So, toddlers and discipline, as requested. Oh, that oh-so-entangled time period, the toddler stage. It's maddening. It's frazzling. It's as frustrating and powerless and desperate and urgent as ... um, a toddler.
I can't say that I'm brilliant at parenting this age. My mom is pretty good with it, overall. She can sit and play endless mind-numbing tea party games in fragments of 14.2 seconds duration. She loves when they say NO, it's so powerful a statement of self!
And, um, I'm not my mom. I love this age, but not for that part of it. I love the adventuresomeness. I love the will, passion, and drive. I love the urgency to discover. I can remember feeling that, the glorious sparke of everything bright, the amazing texture and complex flavor (and temperature) of dust-covered rocks (I was particularly fond of granite river rock from the playground, and yes, I ate three of them. Swallowed. Whole.)... and oh, the depth of soft wonderful of cat fur, the startling glorious crescendo of a cat's voice when it indicated displeasure at me trying to discover the depths of that warmth with my grabby hands. It was all joy. All discovery. All enthusiasm. All open, all welcoming, to all experience. Even pain was an open experience, not damped down or covered over, fully and completely powerful in my body's automatic reaction - the unconscious grabbing of the wounded part was a curiosity to me, observed with astonishment - I didn't even choose to grab my head or my foot or my elbow, I just already had! Wow.
For "No" - I didn't much enjoy saying No, myself, at that age. It was an indication of loss, of displeasure, of discovery denied, of having been asked to leave the NOW of experience and wait, delay, deny the urgency and the need. It wasn't a statement of power or an indication that I knew that I was separate and myself, at least in part. It was grief, mourning, and essential pleasure delayed or denied.
No wonder I raged. No wonder my kids did, too.
So what to do with that, beyond the philosophy? What's the down-in-the-dirt rules? How do I know what to do, when?
Since every child is different, and every parent is different, and therefore every parent-child dyad is unique (not to mention ever-changing), knowing what to do, when, again has some 'filter' issues.
A filter I've discovered over time (with repeated failures to kick me in the right direction), is this: Parent for tomorrow, not today.
That is, you child is a moving target, and they WILL outgrow your methods if you apply your methods strictly to their age. Been there, done that too many times. I find myself yelling a lot all of a sudden, and it's because they outgrew my method. And neglected to tell me. So I just repeated the method that HAD worked. Only to have it not work. So I get frustrated, and like an idiot, try it again, only, um, louder. Or stronger, or more determinedly. Certain that somehow if I just say it loud and slow enough, maybe the person who doesn't speak this language (anymore) will understand. Yeah. Not. Back to the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over thinking it will work if I just do it one more time. You know the whole 'you have to say something a million times before it sinks in' concept - wrong. You don't have to say it a million times, unless you're approaching it in a way they can't hear. I'm discovering that yes, I have to say it again for new situations, but it is the first time for the new situation, if I'm doing it right, and it makes a difference within a few minutes, if I'm saying or doing it right. It may not solve the problem instantly, but I can feel the pressure dissipate, I can feel the problem open up, and everyone turns generally in the same direction toward a resolution, almost all the time.
But that's with using methods that will work forever. Using ones that work for toddlers only? preschoolers only? gradeschoolers only? BZZT. They work for a few seconds. And then I have to do them again. Louder, usually.
So parent in a way that will apply later. Smacking their hand might work now, but will it work when they're 15? No? Then why get in the habit? Why set myself up to have to learn a new method again in a few months, and then only after this one has failed on me miserably? This doesn't mean taking the car keys, either - that, too, will be outgrown. It means looking at the whole person, finding their needs, finding my needs, figuring out if there's an intersection, and working from there. And accepting that sometimes, there is NOT going to be one. Sometimes, what they need cannot be met, and what I need cannot be met. But not ignoring those points, recognizing and being reconciled with them. Saying, "In this house, we do not, because" or 'Baba's house, Baba's rules" or "I am not willing to do that" or "I'm not comfortable with this" is okay.
I'm finding the Non-violent communication stuff quite useful on this. For toddlers and preschoolers, I think to figure out how to parent any given child, there are some definitely good items to read:
1) Developmental norm information. The closer we are to understanding what they are capable of and what they are not, the better we parent. This has been shown many times in research - if we estimate their ability well, we parent well. If we mistake their ability, we freak out a lot. Expectations violated, frustration through the roof, not good for decision making by anyone, parents included. So, read up- What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life or Your One-Year-Old: The Fun-Loving, Fussy 12-To 24-Month-Old or the Brazelton books (like Touchpoints), or anything developmental that is aimed at 'what can you reasonably expect as function from this age?'
