Now that CC is officially 4 months away from being a two-year-old, I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention on deciding on how exactly we’re going to deal with this little boy who is starting to exhibit quite a strong will of his own. I’ve watched countless episodes of Supernanny, pored over all kinds of child-rearing books from the library, read parenting magazines, and talked with other parents who have already entered the territory of the terrible twos. I’ve memorized all the steps for conducting a proper timeout (outlined by the Supernanny herself): 1) give a warning (get down to the child’s level and look them in the eyes), 2) take them to the “naughty step” if they don’t heed the warning (don’t engage them in conversation at this point), 3) set the timer (1 minute per years of age), 4) when the timeout is over, explain again why you put them in timeout and have them say sorry, 5) end with a hug!
I can’t wait to try this out with CC to see if it will actually work. Right now he can’t seem to stay in any spot for longer than a minute, without my ipod or food, that is.
In the past year, I had two eye-opening experiences in my observations of other parents. One time when CC was still quite young, I was over at a friend’s house with a couple of other moms who had toddlers. Something happened between two toddlers, I don’t know exactly what, but the mom of the child who was at fault, instead of addressing it there in front of everyone, promptly but gently took her crying daughter into another room. I don’t know what transpired in the room but they both came out about a minute later, tears gone. The little girl apologized to her friend and then turned around to her mom and asked smilingly, “Is mama happy now?,” to which her mother replied yes.
On another occasion, I was again with two moms: one with a 2-year-old and one with a 1-year-old. The little 2-year-old, despite her mother’s warnings to be nice to the baby, purposely and with intent went over and stepped on the little 1-year-old’s hand. While the poor baby wailed, the mom of the offender immediately scolded the child and issued an ultimatum that unless she apologized, she would be going to timeout. The following 5 minutes was tense and awkward, as we all watched the stand off between mother and daughter. Neither one wanted to back down, especially not the little 2-year-old, and the more adamant her mother got, the more you could see the resolve in the little girl’s face to not obey. In the end, I’m not sure who won…but I have no recollection of the girl ever going to timeout.
Reflecting upon these two instances that I witnessed, I realized that sure, children need to be trained and disciplined, but we shouldn’t forget that they are still “little people” not so different from adults. None of us like to be made a public spectacle and be chastised in front of others, especially our peers, and the pride in our fallen nature often will make us more rebellious when that happens. There will always be battles, but sometimes engaging in a battle of wills in public with your toddler is not only futile, but counter-productive. (Mental note to self: don’t be the mom screaming at her child throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, even if you are dying of embarrassment).
I also read somewhere that when children are young, their behavior is led not so much by a concept of right or wrong (which they don’t have yet), but by what will gain their parents’ approval. Although it may not seem like it at times, what toddlers really want to do is to make their parents happy. That’s why I think the little girl in the first instance I described eventually came out and apologized. It wasn’t motivated by the fear of punishment, but by the fact that she knew it would make her mother happy. Of course, I don’t want CC to model all his behavior on what would make me happy, but I think it’s a good start to teaching empathy. Hopefully the realization that what he does has an impact on how other people feel will lead him eventually to learn what’s right and wrong on his own.
Anyways, I would love to hear from any parents out there reading this. Let me know if you have any insightful experiences, helpful techniques, or good resources to share!