Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Instruction, Consequence, and Bratz.

I feel like I could ask you a million things. Like, when your 2-and-a-half year old gets some attitude and says, "No!" to something you've said, what do you do? I feel like discipline is the area I've struggled the most with. And I don't *like* punishment, but sometimes I feel that positive reinforcement doesn't work 100% of the time. Any suggestions?

How did/do you handle eating time problems? Ex: dropping food on floor, refusing to eat what served. How did it change as they got older 1 and up?

Two similar questions, so I'm squeezing them into, once again, one long answer with much comma-splicing.

Ahhh, toddlerhood. The moment when all of that pride you accumulated whilst cradling your sleeping newborn, thinking you totally had it all together, goes flying out the window, along with your brain and, most often, your patience. 

So fun!

Okay. So, this is where parenting philosophies come into play. If we parent differently, then you probably won't like what I have to say. But, to me, discipline is a huge part of toddler development. Huge. Naturally, discipline gets a bad rap because it conjurs up images of that angry old principal paddling the heck out of an unruly student. And in a society that promotes lots of love-y feelings and participation awards, it's can be hard to imagine that you can discipline your child without completely ruining their self-esteem.

Let me tell you: You can discipline your child without completely ruining their self-esteem.

On the contrary, knowing the boundaries in which they can exist will actually make them more confident. You don't have to teach a two year old to be selfish. They naturally are. What you have to teach a two year old is boundaries. They need boundaries. They do not naturally have boundaries. If given the chance, Lydia would jump off a bridge without a second thought. We have to instill in them a healthy fear of things that are dangerous, and a healthy awareness of their own *gasp* sinfulness. 

(Again, the old principal and the paddle come into your mind. Push it out. OUT!)

There are two parts of discipline: Instruction and consequence. It can be just as tempting to respond in anger and only administer a consequence as it can be to only give them instruction, without a consequence. But, in my (very limited) experience, proper discipline takes both. They have to know why they are in trouble and they have to also experience a consequence for it. You can't really have one without the other (for more on this, read Ginger Plowman's Don't Make Me Count To Three). Why? Why can we not just praise our toddlers for every good thing they do and just kind of ignore it when they are disrespectful to us?

Because that's life. In the real world, bad choices come with bad consequences. 

Big consequences. 

And it's our job as parents to help them understand now where their bad behavior comes from (their hearts and the motivation behind it), how to handle the emotions that come with it, and how to respond accordingly. 

Some consequences are learned naturally. Like when I told Naomi the stovetop was hot and she still felt the need to touch it. Ouch. Of course I didn't punish her when she touched it--her hot hand made her learn the lesson. But there are other instances when she doesn't necessarily understand why some decisions are bad. This morning, for example, I asked her to please pick up her room before her friends came over. She looked at me and said, "No way!" 

Um, yeah. Not cute.

So, after telling her she was being disrespectful, she received a consequence. Do you like how I'm being vague with "consequence"? That's called I Don't Know Who's Reading My Blog So I Am Being Vague About Consequence. But the consequence needs to be something that makes her understand she was in the wrong. Really, each kid is different and you find what works. Anyway. 

Disrespect is a huge thing. Especially in a world that promotes dolls called "Bratz" and describes sassiness as something cute and funny. How many t-shirts do we see that essentially say, "I'm so cute because I'm obnoxious!" Gag. I remember asking a friend, "If I tell Naomi to not be 'disrespectful', how do I know if she even knows what that word means?" to which my friend replied, "She'll learn." It's true. Naomi now knows exactly what being disrespectful means. And she's learning, with some guidance, how to act accordingly.

And it's all a work in progress. One day she gets it, the next day she's telling me "No way" when I ask her to please pick up her toys. That's why it's called training. When I trained for my half-marathon, some runs were great and some were awful. But I kept running because I had an end goal. And that's how we have to think of parenting. There will be good days. There will be bad days. But we have to keep pressing on, keeping our eyes on the big picture: To train our children up in the way they should go.

