No Spanking Zone

20 Aug


Letterbalm Angry TodderDear LetterBalm: My wife and I grew up in households where a swat on the backside was sometimes used to keep us in line. We don’t want to do any form of hitting or spanking to discipline our son. But yesterday he had a meltdown at home when he didn’t get his way, screaming, racing through the house and throwing things. He’s three and quite a handful. We’re pretty good about structuring time outs and a time out seat. But sometimes he doesn’t stay on there, and it’s a real battle of wills – it’s all we can do to keep things calm and consistent. What can we say to him?

–Tantrum Boy’s Parents

Ms. L.B. says your parental instincts are on the mark, that calmness and consistency are important. You know that a time out should be in one spot and last a minute per year of your son’s age (reset the clock each time he leaves the time out seat). Also, time outs shouldn’t be in the bedroom – too many fun distractions there. And, a meaningful time out should conclude with you or your wife calmly kneeling down to your son, getting an apology from him and a hug. But the experts say time outs shouldn’t be the automatic solution for all misbehaviors – they work best for acting up, disrespect and bad manners. Two other discipline techniques that fit the infraction can make sense to a three-year old. You can introduce a Special Box. You confiscate a toy (not a comfort toy, though) if your son is fighting over it with another child, if he’s breaking it or if he refuses to pick it up and put it away. The toy goes into that box and is taken out a week later. Or, if your son acts up in public, you can leave. Sit in the car with him. Let him rage and scream; you don’t budge until he calms down, and you take him home. Here’s what you can say to him, keeping it simple:

[Toy Removal] Oren, after I’ve given you two warnings, you haven’t stopped fighting over this toy/you’re still playing too rough with this toy/you aren’t picking up this toy. It’s going into the Special Box we showed you. It will stay there until Sunday, when you can get it back.

[Leaving] Oren, we’re in the car and I’m sorry we’re here. Your dad and I told you that if you act up when we’re outside, we will leave and go to the car. Here we are now. We can’t be in the supermarket/mall/restaurant if you can’t behave. When you calm down, we’re going home.

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