Why is it that children understand the concept of Mothers Guilt far faster than they do the notion of tough love?
Recently my son pulled out the big guilt guns. At the end of a tantrum, when it became clear he was not going to be getting his own way he responded with “but mummy, that makes me really sad and you need to make me really happy”.
As a mum, it is our intrinsic instinct that our children are enjoying a contented childhood, and an almost kneejerk reaction that we should want to ensure this status quo is continually upheld. To complicate matters, hard wired into my sub conscious is the fact I am a “people pleaser”; a “yes man” (or sorts!), if you will. But I deep down I understand, becoming a “yes mum” will in the short (and long) term, do my son no favours at all.
So how then, do we juggle a balance of devotion and discipline?
For me, its maintaining a follow through on threats, that is of significant importance. I am the first to admit it is sometimes oh so hard to stay strong, and stick to my guns. Not so long ago my (almost) three year old was in trouble for some unpleasant behaviour at day-care. Even though I had a bad head cold, and knew I’d be dealing with the fallout alone while my husband was away from work, I knew I had to be firm with the decision I’d made to take away some of his treasured toy and tv privileges. It would have been so very easy to relent, so that I could curl up on the lounge and wallow in my sickness in peace. But instead I had to adhere to the threat.
Other times the follow through can be a tad tricky to implement, especially at 5am when I am oh so tired – or simply being played for a fool – I admit I cave in to the toddler invoked pressure.
An example of this is the fact we are currently in the midst of an 6 month battle to get our son to sleep in his own bed all night, with no 2am tantrums. The deal is, if he doesn’t adhere to this, then there is no TV.
A few mornings ago, after another long sleepless night, I reminded the wayward child of this agreement. He jumped back into our bed, offered up the hugest bear hug and declared “Mummy, I promise I will never do that ever again!”. Now besides being so flattered by the affection and declaration, it was the shock of hearing him utter this sentence (who knew he had the word “promise” in his vocabulary? Not I!) I admit I succumbed to the surprise shellfire.
And again, the next morning, when we endured the same sleepless shenanigans from the night before, I was greeted with the same empathic oath that he’d never subject us to this “ever again”. Deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt, we reached a compromise, with him allowed to watch only 1 show.
So when the third morning rolled around, and I was again forced to play the tough hand, I was ready for the apparently automatic and standard “promise”. Flattery was no longer going to get him anywhere.
When it comes to doling out discipline, it all depends on what works for the parent. What works for one, doesn’t always do so for another. Time out is another that is being used frequently in our home at present, as we try to curb an unfriendly little hitting habit that is being cultivated by the child each time he doesn’t get his own way. Sure, its pure two year old frustration on his part but it is far from acceptable. Needless to say he is seeing the inside of his bedroom more, and less of his favourite toys, as this little phase rolls through toddler town.
Perhaps it all comes down to a lesson in science that we all need to learn at an early age – being cruel to be kind is akin to physics. Newton’s famous Third Law, – “for every action… there is an equal and opposite reaction…” can readily be applied to parenting.
My mum reminds me this stage in a two year old’s life is largely normal, that one minute he may declare “you’re not my best friend anymore” and the next be demanding cuddles on the lounge from him. No parent relishes hearing their child denounce their best friend status but at the crux of it I need to remember that one day, even if in the far, far away future, my son will be a part of “the big bad world” where getting your own way is never a guarantee. Put in that perspective we owe it to them to start now to filter doses of disobedience with appropriate responses, because no one needs to see a grown man throw a tanty of epic proportions in our everyday world – unless of course we are talking professional sport – there is no avoiding them in that arena!
Toushka Lee says
totally! we need to remember we are raising adults and the skills they learn now will shape the people they become.
