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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Discipline and Manipulation

The Terrible Two's have come early. I'm going to blame daycare rather than my particular brand of lax parenting during Erin's first year and a half. I'll say that the increasing incidents of biting, pushing, and hitting have everything to do with what Erin is learning from a slightly older, out-of-control girl at daycare and nothing to do with me doing everything possible in her first year and a half to ensure that she always felt like she owned the world.

I have experimented a little with different forms of behaviour modification. Once, when Erin persisted in standing up in the bath tub I unleashed my Dog Voice on her. This isn't a yell. It's a bark: a sharp, loud, clipped delivery that grew out of years of living with dogs. It works perfectly on them.

"ER!!-in. SIT. DOWN."

She sat. And she cried. Betrayed.

What an unfair dilemma. I have a way of inspiring canine obedience in her, but it also destroys her innocent soul. The Dog Voice is an Apple from the Tree, and if I offer it to her she learns too much, too early, about the world.

Another method I've tried is Outlast Mode. Emily has really lucked out in in marrying someone who is as childish as her toddler. I've won lots of games of "Down?"--"No. I love you" that involve me holding a squirming Erin who wants to run around in some unsafe environment. As many times as she can say "down" in a row, I can keep going on "No. I love you" autopilot forever. Eventually, she gives up. But Outlast Mode really only works for verbal behaviour that needs to be changed. I can't play the "Stand up" "No. Sit down" game forever in a situation like tub-standing. I need her to know that it isn't okay to stand up in the tub, and I need her to know it immediately.

But without making her cry. I think. I think I need her to know it without making her cry. But as she gets older I get less nervous about just throwing that Apple at her.

There are other situations that seem to warrant Apple-throwing, and since daycare has entered our lives these situations are multiplying. She wants to hit, now. And she wants to push. Pushing is a weird game with her. She'll ask, "pu-ush?" while she grabs my hand and pulls until she lets go and then drifts backward, arms flailing in a Horizontal Vertigo. She's framing me for pushing her.

Her hitting and pushing of other kids looks so detached, so unemotional, that I almost worry that she lacks empathy. "It's not that I think she's a psychopath," I assured Emily one morning after dropping Erin off and watching her little games at daycare, "it's that I think these are the things psychopaths never outgrow." (That was a joke, folks. I made a baby-psychopath joke. It's okay to laugh. It's okay not to laugh. I'm not really funny.)

But then she'll spend even more time consoling hurt toddlers, patting them, wondering what made them so sad (if it wasn't her, that is, since in that case she knows perfectly well what made them so sad), that I'm certain she doesn't lack empathy at all: she's a font of it. She loves to hug and kiss, and if these weren't also usually unwelcome by nervous toddlers she'd have a reputation as the friendliest kid in town.

She could be faking it, though. She could be a brilliant manipulator. In addition to the pushing (mostly of the girls, mostly of a smaller girl just as she is pushed and hit by a larger girl, and mostly of a smaller girl who also gets most of her positive attention), when she has seen that pushing is not approved by her victim or her teachers, she'll start to offer kisses. And it's usually the boys who get those kisses. And it's usually the boys who have something she wants who get those kisses. (Shoot me.)

While I'm more and more motivated, recently, to unleash the Dog Voice when I see behaviour like pushing or hitting, it isn't going to work with more subtle behaviour like being manipulative. And shifting into Outlast Mode doesn't seem right here either.

The last weapon in my arsenal is the Telepathic Staredown. Once, when she was rocking a glider ottoman too fast and violently, about to knock her snack plate off (why was the snack plate even on the ottoman, dad? Oh, right. You were too lazy to put her into her high chair for snack. You brought this on yourself, you know.), I started a contest of wills with her. I froze her with a Telepathic Stare and I used every ounce of strength I had to not crack a smile, because I knew smiling meant defeat.

She smiled first.

But I didn't immediately relinquish my control of her soul; I kept staring, sending her the silent message that it was not okay to push that ottoman over, and eventually her smile faded and she looked contrite. I had won! I had won a battle of wills with a wilful toddler!

And for the next fifteen or twenty minutes it really seemed to have changed her behaviour in a genuine way. She started looking to me for permission to do things, assurance that it was okay. It was such a drastic difference from the effect of the Dog Voice, which was immediate compliance accompanied by intolerable distress, that I banked it for later use.

So today when she insisted on pulling a drawer out of the small table in the hallway, a drawer at head height that can possibly be pulled out enough to land on her head and leave her in a slobbering puddle, I initiated the Telepathic Staredown.

