Using Positive Discipline with Two Boys


I discovered your books about a year ago. I have been trying to implement the positive discipline methods. I love your belief that mistakes are opportunities to learn.

I have two boys, about 20 months apart. Scott was three in August and Mark will be 19 months at the end of December. My problem concerns trying to utilize positive discipline techniques with Scott when Mark cannot appreciate it. For example, picking up toys: If Scott brought out toys that are Mark's toys and I state that if they are not picked up by a certain previously determined time, they will be packed away for 3 days, he does not care. They are not his toys. Also, when trying to have Scott bring his plate, cup etc to the kitchen counter, I must intervene because Mark grabs them and sends food flying before Scott decides to do it. In other words, I am having a hard time waiting for Scott to choose a behavior because Mark intervenes somehow.

Also, if Scott is supposed to get dressed but Mark comes in and distracts him, then how do I get Scott focused on the task at hand, especially if I need to leave the house by a certain time. From my perspective most of the examples in the books deal with one child or sibling rivalry/fighting. I have purchased three of your positive discipline books: the first 3 years, preschool, and A-Z. I have not read A-Z yet. I find myself nagging them to get them to cooperate. I also "lecture" Scott about being careful and not hurting Mark.

Could you please help me with these concerns? I love the focus of positive discipline and I believe it has altered my parenting methods in a positive way. However, I still feel that I am not doing it "right"; I do not know what to do with the daily problems that arise. I am sorry that this is quite long; I hope you will take the time to get me on track.

Many thanks,



Dear Anne,
I hope you are ready for 'long answer'! There's lot to cover! And you thought your question was long!
As I read your question, I couldn't help but think of our own family years ago - before Positive Discipline! Our oldest daughter was 12 yrs. old when I picked up my first copy of Jane's Positive Discipline to use as a text for my college course 'Guidance and Discipline.' How I wish I'd had that book earlier - so many things would have been so much easier - especially my understanding of myslef as a parent and why we, as human beings, do what we do!

My oldest daughter (31 now) was 4 when we brought home twin babies, and until the twins were about 5, I felt as though we were candidates for the Funniest Home Videos - it seemed as though we were living right smack in the middle of the comic strip, "Family Circus!" So much action, so many high feelings, and so little understanding on the kids' parts of how to cooperate and be responsible (as well as my lack of tools to help grow these behaviors in my children.) I had A BS in Child Development, so I did understand what to expect out of the different ages and stages, and parented very much as I worked with other people's kids in child care. I kept asking myself though, "Would they ever settle down and get along without my constant intervention?" Eventually, they did, of course, and we all survived a robust childhood!

You seem to understand child development well - realizing that your 18 month-old is quite different in ability from your 4-year-old son. That is SO helpful as a place to begin! Also, an understanding of individual temperaments and birth order can add to your understanding of "why kids do what they do." All this is in the Birth-Three book and the Preschoolers book, both of which you have at home to refer to - TERRIFIC!

I often thought my oldest daughter got the 'shaft' when it came to understanding, as she was the first child - and my 'practice' child! I tried out my parenting skills on her, it often seemed, and by the time the other 2 were entering a 'stage' Erin had passed through I could interact much better due to my own experience as a parent.

Positive Discipline definitely works with more than one child - for years I used these tools in early childhood classrooms with whole classes of preschool children aged 2- 5. What you refer to as your difficulty is the juggling act we all experience in one form or another all the way through the parenting journey.

I hear you being too hard on yourself, Anne and I hear you say, "I don't have it RIGHT yet..etc." Positive Discipline is more like a continuum - and there are lots more 'right' spots than in other parenting styles! It's just that with more than one child you are always having to think about who needs what and how can I teach this one about cooperation, and that one about responsibility. It's like we have to be "super-Moms" always in the "on" position! How I empathize with you!! :) Mothering is one of the most demanding jobs in the world! Actually, though, the longer you think in "Positive Discipline Language" the easier it becomes. It is like this in everything that is new to us - when we are learning how to ride a 2-wheel bike, for instance, when we always rode a tricycle, the new skill doesn't come very quickly - it takes time to practice, and get it in our bodies as a second-nature or on 'auto-pilot.' Before we even realize it, though, we're off riding that 2-wheeler and hardly giving it a thought!

Your 18 month old needs a lot of distraction and re-direction when you are trying to teach Scott what he is to do, or when you are giving choices to Scott, and Mark isn't even involved in the situation but tries to 'horn-in'!(Distracting is taking his mind off what he wants to do that you don't want him to do where re-directing is more like steering him another direction so that it is safer to do what he needs to do or wants to do without taking his mind off of it. Let's look at "jumping" - he can jump on the floor, on pillows, etc. but he is jumping on the bed, so you swoop him off the bed and fly him to the big floor pillows and say, "you can jump here, but not here.." Let's say you have re-directed him several times and he keeps going back to the bed, so you 'distract' him by turning on the music for him to move to. Distraction and redirection are TWO TOOLS, not one!) When you are busy with Scott, try occupying Mark with a totally unrelated activity or toy.

When picking up toys that Mark got out, how about your picking up Mark's WITH Mark while Scott picks up his own?? I don't think I'd care either that Mark's toys got put up as a consequence for Scott's not picking them up! At 3, he is still very centered on HIMSELF and that is natural! - Mark is very self-centered at 18mo. too - that's why it is hard to teach cooperation and responsibility to kids in these self-centered years. Modeling and showing what you want and encouraging the kids' efforts (not waiting for them to get the job done perfectly!) are what will LEAD to cooperation and responsibility as character traits when they get a bit older.

I think parenting is so hard because we don't SEE the results right away - parenting is a long-range art and test of your creativity!- kind of like a camera in slow motion - trust the process of teaching them for the years ahead - see them as they are grown, and even say things like, "When you go to school, you will know how to make your bed and get dressed all by yourself, Scott! It's so much fun to be your Mommy and watch you getting older and more responsible." "You are teaching Mark about sharing, Scott - you play ball so gently with him...etc."

Anne - you are on the 'right track' - and you ARE a good Mom - start paying attention to all the wonderful things you are doing with your children - all those "emotional deposits" you are putting in their personal tank of self esteem. It's important to recognize your deposits for times when you must make withdrawals on your parenting account - times when you have to make decisions that THEY won't like, but that will help them learn important life skills. No-one starts out liking putting away toys - that's work... or clearing away the dishes - that's work too to children! Our job as parents is to help them do those things they HAVE to do (even when they don't like it) to survive and thrive in their world - a world that is likely very different from ours today! Cherish your fun times, and they will help both your children - and YOU! - ride out the waves in the stormy parts of living together as a family! Using the attitude and action tools listed in the Positive Discipline for Preschoolers will give you a good variety of tools - so go back and review these points.

You will enjoy Positive Discipline A to Z , because it really tells you how to be a problem-solving parent with your children at their individual cognitive level. Please DO read it! I am SO glad you have found Positive Discipline early on in your parenting - it is the only way of parenting that made sense to me. I have learned that mutual respect doesn't mean giving away my authority - it means keeping my authority without being authoritarian - or too harsh. FIRM AND KIND takes work, esp. during the early years. But what a rich reward you will reap when your children are young adults (like mine now!)- Gary and I try to tell our parents in our parenting classes that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the parenting rainbow - once kids get to the other side, they look back and begin to say all the loving thoughts and thank-yous they never said during the growing-up years. Hang in there - You're ALL worth it!