Corinne – Daze of My Life says
Yes, I totally agree. Handing out punishment or discipline is not fun, but I think it’s important. Growing up I never had a lot of discipline and even from a young age I realised that I got away with things I shouldn’t have. I didn’t respect my mum because of it. I wished she was a little stricter like other parents, strangely enough
There’s a little girl at the playgroup we go to, her parents have told me they don’t discipline at all and she’s allowed to do whatever she likes. This morning she turned up wearing a sundress (on a freezing, wet winter morning) eating a Mars bar (her breakfast). She hits the other kids, snatches toys and generally behaves terribly. The other kids don’t like her or want to play with her. I feel sorry for her, her parents aren’t teaching her how to fit into society, how things work and the fact she isn’t nourished or adequately clothed is almost abuse. This is an extreme case, but a little discipline would go a long way with this little girl.
I think kids want boundaries, I think they crave them. I think it helps them to feel loved, even when they say things like: “you make me sad” or “I don’t like you.”
We have had a lot of nighttime shananigans and the thing that has really worked well for us is to reward good sleep rather than punish bad. I tell them that if they sleep in their beds all night they’ll get a treat or something special and it’s helped.
I think you’re on the right track. good luck! x
Great post and so very true. In my work as a counsellor I am often dealing with problems that are frequently the result of the kids never having that discipline and subsequent respect instilled from an early age. Even at the age of 2 whilst tantrums etc are a normal part of their developing behaviour they are still not beyond being taught what is acceptable and unacceptable. And you are right in saying that the follow through is so important. Whilst it is very difficult to be consistent at all times, if they know that for the most part your threats will be followed through, then they will be far more likely to respect them in the future…..thus hopefully requiring less need for threats at all!
Fox in the City says
Ah, kids really do learn early how to pull on your heartstrings to try and get what they want.
I hold to the truth that I am their mom, not their friend, and I will do things that they will not like because that is my job!
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RIGHT! Kids can be a handful. It kills me when my kids get upset that they are being punished. Especially the whole “I don’t like you anymore” or the teenaged “I HATE YOU!” But I tell them “You’ll love me again when you get hungry for I am the keeper of the food. In the mean time go to (your room, time out, or whatever)”
Just hold onto the knowledge that years down the road when you hear a story about a kid going psycho somewhere that you’ll KNOW it isn’t your kid! 😀
Megan Blandford says
I was just talking to my husband about this today, actually – the fact that it’s so easy to be ‘soft’ with kids. I don’t mean to say we should be super strict all the time, either, but there are times that you just have to ignore the guilt and do what is right for the long term.
Easier said than done, of course!
Oh I so agree. My children are constantly falling out of love with me (“I don’t love you any more, Mummy”) and I just say “that’s okay because I’ve got enough love for both of us, which is why I need you to listen to me and do X”. Or they’ll say “you’re making me sad and you’re supposed to make me happy” and I’ll say “that’s not really true, I’m supposed to make you safe and nutured and cared for and if you’re happy after all that then that makes ME happy.”
Make the rules, stick to our guns, don’t listen to the ‘just oooone’ comments and hopefully it will all fall into place. Right? x
I love, love, love this piece of writing. I absolutely get and agree with so much of what you say here. Often when I was wrangling with 2 under 2 my mum would say gently to me “remember you’re in charge.’ I frequently forgot. As they get older I still have to remind myself of the importance of this and making sure they know it as well. Thank you for articulating this so well for me.
The Mummy Hat says
While consistency works, she can be such a bugger to maintain! Alway being required at the most inconvenient of times.
But the embarrassment of seeing a grown man or woman throw a tanty and sulk because they didn’t get their own way, and knowing that’s YOUR son or daughter, is enough to scare me stupid. So, for the ten millionth time, *insert mummy nag here*
Being Me says
Oooh yes, great topic Donna! Much better than a pooing (3yr-old) waitress!….
I’m consistent to a fault, I’ve almost made myself go a bit mad with the “I’ve said it now, I have to follow through with it and can’t back down” where my daughter is concerned. However, she is a kid who knows boundaries and is very familiar with consequences. You’re right: that denouncing of friendship can smart. But it never lasts long (not in toddler hours). I’d like to think if I am fair and firm and fun, the rest will be as it will be – that is, that she will blossom into who she’s meant to be, knowing those boundaries are there for her safe-keeping as much as they are the family’s sanity and smooth operation. I run a fairly strict ship, truth be told…. but it can’t be that bad, she loves me still! x