And proving that I'm not he only one who is learning how to handle unwelcome behaviours my Little Innocent came running at me with pursed lips, promising a kiss. And when, surprised and pleased, I broke the stare and ceased sending the telepathic signals to her brain I pursed my own lips and opened my arms wide, she stopped, smiled an evil little grin, and went back to pulling the drawer out.

"I win, guys."


Warren said...

What's so cool for me when reading this post, is that I read it and feel like I know exactly how you feel with each of those approaches to discipline.
My biggest difference, is that over the years, I've become a little jaded to the tears, and care a little less now if my saying no, or meting discipline makes them cry. I just think, when my daughters are teenagers, no matter what I do is going to make them hate me.
Yeah. I'm just practicing for then.

Pauline said...

Oh you are good. This is the kind of stuff I wish I could write. And it all speaks to where I am now with my daughter, too. Same age, and I always end up with "dog voice". It works, but I don't like making her cry either. What to do?

bejewell said...

My Bean is 19 months now and we've been in the terrible twos stage for a while. His isn't so much pushing or hitting others, it's more of a deliberate defiance -- doing stuff he KNOWS WITH CERTAINTY he is NOT SUPPOSED TO DO, and taking great, great pleasure in that. His latest thing is climbing out of his crib (toddler bed, stat). At bedtime I read him a story and he'll stand up in the crib, swing one leg over the rail, and start to lift himself up, the whole time looking at me with a HUGE smile on his face. I tell him no, firmly, and he raises one eyebrow. Still smiling.

How do you not laugh at that?

I dunno. This parenthood thing is HARD, yo!

VDog said...

You know? I was excited for our kids to play together I might be a wee-tad skeered.

sam {temptingmama} said...

Carter was a biter. He did that for about oh, a YEAR! He tormented those daycare children and to this day we have no idea what brought it on or why it changed. It was difficult to discipline because he never bit at home, only at daycare.

The tears are their way of guilting you. They are smarter then we give them credit for, seriously. They know. You have to become jaded by the tears or you will lose. LOL

Aunt Becky said...

Ah yes, the glory days of the terrible two's. Which, by the by, have come shockingly and disgustingly early to my house. I'm knee deep in it as well, man, and the only weapon in my arsenal of doom is this: Time Out, Motherfucker, Time out.


Wake me up when he's five.

heather said...

Thanks for the frightening look into my future. It works on the dog, so why wouldn't it work for her? The dog still knows I love her.
Outlast is going to be interesting with my stubborn Taurus daughter and an equally stubborn Mom who will.not.lose. Spent 1.5 hours getting her to take a 15 minute nap just so she wouldn't win. She's actually gotten better about naps since then though, hmmm...

TwinToddlersDad said...

I enjoyed this post very much. We have twins - one boy, one girl; both now a little over 2 and a half years old. There is a big difference between my son and my daughter. What works for my son, doesn't usually work for my daughter. She certainly has a mind of her own!
Anyway, I do have to get tough on them if it involves safety.

Your write very well, I am linking to you on my blog

kittenpie said...

The only way to win a battle of wills with some toddlers is to take no prisoners. I'm talking scorched earth warfare here. So the fight better be worth it with those kids.

Others are a little more compliant, as mine was at two, but not at three. Still, there is much in common between training dogs and children - I know two teachers who also train dogs, for that matter. The dog voice is an important tool, especially when there is a safety issue (like tub standing) at hand. Other issues call for a lighter hand, perhaps, but I don't think you should let tears put you off using it judiciously - they only reinforce to the child that this is Serious Business. And when safety is the reason, that's a good side effect. (We use the firm voice a LOT these days, as compliance has gone from her middle name to a foreign concept for these past few months. I trust she'll come back around, but GOD, it's wearing!)

Mommy Jo said...

Two years ago I would not have been able to relate to your post! The biting, hitting, pushing has all happened here in my home! Good grief, I didn't know parenthood would be so hard!

Thanks for sharing some great hints!

liz.mccarthy said...

oh my, I have that exact same dog voice.....I HATE when I use it, afterwards....oh, it just comes out before I can catch myself.

My daughter hit the terrible 2's at 3. I was lucky then, she really wasn't one of "those" babies, but I'm in for it now, with my daughter that has developmental delays, but is extremely hyper, I hate the nos no's no's over and over that come out of me....

It's so hard!

Thanks for the great post (I'm not that far away, in Marin County!)

Michelle said...

Peanut is just as stubborn and very good at wrapping us both around her little finger. I've tried all of these methods with similar results.

Jennifer said...

It's been amazing to me at how manipulative these little girls can be at such a young age. Do you think boys are like this?? I've used all the methods you mentioned, with varying degrees of success. The stare-down seems to work pretty well, as long as I don't start giggling half-way through...

excavator said...

Awwwww, discipline.