As a Christian, I try to teach my kids that they can't be good all by themselves. They need help. Where does our help come from? From God. There are often times when, in the midst of a fight or a negative behavior, we'll push pause and pray. We pray that God will give us the strength to be kind to our brother/sister. I don't want them to think that it's all about good behavior--I don't want to raise little legalists--it's about the condition of their heart. How many times a day do I have to pause and say a quick prayer to change my attitude? I want to teach my kids the same thing and extend to them the same grace that God extends to me. 

I hope that makes sense.

And, as far as when kids throw food on the floor, it goes along with what I've been saying--instruction and consequence. You have to figure out how that should look. As far as food rules go in our home, they have to eat as much as we tell them. Typically, that's all of their veggies and half of the rest of their food. If they refuse, they sit there until it's finished. Yum. Cold meat. Last week Naomi broke the record with an hour and half. AN HOUR AND A HALF. But, she finally ate it. Or, I put the uneaten plate in the fridge and they get to eat it for their next meal. Yum! And, we try to limit snacks. Sometimes they really are full and it's my fault--maybe two cereal bars between meals was a little too much?? :) But, if they haven't had big snacks, they need to eat what we ask them to eat. Or ... they sit. Sometimes a consequence is administered and they still have to sit. They typically acquiesce when they see the other kids playing ... but again, Naomi did sit there for an hour and half. Which boggles my mind. Why is sitting at the table more appealing than just shoving down two more bites and getting to play? I do not know. 

I hope that helps. Toddlerhood is tricky because somewhere, right before our eyes, they switch from "cute baby" to "okay not everything is cute and you need to start obeying now". The transition can be a tough one. You don't want to over-parent and put unrealistic expectations on your kids, the same way you don't want to under-parent and allow your three year old to act like a baby. It can be tough.

Hang in there, friends! We are all in this together. :)

Have a lovely day!


  1. Ok, so I'm not a parent yet, but this all totally makes sense. Did that whole paragraph about discipline/consequences come from Ginger Plowman? Our children's pastor was saying something similar and it was a major paradigm shift. (He also made the wise statement, "As a parent, you're not raising kids, you're raising adults.")

    Even though Bear and I aren't parents, we feel challenged to create the family we want NOW by exercising good habits/disciplines and then integrating our future kids into that one day. (Ex. We would like our family to value dinnertime, so we now eat dinner at the table every night, instead of in front of the T.V.)

    Thanks for wise thoughts. I'll be sure to tuck all of that away for later. :)

    1. Yes! Read Ginger Plowman's book! It's great. I read it when Cub was a baby, so it wasn't totally applicable, but now I find myself referring back to it often. She describes discipline as the "rod and reproof", which in our house breaks down to instruction and consequence.

  2. I love it!! Thank you soo so so so much. I feel like whenever we essentially go 'backwards' into her bad behavior, I always feel like I'm failing as a mother. Like I'm *going* to have a brat, even though I try so hard to raise a respectful, well-behaved child. But your advice makes perfect sense. I'm gonna have to pick up that book. Thank you so much, Katie!

  3. Saving this for a year or so down the road. I'm thinking my 5 month twins may be a little young for it now. :) Great thoughts--thank you!

  4. I love this. I love that book. Probably need to reread it today. ;)

  5. I've got that book but haven't read it yet - I will do that soon, though :). I just wanted you to know that I really took your instruction + consequence to heart, it made me realize that I haven't been giving enough clear, simple instructions, and the few times I have in the past two days, it's gone really well.. and he seems to have a VERY clear understanding of when he is being disobedient. Thank you :).

  6. Hey! Great post! Have you read shepherding a child's heart by Ted Tripp? (I think). If so, how do the two books compare?

    1. I haven't read it! But I know Moms who have and they love it. I need to add it to my list.

  7. Thanks for the great post Katie! It is so strange this transition into toddlerhood. Glad I can read a little more about it via your blog so I'm not totally shocked!