Hey guys! I'm Sheena, mom to twin girls and their lucky little brother. I blog over at Bean In Love. Meredith sweetly invited me over to talk about the very, very fun part of parenting - discipline!
There's nothing worse than someone telling you how to discipline your child, am I right or am I right?
Well, fear not my fellow disciplinarians, I'm not here to tell you what to do or to tell you what you're doing wrong. I'm a mom of twin two-and-a-half-year-olds and a one-year-old so my skill level when it comes to discipline is barely grazing the amateur mark. I'm still learning and I'm sure I'll still be learning when we move our youngest into his/her dorm room. Let me share with you some tips and tricks I've learned thus far - do's and don'ts. Remember, every kid is different and so every kid falls into their own little unique category when it comes to discipline. You might agree with me and you might disagree on some (or maybe even all!) of these tidbits and that's ok! These are just some ideals I thought I'd pass along that we've found to be effective in our household since our kids are absolute angels and all (wait...is my nose growing?)
>> Talk in their language <<
We try to keep our reprimands as simple as possible. If Seraphia hits her sister, we say "No hit!" Our twins are using full sentences themselves, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're understanding every full sentence spoken from us to them yet. They may and they may not pick up what we're laying down if, instead, we say "Don't hit your sister because it hurts her. Do you understand me?" We might've lost her on the word 'because' and so therefore, all she may have heard was "Don't lxkcjvlksdjf sister alsdkjfalsdfj me!" from an apparently upset parent. We keep it simple and use words we know they can understand.
>> Be firm and consistent <<
If we see one of the girls do something wrong, we reprimand and make sure they stop doing it. Telling them "no" a few times and then giving up and letting the behavior continue is only going to cause confusion in the girl - "Do they not want me to do this or can I do it???" Also, we try to be consistent. If a certain behavior is wrong, we make sure it's always wrong and not just wrong when it's inconvenient. If Seraphia hits Cecilia (her twin sister), even if Cecilia is laughing about it, it's still wrong. She gets a "no no" + a little jog to time-out.
>> Explain why what they're doing is wrong <<
We try not to reprimand without a giving a reason. I said above that we try to keep our words simple and that still holds true here, even though it's a little tougher when an explanation is in line. After Seraphia serves her time-out sentence for hitting her sister, we try to help her understand that "that's owie," or "no hit...Cecilia get owie." It makes sense, right? When someone tells us to stop doing something, the next logical thought is "why?"
>> Make sure the toddler responds <<
Going along with the simple explanation, we make sure that after we explain, the girl has heard us. We make sure they're looking at us face-to-face and we say "Ok?" and wait for an "Ok." from them. Even if she didn't really get what we were saying (because, like I said, we're still learning), at least she heard us.
>> Focus on teaching them the right thing when they're doing the wrong <<
The perfect time to teach your child how to act is when they're about to do or doing something wrong. For example, if I see the girls getting a little rough, I immediately try to remind them to "be gentle," "careful," and/or "give kisses and hugs." Sometimes it'll deter them. Another example I can think of are taking off shoes. My girls love to take their shoes off themselves but sometimes they have a hard time getting their winter boots off so automatically, they try, they get frustrated, and they start whining/screaming. Before it escalates, I sit down next to the boot victim and tell her "Cecilia, say 'Mommy help'" and every time it immediately calms her down and she says "Mommy help" and the crisis is laid to rest.
>> Make sure punishment fits the crime <<
This might be common sense but just in case... We make the girls sit in a designated time-out corner when they've done something wrong. The amount of time they have to sit in the corner depends on what they've done wrong. Hitting a sibling results in more time than throwing a cup off the high chair.
>> Stay calm <<
You've probably heard you should never punish your child out of anger. True statement. It only causes more distress in both parties involved and in the end, you might say and do things you'll wish you hadn't. I know it's so, so, so (sososososoooooo) hard to keep your cool when your kid has just punched out the little window in the little oven you just painstakingly made her for Christmas because she was angry but...
& Think of How Great Nap Time Will be Today
>> Use distraction <<
Distraction works wonders in this house. If someone starts tantruming because her BFF Dora ain't on the tube, I try to curb the anger by very, very quickly bringing out the crayons and Hello Kitty coloring books. This also works in the car while an I-want-the-heck-outta-this-car-seat-prison episode is about to blow. Pointing out the pretty trees, that cute puppy, and that yellow school bus and oohing-and-ahhing over it all usually can calm the storm.
>> Get physically down to their level <<
I watched an episode of Supernanny once in college and I learned this in that episode and filed it away in my "future-kids" file. After time-out, we literally get on our haunches so that we're eye-to-eye with our little criminal, and we do all the explaining that way. Standing up so that they have to look up at you can come off as belitting, cause a shut-down, and a dead end. It can also instill an unhealthy sense of fear in getting punished. Think about your seven-foot-tall boss towering over you, scowling and telling you how you dropped the ball in not meeting that very important deadline...yeah, scary.
