The Challenge

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
— Rule 51

Over the last couple of weeks the boy has exited the "Terrible Twos" to enter into one of the next phases of his mental development: pushing boundaries. The most common situation that I face with him now is getting to fight and argue over just about everything. It's time to get dressed. That's an argument. It's time to wash some hands because food is ready. That's another argument. It's time to use the bathroom. Yet another battle! Heaven forbid there are multiple steps that need to take place before an activity, because he'll fight and laugh the whole time.

But this is what children do. They try to understand just how much freedom they have, often by being complete nuisances or worse.

A couple of months back I read No-Drama Discipline, a parenting book recommended by a reader2. In it parents are encouraged to follow a series of steps to first understand why their child is being difficult, then redirect that energy into something more productive. The method generally works for situations when we're outside but completely fails at home, where the boy seems to feel he's in charge. Unfortunately this means that on days when we don't go anywhere -- which is usually twice or three times a week, depending on weather and my workload -- he's more than a handful.

My parents had a relatively consistent way of handling this sort of behaviour with my siblings, and I'm assuming they used it with me, too. Today it would be called assault, but sometimes a quick swat across the hand or the bum can send a message: This stings a little bit now. Keep it up, and it's going to sting a lot more.

That said, I've never hit the boy and it's not something I plan on doing in the future, either. If he learns violence from me, then it's a given that he'll use violence on others. There are better ways to solve problems. They don't work in every situation, mind you, but it's better than doing something that could eventually involve trips to the hospital.

In No-Drama Discipline the ultimate objective is to understand and redirect, which is also, conveniently, an acrostic:

Reduce words
Embrace emotions
Describe, don't preach
Involve your child in the discipline
Reframe a 'no' into a 'yes with conditions'
Emphasize the positive
Creatively approach the situation
Teach Mindsight tools

Historically, seeing conveniently packaged steps like this would make my eyes roll because there's usually a superfluous step or two added to make the pattern work. For my kid, though, I'm willing to accept this as a set of strategies to correct his insolence. I refuse to let him be a little tyrant at home and I sure as heck won't tolerate him being a jerk to other people if he starts acting up outside. The world already has a problem with assholes. It doesn't need more.

So far the most successful strategy with the boy is to reframe a "no" into a "yes with conditions", as he likes hearing the word "yes". This generally works well when there's food involved. This is always prefaced with a describe, don't preach and followed up with an emphasise the positive. In the end, we get a situation like this:

You are not a monkey, so there's no need to shout. You can have an orange after you finish all of your chicken. See how you've already finished your broccoli? Can you do that with your other food? Okay, then. The orange is on the counter and you can have it when you're done.

To which the boy will generally go back to eating3 while staring intently at the orange, as though he were trying to bring it closer through telekinesis.

This doesn't always work, of course. My son loves to echo everything he hears, but he doesn't consistently repeat his actions. Creativity is key …

… yet creativity is so hard to maintain when someone half your height and one fifth your weight is throwing a tantrum and screaming like a banshee because he wants to roughhouse in the living room rather than get ready for dinner.

The boy is still two years old. His language skills are still incredibly basic and devoid of nuance. So while I try to employ a lot of the parenting suggestions in No-Drama Discipline, a lot of the feedback elements are non-existent. It will be nice when the boy is a little bit older and better able to express why he's doing what he's doing. We can reason with a why.

Sometimes I wonder how parents with multiple children manage to maintain some semblance of sanity while raising the next generation to be conscientious and respectable members of society.

  1. The rule is from 12 Rules for Life, a book that a lot of people — myself included — have found incredibly useful.

  2. Thanks for the link, Robert!

  3. With his hands, more often than not. One battle at a time, though.