Setting Limits and Awarding (Mommy) Time Outs
This mom shares why she's learned more from error than success as part of the Care.com Interview Series
Julie Feinstein Adams, The Calm before the Stork blogger and mom to four-year-old Jonah, admits that everything she has learned has been from trial and error, "mostly error." For Adams, setting limits is the very first step in disciplining, as boundaries make kids feel safe, and setting expectations can help in future ice cream public tantrum dilemmas. Throughout the learning process, she has gained some great wisdom that she has passed along to Care.com: Train yourself to say no, outside help can be a great resource, and when all else fails, bribe.
Tell us about your family.
My husband is an artist, inventor, entrepreneur-Mad Genius personality type. I am a storyteller, teacher/coach, and a performer. Jonah is the perfect mix of everything crazily creative from the two of us. He makes up songs, makes up worlds, is very particular about matching colors a certain way in his wardrobe, dives deeply into subjects and explores them thoroughly (trains, dinosaurs, sharks, space...).
What is your general theory on disciplining kids?
Theory? ME??? HA!
I noticed that TANTRUMS started at about 18 months. I think limit setting started earlier. I wanted to set limits because boundaries make a kid feel safe. And it's seemed to bear out, when I can pull it off. I had to discipline myself to start saying NO, and handle the consequences of that because the easy way out of conceding every point was not good for any of us.
I have read a few books, and I took a workshop that helped me look at what is underneath the tantrums and doing creative problem solving to deflect them and/or proactively derail them. I also like the idea of family discussions to address issues during calmer times, and we've done that as Jonah has gotten older and can participate in that kind of conversation.
Time outs never worked for us. They work for his twice-weekly nanny. Oh, and of course there's the bribing. I use bribes and threats. Like, if you don't get your toys cleaned up right now, I'm going to take them away. Which is a step up from my early attempts where I would take away a beloved Thomas train character every time he misbehaved (see, illogical consequences).
Yeah, it's awesome. I totally impress myself.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened while trying to discipline your kids?
One day, Jonah and I stopped at an ice cream shop for a scoop of vanilla. Jonah finished his scoop and wanted another. I said no. Cue full body tantrum with screams. Going limp, dragging heavily, whirling dervish.
I hoisted him up horizontally under my arm like a wriggling alligator and marched him back to the car. He fell asleep in the car seat on the way home.
(Did I mention that discipline is a lot about just recognizing that the kid is overly tired or wound up?)
Since then, I have learned to pre-load the gun, so to speak. We have conversations before we enter a store about what my expectations are. It doesn't always work, but it helps.
What is the funniest thing your kids have done to deserve discipline? Even if it was so funny you hated to do it!
All I can think of is how cute he sounds when he says "Dammit." We don't actually discipline him for it. We just talk about what is polite and what isn't. He totally knows the rules, and he's very clever about when he chooses to use this so-called bad word. It's hard to teach him that it isn't "right" when his execution is so flawless. And adorable. It's wrong that it sounds adorable to me, but sometimes I can't stop laughing.
Describe a hard lesson you have learned while disciplining your children.
There have been really hard I-hate-myself times, when I've realized after a big fight, how much of it was about me. What I've learned is to step away more, take space (a time out for mommy) when I need space during a tantrum (his/mine), and to not take his behavior so personally. But that took a couple of years.
Your kids start misbehaving in public - what's your move?
Depends. Who is it bothering? I guess if we're going with my definition of misbehavior, I remove him from the situation. If someone else is bothered with something that I think is just fine, I try to have the balls to address the adult. If it's between my kid and another kid, I watch to see if it's something they both have the age and skill to hammer out on their own - and intervene if needed.
What is your best tip for moms who are having trouble disciplining their kids?
Go easy on yourself. Everything I've learned has been from trial and error, mostly error, and reading more books and talking to my friends. I have learned so much from the experience and wisdom shared by my mom-friends.
1....2...2 and a half.....3! What is your take on counting to get kids to do something?
Jonah hates it. Every time I try, he panics, freezes, and screams like he's being tortured. "NO COUNTING!!!"
What are some important things to remember when disciplining a child?
If I have the presence of mind, I ask myself: Who is this for? Is it a boundary setting thing that will help the child feel safe and secure? Is it a social skill he needs to learn?
If the answer is something like: Because I'm irritated, because of what other people are thinking of me, because I just can't take it anymore, then I need to give/get myself the time out first. A pedicure is a great time out, for example.
Julie blogs at Calm Before the Stork about her pregnancy and motherhood experiences. She has a master's degree in performance arts. Julie resides in Oakland, California with her husband Scott, four-year-old son, Jonah, three chickens and one cat.
Find discipline tricks that work for other moms in the Care.com Interview Series: The Discipline Mistakes I've Made »
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