I was lucky to have a honeymoon in infancy (read, 'easy baby, no colic'). But I always knew that looming ahead, obscured by my denial, was the spectre of disciplining. PUBLIC disciplining. Disciplining in the presence of other parents, my OWN parents.


One thing that helped me was the concept that at this age they have no working concept of cause-and-effect; and no sense of their behavior having consequences. It was useful to think of them as 'little scientists' who are testing the hypotheses again and again: "if this...then...this? And they need to test it over and over. So sometimes what looks like wilful disobedience is actually obedience--to an insatiable desire to learn. To test reality--not to drive us parents nuts, but to satisfy their curiosity of how things work. "If I push this child, what happens? When she falls, she cries? What if I do it this way?"

They're a long way from the kind of empathy that can serve as a control on their behavior.

It's a mistake for parents and other adults to place a standard of behavior on a child, a baby, that is beyond their developmental capacity. Yet I see parents hold their kids accountable for nearly adult standards, complete with punishment for failure. (Frequently we punish because we're embarrassed; we're embarrassed because we attribute our child's immature behavior to some failure in ourselves (that's the public aspect of it) or our parenting. This is when the parenting-as-competitive-event rears its ugly head: a mother/father attributing their child's malleability to their own superior skills and not the child possessing a temperament that manifests as docile ('obedient'). (God knows I was one of those people until my easy baby became a more challenging toddler).

It's helpful for me to think of them as 'works in progress'--not yet 'finished' and so not ready to hold 'adult' expectations. Actually, when I look around, I see a lot of adults aren't ready to live up to adult expectations!

I for one don't think you made a mistake in encouraging the feeling that Erin owns the world. I think that is actually the first step in effective discipline: the bedrock of trust that will sustain her during the tougher times that you must assert your will.

I found the 'Positive Parenting' (Jane Nelsen) books very helpful. "Smartlove" is also a good reference. They don't absolve a parent by any means of the need to discipline firmly, consistently, and lovingly. But they solidified my own foundation in how I wanted to guide my children, and do it respectfully.

Sorry for the essay. I mainly wanted to empathize about that rude awakening when toddler will asserts itself and things become trickier.

excavator said...

Sorry to comment again, but I just read over the other comments and had to add a couple more of my own thoughts.

"Manipulative" is a sort of pejorative word. It implies a sort of malevolent scheming. It's not that they're trying to 'play' you; they're trying to figure out how the world works. They're not crying in order to stop you from getting in their way--unless they learn that works.

I hope the child-care understands that the behaviors you're seeing are a normal set of behaviors in babies who are beginners at developing self-control. I hope they don't attribute biting,pushing, whatever to some moral flaw in Erin.

What I *do* hope is that they are pro-active, spot trouble brewing and intervene with redirection before the hitting/biting/etc behavior flares.

I tried to use as a guide, safety. My child's safety, other children's safety, property's safety. Those things were non-negotiable. The next guide was to pick battles: if it's not a non-negotiable, how important is this? Maybe it's not worth spending an expensive battle of wills on. Some willful behavior is part of a developmental phase of differentiation--finding the boundaries between 'me' and 'not-me'.

I found it helpful to befriend women who had children older than mine with siblings about my child's age. There is a distinct drop in anxiety about toddler behavior once you've been through it once.

Sarah Yost said...

i do a lot of ignoring. Its too easy to get enmeshed in a battle of the wills where I inevitably hear a little voice over my shoulder saying, you're-just-like-the-baby. So I ignore her ridiculous behavior and redirect her and then praise the behavior I like. That works for many obnoxious things.

I want to save my mean-momma/ dog voice/ tantrum inducing responses for the stuff that really, really matters like safety issues i.e. knives (no) standing in tub (no) putting my toothbrush in the toilet (please, God, not again).

Elisa said...

ah, good luck. Stella isn't scared by my dog voice, can kill my outcast mode by screaming in my ear, and the rest of the time is too funny to get mad at. It's a lost cause. Which just proves that second-time parents are really no better than first-time parents :-)

"it's usually the boys who get those kisses. And it's usually the boys who have something she wants who get those kisses. "
ah, yes - girls learn quickly the sharpest tool at our disposal. Manipulation ;-)

Heather said...

You may be being a little too hard on her. She is ONLY two after all. Maybe you think she knows better, but in truth she's probably forgotten the rule, or she knows it but is still unable to stop her impulse to do the hitting or pushing.

I'm sorry to tell you that if you think she's being defiant now you're in for a world of hurt in the next few years. ;)

I found that the "toddlerese" helped. I felt like an idiot doing it, but it worked so whatever. If they cry because you won't let them do something then you say "you wish you could stand in the tub!" and variations of the same thing over and over again. I'm thinking they stop crying because they wonder if Mommy has lost her mind.

