelings while you provide energy of support without doing anything else.
  • It could mean being kind to yourself by kindly walking away and ignoring the behavior. (It is helpful if you let children know, in advance, that this is what you will do.)
  • Kind could mean saying, “I have faith in you that you can handle this.” Then let them have their feelings of upset until they learn from experience that they can survive disappointment.
  • It could mean kind and firm action: taking a child who is misbehaving in a public place to the car and sitting quietly reading a book while he or she has a temper tantrum before trying again. (Again, let them know in advance that you will do this, adding, “You can let me know when you are ready to try again.)
  • It could mean sharing your anger without blaming the child. “I’m so angry right now, I can’t talk about this. I’m going to take some time-out until I can feel better before discussing this. And then leave.
  • It could be action without words. Taking a child by the hand and leading him or her to what needs to be done. To avoid a power struggle, use the see saw method. This means that whenever the child resists, instead of pulling, you keep hold of his hand but let him pull you. When he stops pulling, start moving again until he resists and repeat as above. The kind part is to keep a friendly attitude while being firm about what needs to be done.

Actually, I can see that all of these examples include the firmness part along with the kindness part. Your attitude is a key element in being kind AND firm. Kindly follow-through without anger. If you are too angry to follow-through kindly, you may need to take a moment to calm down before dealing with the situation.

If I got a head butt, I would say, “That hurt and makes me very angry,” and would then leave the room. Or, I might take the child by the hand and say, “Let’s go sit in the car (or your room) until you are ready to be respectful.”

When he makes another child cry, I would hold him on my lap and say, “What do you need to do to fix that?” If he said, “Sorry,” I would say, “I appreciate that, AND, what do you need to fix it.” If he resists, I would say, “We’ll just sit her until you figure it out. Let me know if you need some ideas.” Give him some time to calm down. Most of us can’t think of anything rational when we are upset and are accessing the fight flight part of our brains.

Perhaps the most important is to understand that kindness and firmness are essential to helping children develop their sense of significance through feeling capable and developing responsibility through contribution in their homes, in their schools, and in their communities. It is not kind to allow children to develop the belief that they are significant only when they can do whatever they want. Helping children develop a sense of capability and responsibility requires both kindness and firmness while "taking time for training" in how they can contribute to their homes and classrooms. It also requires kind and firm follow-through.

I hope this helps.

Comments

Hello, If you correct for any issues discussed above and still have the same problems, your child may benefit from a screening by the pediatrician or psychologist. Kids on the autism spectrum, with ADHD, those with sensory issues, and other exceptional  children can display some of the behaviors you mentioned. Even if no diagnosis is made, they can make recommendations to help you understand what might be effective for your family and school. In my experience as a teacher and parent, Positive Discipline is highly compatible with strategies for special needs children.