Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Discipline: Behavior Training

In our house, "discipline" is the more generic word for the idea of behavior training. Somewhere after 6 months old, it becomes obvious that children don't need to be taught to lack self control. They just lack self control. And as your baby approaches toddlerhood, it also becomes obvious that children' don't need to be taught how to sin. They are very selfish and quick to anger without any help from us. That's why behavior training is a very real part of our jobs as moms.

Here are some of my best practices I've compiled on discipline for 9 months through 3 years. I'll have to do another blog post about this in a few years when I have the preschool years under my belt!

We start with discipline around 9 months. At 9 months my goals are for baby to learn to respond to their name, and for them to learn that mom has a "serious" voice. Baby's biggest no-no at this age is touching things they aren't supposed to be touching. Discipline at 9 months:
  • Say baby's name and wait for baby to look at you (clap loudly to get baby's attention if needed) - baby looking at you in response to their name if their first act of submission
  • Say "that's a no" or "that's a no touch" in the sternest voice you can muster
  • Substitute no touch item with appropriate item or remove baby from the no touch area
  • Option: give baby's hand a firm squeeze or slight pinch after saying "that's a no/no touch"
  • Repeat endlessly for months - do not get discouraged!
Once baby can walk, I work on the command "come to mom":
  • Say child's name and wait for them to look at you (clap loudly to get baby's attention if needed) - same as above, baby looking at you in response to their name is their first act of submission
  • Deliver command "come to mom"
  • Wait, and do not immediately repeat command - give them time to process and obey
  • If child doesn't come, go get them and physically move him to where you wanted him to come to
  • If/when child does come, offer wild and over-the-top praise!
Around 18 months is when the defiance can really start in. Discipline tips for this age:
  • Avoid creating points of defiance by offering two choices that end in the same place. Examples:
    • Don't: "go upstairs now" (make it easy for them to say "no!")
    • Don't: "time to go upstairs, okay?" (avoid asking "okay?" at the end, as this sounds like they have the option to dissent to your command)
    • Do: "time to go you want to walk upstairs or be carried?" (they focus on the choice you've given them, while either way the will go upstairs). 
  • Give reminders every time the environment changes. Example: "We're leaving the park in 1 minute...[1 minutes pases]...Alright, 1 minute is up, it's time to go! Do you want to walk or run to the car?"
  • Always be reinforcing the basic concept that they should respond to you calling their name, and then obey your command. We use the phrase "obey right away, discuss after", I'm open to hearing their suggestions or complaints, but only after they've obeyed me first. If it's a reasonable request in a non-whiny voice, I'll usually oblige. 
  • Option: can still give firm hand squeezes or slight pinches to get their attention. These aren't punishments, they are attention-getting mechanisms if toddler isn't taking you seriously. This is also around the age when spanking can be introduced for direct disobedience (see below). 
General tip: Stop asking "okay?"
  • What you're really trying to say when add "okay?" to the end of your command is "do you understand" or "do you get it?", so say that instead.
  • Adding "okay?" to the end of your command sounds like you're asking for the child's input or agreement.
  • Example: "time to clean up, okay?" sounds a much more suggestive than "it's time to clean up, do you understand?" (and then they should be taught to say "yes, mom!").
How to handle toddlerisms (whining, tantrums, general naughty behavior that isn't direct disobedience):
  • Remind them of rules before they enter a new room or group of people.
  • If they are whining, crying, or tantruming, say "that hurts mommy's ears; you're welcome to keep crying but you need to do that in your room".
  • If they are misusing a toy, say "that's not how we use that toy, so sad, now that toy is all done"
  • If they are just being naughty/annoying/bugging a sibling, say "that's not how we behave, so sad, now you have to take a break in the other room/big chair/etc".
  • Focus on natural consequences for them, and keep your emotions out of it.
General tip: play the Obedience Game
  • Full disclosure, I copied this idea from the Duggar family...and it works! 
  • Obedience game goes like this: I tell my toddler to go run and touch random things in the house as fast as he can and come back to me - so that he can practice saying "yes mom!" after I deliver a command.
  • I think of funny/ random things to go find or touch and then say "go!" and he is supposed to say "yes mom!" before running off. Then I give him lots of encouragement and praise for his efforts (he seriously tries to run so fast that he sometimes peels out on the hardwood floor - haha!) and we play until he gets tired. This is also a great way to burn off energy! 