>> Remember that they're only toddlers <<
This is so hard for us. Anthony and I are always reminding ourselves and each other that, even though they talk well and have the attitudes of teenagers sometimes, the girls are only two. (Sebastian is getting left out of all this because one-year-olds are completely oblivious...I think.) ;) Chances are that when Seraphia just threw that mega-meltdown, she wasn't doing it to cause us anguish, she did it because she skipped a nap and needs a little extra attention at the moment. Cecilia didn't just hide the tv remote under her crib mattress because she wanted to see me squirm. Everything's a game to her. They're not old enough to be devious or have ulterior motives. They're just two. :)
>> Love on them after correcting them <<
This is so important. It's so hard to discipline the people you love the most in this world, right? It's hard to say no and see their little faces droop and the tears flow. That's what tough love is all about though. After we reprimand, we always make sure to smooth things over and start anew by telling the girl we love her and giving her hugs and kisses. Even if we're still fuming inside, it's good to remind her that even though she did something she shouldn't have, we'll still cross an ocean for her (while we deduct $10 from her savings to buy a pack o' Magic Erasers to get all that marker off). *wink*
>> Be on the same discipline page as your spouse <<
Anthony and I are both okay with sitting our kids in time-out as punishment for bad decisions. That is the main punishment in this house. If he agreed with that method and I didn't, we'd have a little chit-chatting to do to come up with a solution so that things were consistent and in harmony around here. The same goes with right and wrong-doings. We agree that throwing your sippy cup off of your high chair is not okay as is climbing over the couch by the brick fireplace. Having differing opinions on rules and punishments only causes confusion and can even lead to parent-favoritism (totally made that word up but you get what I'm saying, right?)
>> Combat tantrums with tickles <<
One of my friends employs this and I love it. To end particularly bad tantrums (and even little ones!), just start tickling. Isn't there a saying about laughter being the best medicine anyway? :) The hope is that the tickles will bring laughter and the laughter will wipe away the tantrum and the reason for putting up a fight in the first place will be forgotten.
>> Choose your battles <<
Some things, no matter how annoying they might be, aren't worth punishing. These things differ in every household. I used to hate, hate, hate it when the girls played with their food and made a huge mess on their high chairs. I mean, wasn't it enough that I had to clean up what they accidentally spilled on the floor and in their seat along with what they intentionally wiped all over their trays while having their baby brother on my hip while all this nonsense went on (I know, woe is me...)? And then I grew up into bigger mom shoes and realized that in the end, it's okay. There are bigger problems than taking five minutes to clean up a mess. At least they had fun while it lasted and we're stocked up on Clorox wipes. :)
>> Always give a second chance <<
Toddlers, like their doting parents, are always learning. If the girls didn't react the way we would have liked them to at first, a second chance will usually help them develop a better association between what they did and what they should've done. In saying that, I don't mean we don't punish right after they do something wrong. We do. But we allow them to make the right decision if they so choose right after. For example, we usually give a time-out sentence for throwing a toy. We take the toy away, which usually causes a small tantrum, put the girl in time-out, and after completing her sentence and us explaining and loving on her, we give the toy back as a second chance gesture. If she throws it again, it's gone for good. If she doesn't throw it, chances are she learned the lesson and we all go on our merry way...until next time. It's always good to give a child a chance to redeem him/herself and to learn the right way.
>> Take deep breaths <<
There's nothing like a big, deep breath .2 seconds after or during a tantrum/fight/slap/destruction that helps me stay calm and focused. I can think a thousand thoughts and make a simple plan of disciplinary action in those few seconds of a breath that is usually a much better plan than one made in the thick of the fight.
>> Compare to siblings <<
This is true especially with twins. They might not realize it when they're toddlers, but harping on one girl and showing her how her counterpart is being an angel, as she should be doing, may only cause an unhealthy dislike. We just try to focus on teaching the right way to the child doing the wrong thing without bringing the other child into the mix.
>> Yell at them in public <<
Our girls are old enough to get embarrassed. I know that because they get embarrassed when they wet the bed at night and, if we make it a bigger deal than it is, they cry and the world almost ends. Yelling at them in public, where other eyes can see and they know those other eyes might be watching, can cause them to get embarrassed, shut down, and tantrum even more. When we're in public and somebody starts melting, I get down to her level, face-to-face and I try to calm her down by distracting her. If that doesn't work, I pick her up and give her a little love in case it's attention she's needing. Usually one of those two things works. Ignoring the tantrum, in our case, usually makes the situation worse as I get all embarrassed and the kid just gets more and more angry. Public tantrums are a tough thing for every parent and there's no simple avoidance technique I can give that'll wipe away all those public tears. Kids get mad. They have tantrums. Yes they're inconvenient and yes they're a pain. They are moments when I have to lay aside my wishful thoughts that I just wanted to have a happy waltz down the pretty aisles of Target and attend to a crying child instead because that's more important. There are so many times when my desires get in the way of my kids needs and it's hard to parent during those times. Parents understand and sometimes onlookers don't and we parent's worry about what people are thinking and yada-yada. Just remember to keep calm in those situations and don't worry about anybody but yourself and your kid and life will go on. :)
>> Use crib for time-out <<
This might be a tad controversial. I know there are a lot of people who do put their toddlers in their cribs for a time-out sesh and I'm not judging you at all. I totally get why you might use it. It's easy. They're stuck there (usually) and they're stuck good until you say so. Corners and walls have easy escape routes if you don't pay attention (there is always duct tape though...kidding, just kidding.) If it works, it works. But I can imagine that, in the few minutes that it also serves as their prison, a toddler might begin to associate it with punishment. Not great for the place we want only peace, calm, and deep sleep to reside.
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So, with all that, what are some tips and tricks you've found to cure toddlerdom woes? I know there are so many resources out there and us parents are always up for tantrum cures in order to keep life in the fast lane as happy as possible. Please share what you know! We're all in this together! Discipline is tough and the not-fun part of parenting (rivaling diaper changing) but remember that while your finger seems to be constantly wagging, you're forming and fashioning these little people into mature human beings who care about other people and you're doing a great job!
Like I said above, I'm far from expert and even farther from having it all down pat (I wing it...a lot), but I'm here if anyone has any questions! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or if you just want to vent about how your twins (or singletons) are emptying your jar of sanity marbles one by one by one by one... ;)