Discipline and Language
One of the questions that gets asked in a nanny/parent interview is “What is your style of discipline?” It’s something that should be asked and thought about prior to going into the interview process. This is something that has to be consistent between the adults in a child’s life. This means parents, nanny and grandparents or other carers. If it’s not the child will have a harder time understanding the boundaries and expectations that are set for them. It’s hard enough being little and learning new things every day. But if everyone who looks after them does things differently it will be harder for them understand what is isn’t safe or allowed.
My general outlook is to let the children do things they like and want to. If they want to throw a rock go for it. But be mindful of people around. Throw it in the direction with no people and before you do make sure no one is walking into the line of fire. And we NEVER throw something out of anger or to hurt someone! Typically, I will show them a great tree or larger rock to aim for. That way they aren’t all over the park. If they want to climb a slide I let them know that it is okay. As long as there aren’t a lot of children at the park and these other children aren’t using the slide. I wouldn’t say I am lenient. By allowing them to do these things safely they are learning what is safe and what isn’t. They learn spatial awareness and consideration for others. I have found that this make me a bit unpopular at the playground but the kids I care for have never hurt another child while playing. I don’t hover but I keep an eye on them.
That being said I do discipline. I have a system that works for me and the kids and families I have worked with. I try to find a family that has the same general philosophy so that it isn’t a source of contention between us down the road. I am going to outline my steps below.
I am going to use a couple of different examples. The first being if a child has hit another person or an animal. This process I use for any child 18 months and older. I have found if they are much younger than that it doesn’t work as well.
I have a firm, unbudging “We hit. We Sit.” rule. This goes for initiation or retaliation. It’s something I introduce typically my first day with a family. I sit down with the kids and let them know that this is my rule. My speech goes something like:
“Hi kids, I get to spend a lot of time with you guys which means we get to have a lot of fun together! But I want to make sure it is fun for everyone so I want you to know that we don’t hit, bite, kick or do anything that will hurt someone. If we do we have to sit. We hit. We sit. You can choose which chair we use but it will be the same chair every time. If you do hit you have to sit for as many minutes as you are old. So, G, you are four years old. That means you will have to sit for four minutes buddy. E, you are 2 years old, that means you will have to sit for two minutes. I am 26 years old, so if I hit I have to sit for twenty-six minutes.” (I use myself in the example as well because it shows that grown ups are held to the same rules.)
I don’t allow any argument when it comes to this rule. It gets implemented right away. The first time someone hits they go into the agreed upon chair and the kitchen timer starts. If they get out of the chair the timer starts over. This is explained to them when I sit them down. “E, you hit G, so you have to sit in the chair for 2 minutes. If you get out of the chair before the timer goes off then I will restart the timer.” I have had a child have to sit for twenty minutes because they kept getting out of the chair.
Once their time is up I will get down to their level and ask them if they know why they had to sit. Either they tell me or I remind them. I then ask them what would have been a better way to handle their frustration and anger. We then talk about better ways to handle it. We could have used our words, if they didn’t listen we could get a grown-up. We could share what we are using. Once we are done they have to apologize to the person they hit. Once they have apologized they get a hug and it’s back to playing. If they don’t apologize it’s back into the chair for a couple of minutes until they are ready to apologize.
After the third or fourth time the kids learn that I am serious about the rule and they stop hitting. Eventually a raised hand will result in the other child reminding them “We hit, we sit G.” This results in G’s hand coming down and using one of the ways we spoke about to handle their frustration. I have adjusted my language when it comes to the apologies. I don’t require the child being apologized to to say “That’s okay.” Instead I teach them to say. “Thank you for apologizing.” By switching the language, it is a subtle, verbal acknowledgment for both that the hitting wasn’t okay but the apology is welcome. It is just another way to teach the kids that hitting is not okay. Think about it. If you are told something you did was okay you are most likely going to do it again, even if it isn’t alright. “That’s okay” is a brush off and a cue that says you weren’t that upset by it. “Thank you for apologizing” says exactly that. Thank you for apologizing for your behavior. Give it a try. I may be wrong but I truly believe it helps. It also translates well as they grow up. A friend took something without asking and apologizes for it. “Thank you for apologizing” gives them the information that what they did wasn’t alright.
My other alteration in language is for “Time out.” I don’t call it a time out. I call it a Reset. If E is throwing books, I get down to their level, and let them know we don’t throw books because it could break them and then we won’t be able to read them. If they do it again I, again, get down on their level but this time I hold their hands and I ask them why we don’t throw books. They repeat what I said or I remind them and add, “you have one more chance before we have to have a reset.” Usually it doesn’t go beyond this but if they throw the book again they have to go sit in the chair and have a reset. The same rules apply as We hit. We sit. They have to sit for as many minutes as they are old. If they get up the timer starts over. Once the time is up we talk about why what they did isn’t okay. They apologize for not listening and clean up the books they threw. Once that is done we get a hug and go play. If they don’t apologize I tell them I will come back when they are ready.
The reason I have changed the language for this is similar to the apology. As they grow this is a lesson that will go with them. Have you ever met someone who couldn’t use a moment to take a step back, take a breath and reset? We could all use a moment to “reset” our minds and bodies so we can come back to our problem with a clear mind. I use this technique for children misbehaving, screaming because they are upset or a number of other situations; where a moment to breath and calm down, so they can hear and speak clearly, will help.
Consistency is key with these, and any other discipline, technique. If you only do it for a couple of days and then switch to something else you will find that the child’s behavior won’t change. Just like a routine for naps and bath is important so is the routine of discipline. It gives clear steps that they learn to look for. They learn to understand that these are things we don’t do. The skills they learn during the discussion after their time is up will grow with them. Again, this isn’t an overnight, miracle cure for a child who pushes boundaries. But, if you stay consistent, and firm, they will be the better for it. As will the people they meet throughout their lives. Raise your Tiny Humans to be respectful, considerate humans. Because if we don’t teach them those skills, who will?