  • The point is I want him to be in the habit of saying "yes mom!" after I deliver a command or direction for him to follow.
And lastly - spanking. Spanking is not for every child or every family. If you choose to use spanking as part of your behavior training, here are some tips on how to use it in a way that is beneficial for everyone involved:
  • Only spank for direct disobedience. This is so important! Child and parent must be able to identify a single choice the child made that require discipline. The bad choices that lead to spankings should be known ahead of time by both the child and the parent, frequently discussed and reminded of, and not change. 
  • Spankings should never be a result of "okay that's enough of that, now you're getting a spanking!". If mom is spanking because "she's had enough", there is no way for the child to know at one point mom has "had enough" before it happens. That puts the spanking out of the child's control and not as a direct result of an action they chose to make. Further it seems that mom has lost control of her emotions if she yelling "that's enough!". An out of control parent is very alarming to a child.
  • Let the child know they made a well-known bad choice and there will be a spanking.
  • Remove the child from the room to a private place. This process also gives you time to cool down if you're feeling angry at the child for their actions. Don't put them up on a changing table where they can feel trapped. This is not a punishment, this is a consequence to get their attention about the seriousness of their bad choice. If they are panicked and fearful because they feel trapped, they will miss what is being taught through the consequence.
  • If you're angry, you simply cannot do the spanking. Spanking a child out of anger is just hitting them to release your anger. If you're angry, there is no spanking. Plain and simple. Period. And really, there is nothing to be angry about if spankings are reserved for specific, known behaviors. The child makes a calculated choice, and you deliver the consequence. No need to involve anger.
  • Name the bad choice the child made with their behavior/actions, and let them know there will be a spanking now. Remove their bottoms, and administer the spanking. Two spanks is standard.
  • Put the child's bottoms back on, and cuddle them up in your lap and let them work through their emotions. When they are ready, briefly discuss what happened per a level they can comprehend. Name the behavior, and explain why is was bad choice: "mom said to come and you ran away. You chose to disobey, and that was a bad choice you made".
  • Pray for the child, out loud. Pray that God would forgive them for the bad choice they made, that He would help them make the right choice the next time, and that your child would feel so, so loved. Then hug, and start fresh! 
  • Spanking is not meant to be a long-term discipline tool. It's meant to be for a brief season and then not needed to be used very often - because it worked. If you're finding that you are spanking with no effect for months on end, you're doing it wrong (you're likely not being consistent enough and/or not clear about what warrants a spanking, or doing it out of anger). 
In general, look to you child to tell if they have too many or too little freedoms. Their actions will tell you if they need more or less discipline. If they aren't listening to you, it's because there is no reason to (in their mind). You have to be willing to follow through on training them in their behavior, every time. I'm all for verbal discipline, if it works. We always start with that. But if that's not working, your child is telling you they need something more to make it matter to them not to make the wrong choices. It's your job to figure out what that something more is. And it will change as they grow, so your job is never over in this department. If something doesn't work right away, keep going!

My oldest is still only a toddler, so we are very much in the "teaching to obey" phase of discipline. Once our kids gets older, we plan to naturally move on to the Love & Logic style of discipline (where you lovingly let the logically consequences of their behavior do the teaching). The three books I highly recommend that helped us craft our discipline approach to-date:


Don't Make Me Count to Three is basically a shorter version of Shepherding a Child's Heart. It's a quick read and I recommend it first, over Shepherding a Child's Heart if you need to read something right now to get things going. I also recommend whichever book of the -Wise series is age appropriate for your child, as the subsequent books after Babywise all touch on discipline to some degree.


  1. I totally agree about the use of "okay?" I hear parents using it all the time and it sounds like they are asking permission from the child for whatever they requested/suggested. Never ask a yes/no question unless either a yes or no answer is acceptable. You are doing a great job with your darlings and I admire your spirit to always just keep going.

  2. Love this and of course I can totally hear this in your voice as I'm reading it!