As for getting them to sit in the tub. Give her one chance to sit in the tub and tell her if she doesn't sit she won't be able to play. The next time she stands up, bath over. Give her a sponge bath outside of the tub and call it good. Repeat every bath time until she gets it.

Redneck Mommy said...

My husband uses that dog voice to get me to listen to him. And the telepathic stare.

I respond about as well as a psychopathic toddler.

It's part of my charm.

Swirl Girl said...

Thank goodness my girls never went throught the T-two's. Although admittedly, we are experiencing a bout of the nasty nines ....

We employ the stare down (lovingly called the Poppy Face= my dad's look of disapproval) .

Why is it that some parents drop their nasty youngens off at school for other people to teach proper behavior??

I'd like to see what their home is like...or then again, I really don't.

Special K said...

Now B.P. we ALL know it is always, ALWAYS daycare's fault. Everything. Always! That's our mantra anyway. ;)

excavator said...

I suppose the "Love and Logic" people would say that when Erin stands up in the tube you say, "Looks like you're done" and take her out. "We sit to play in the tub. When we stand up, it means we're done."

Or, "Oh, that's not safe. We have to be in the bath safely, or we have to get out so you'll be safe." And follow through.

Or, "Baths are for sitting" (helping her sit down. "Can you sit down or do you need me to help you sit down?"

"Oops! Looks like you forgot! We'll get out now and try again later."

And the all-important, rinse, lather, repeat. The repetition has been one of the hardest parts of parenting...

dadspeaks said...

Why isn't it okay for her to stand up in the tub?

Whilst I wouldn't leave her in the bathroom by herself, I've let my now-1-year-old daughter stand, walk, dance and otherwise do what she likes in the tub since she could sit up.

Yes, she's fallen a few times, but not for a while. She's learnt. Not that she must obey me (through barking, staring or otherwise manipulating), but that if she falls in the tub it hurts. She's also learnt that if she does fall I'm there to help her up. She knows that if she gets stuck (not often) I'll help her.

She's learnt that standing in the tub needs to be done with care. And she's learnt that I'm there for her.

for a different kind of girl said...

Would you hate me if I told you that my kids sailed through infancy and toddlerhood without this 'terrible two's' stage? Seriously, life was a breeze. This means I live in a dreamworld...or I'm doomed when one of them comes home in high school and tells me their girlfriend is pregnant.

Anyway, don't hate me, 'k?

michele said...

I, apparently, don't have a dog voice. I wish I did, tears or no. Three strikes usually works for me, though (my kids are older - 6 & 8). However. My husband is a former Marine. A kind, sweet, affectionate gentleman. However, when he has *had* it, he uses his military voice. Picture The Atten-Hut, or the Hoo-Hah, only with the words he expects to be listened to now. No, let me rephrase - NOW. He used to pick the kids up from daycare and he's the "cool" dad, so he'd hang a bit before leaving with the boys. He'd do things like teach the kids without dads how to make paper airplanes fly better, that sort of thing. But every once in a while the teachers would need everyone's attention, and they wouldn't be listening. They'd kind of sneak a sidelong glance at my husband, and he would let out his military command, and the earth would stand still. Then the teacher's had control again, and he would come home.

Petra a.k.a The Wise (*Young*) Mommy said...

Ah, I feeeeeel you dude. My daughter is constantly pushing, pulling and testing me lately and it's hard for me not to use my "crazy mommy" voice when she pushes me over the edge.

It's a fine line between discipline and being an asshole.

1sttimedad said...

Ooooh, that last one is nasty! It sounds like your daughter would make a perfect match for my 17-month-old, who I figure it's the Devil's latest reincarnate.

I would love, love, love to blame the daycare too, but just last week my daycare provider took a quick jaunt to the bathroom while my kid (the youngest of five at daycare) proceeded to throw her porridge at all the other kids while they laughed and laughed and laughed.

My wife and I laughed too when we heard, because how can you not, right?

And just wait till they're teenagers.

Pamela said...

I have had three two year-olds to date. They are special, in a totally psychopathish sort of way. The good news? Three is even MORE specialer.

And we do know about the Bad Dog Voice. Sometimes you just need to use it, because it works WAY better in a danger situation than the Cookie Voice.

Michelle Lamar said...

BPD, she is SOOOO cute that I am afraid that you (and the rest of the males in the world) are going to be in for it! LOL! Here is the future. They act like insane people, moody, tantrums. But they are 15. Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life, will ya? Loved this post, BTW.

KT said...

We used a series of books starting with "Hands are Not For Hitting" They have "Teeth are Not for biting." It helped.