2) Techniques and methods. Books I like include Positive Discipline for Preschoolers - Raising Children Who Are Responsible, Respectful, and Resourceful (this one worked better for me than the Toddlers one, and had good info on power struggles - but I don't USE it, I just read it), Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Cooperation (lots of info on toddler/preschooler respectful parenting), Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming Parent-child Relationships from Reaction And Struggle to Freedom, Power And Joy. They each have their issues and angles (as you can probably tell from their titles! HOLY MOLY, the lengthy titles...) - and honestly, I am uncomfortable reading just one book on a subject - I want to have a good three or more perspectives to see what is the central core, and what is excess, pick up the errors they each highlight (which will vary), and then be able to work with that core plus everyone's tips and tricks and secret methods.
This whole approach - parenting for tomorrow, not just today - reflects the fact that I'm more into long-term results than short-term, but I find that when I use methods that show long-term benefits, they usually have short-term benefits, too. Often not the ones I'm thinking they'll have, but they do. And often not exactly when I thought they would. But they do.
Case in point for the day - leaning as hard as I can on the non-violent communication (all the books in the methods above has some flavor of non-violent communication involved, though there's more consequence emphasis in the Positive Discipline series) - and with some serious swinging back and forth in my skills, as I'm learning, meant that I've had two days of mangle at bedtime. Okay, so new room and issues with excitement over new room and annoyance and frustration over new room and assigning ownership and range in new room... but despite all the reasons for the mangle, including mine, I'm trying. And trying again each time I blow it. A lot of effort on my part, and ... and ...
Mr G: (flopped down next to me) I got ready for bed quickly and finished it without complaining - you know why?
Me: (thinking, because we ASKED, and you AGREED TO???? You chose to be compliant? Then swallowing that as it isn't relevant or useful, since he's asking to tell me anyway) No, why?
Mr G: Because I saw you were upset, and I knew it would help if I just did my part.
Me: (um, yeah, actually that's what I'd like for motivation, not just 'check the mental list, am I being compliant?' - empathy, understanding, action! WOO!) Thanks. That does help. I really needed... um, wanted everyone to cooperate tonight, so we could have a peaceful bedtime.
Mr G: (smile, then reach out and rub my arm, then get up and give me a hug)
Yep, there were still some hiccups. Still, the amount of energy expended by me was 1/10th what it usually is. Just by parenting with the assumption that these people are not just kids (not even 'MY kids, fabulous kids'), but people. I get that, but applying it can be a struggle when they're so very much their age on any given day. But while I didn't work the angle well with Miss M, I hit the mark with Miss R - like her brother, she also ran off, got her toothbrush, and went potty without five trips to the bathroom afterwards, without fuss, without her snarky grin while refusing to move, her eyes glinting 'let's see you make me'... Nope, she joyfully chose to make the evening smooth and peaceful. And even the tangle we got in with Mr B wasn't awful, and I realized when I was likely to make it worse so excused myself from it (gave myself a time-in, to focus on something else and get past my frustration with him - ep handled that side, but I think I could have been ready again in another 10 minutes), and while Miss M was leaping and bouncing and gleefully insisting she wasn't tired, she didn't need to sleep, she also asked for what she wanted, expressed her underlying need clearly (as usual, though I have to be in the right place with myself to hear it, dangit), I met that need, and she settled down with a minimum of repeating 'I don't enjoy reading when people are bouncing about - please lie down and I'll keep reading' - and she was out like a light, and stayed out all night. WOO! I parented for tomorrow, and it worked, today.
Every moment of their life is entangled in this moment - past, present, future, all meet here. I am parenting right now who they will be when they grow up, and realigning the parenting they've received in every moment of the past. If I allow myself to accept that philosophical mind-bender, that every moment is this moment, all times are this time, the only now we have is now, and allow the deeper truth of that to expand (that all future nows are contained in this now), then I must parent them not as if what we have today is all we have to work with, but as if all times are this time, and everything we will EVER have is what I am working with, right now in this moment.
And hey, it works. Works today, works into tomorrow's today, carries forward.
Bend my brain all you want, if it works, I'm taking it.
(More on the general topic over the next few days - I know this is just one edge of the whole toddler picture...)