So here’s the thing about discipline in our house: up until recently, we had no idea what to do about it. We went through a flirtation with time-outs for a while — we had a special chair that was in a special spot, and whenever it seemed appropriate, we followed through with asking/making our then-toddler sit in time out. It never felt totally “right” but it didn’t feel wrong, and it was better than other alternatives we knew of at the time. Eventually I grew to resent time out as much as our son did, and after reading an article talking about time outs and sending your kid to his or her room, I talked to my husband Sean and we tried to come up with another way to accomplish a similar goal through different means.
We bounced around ideas for a while, and in the last few months have come up with a plan that everyone in our family is comfortable with and responding positively to — including the three and a half-year-old. Here’s how it shakes out:
We use a three-tiered sticker chart
The sticker chart we came up with has three levels of achievement. Our son gets one sticker if he does something on a small scale that we already expect him to, like asking an entire question instead of “Can I have that?” or cleaning his toys. He gets two stickers if he does something he usually resists, and three stickers if he’s exceptionally well-behaved (beyond commonly expected levels of politeness) or demonstrates that he’s actively working on a behavior (example: he likes to knock over towers that kids at school build — he’s the youngest in his class by around 8 months, and he thinks it’s funny. They do not.) or something just really awesome.
Being that we’re not too big on strict rules, none of these levels are set in stone — we don’t have a list of behaviors that merit whatever number of stickers. These are the guidelines we initially set up, and something we try to keep in mind. The chart has eight columns and 12 rows — at the end of each row is a number (1-12). The first time we did the chart, he earned little privileges like 20 minutes of computer games or getting to watch a short episode of a show he likes. When he hit the 12, he could go out and pick a small toy. Now, when our son gets to the end of each row he gets a small prize — some random knick-knack or treasure that’s $3 or less.
Our son has been way into amassing stickers now that he understands that we’ll follow through with what we promise, and the stickers have been a gentle motivation — instead of saying something like “If you don’t listen well while we’re out then we’re not going to go the zoo later,” or telling him something he does is “bad” when he starts to demonstrate less-than-stellar behavior, we can ask something like, “Oh hey, what do you like best about your sticker chart?” and it more positively reminds him of the incentive he has to be his generally sweet, awesome self. It’s not always successful, but it’s a good way to focus all of us on whatever the problem is.
My husband has an imaginary friend
This idea should be partially credited to a woman who works at our son’s school. Sean was concerned about two off-and-on behaviors (hitting and making sounds when our son wants something instead of speaking) that don’t make a lot of sense — there aren’t precedents set for them in the house. We had been trying different techniques to deal with both, and for the Curious George-esque sounds (he’s a fan of the show), we would just ask if our son could ask us with his words instead of his sounds.
The woman suggested that when we’re both together with Jasper we ask one another what Jasper might be trying to say. Sean took it a step further and invented an imaginary friend for the times when we’re out solo with Jasper. We ask the friend why Jasper was making sounds, or what the friend thinks Jasper might be trying to say. (When we’re both with Jasper, we ask each other.) So Sean came up with Harvey, a rabbit who he started speaking to when I was out of town (and who is totally inspired by this movie). It’s a funny thing to think about — he’ll usually say something like, “Harvey, what do you think Jasper might be trying to say?” and then act like he’s listening to someone. He’ll reply to Harvey’s statement (he usually says something like, “Yeah, I’m not really sure, either. It would be so helpful if he would use his words when he’s asking, don’t you think?”) and at that point Jasper’s usually giggling and tells him what he was originally asking.
I should note that Jasper doesn’t have any type of condition that makes speaking hard. He’s very verbal and articulate most of the time, which is why the random times he lapses into sounds is confusing.
There’s a “Thinking Spot” instead of time out
This is our modification on time out: instead of one designated area that means a kid has done something wrong or bad, any spot in our home can be a Thinking Spot. We ask our son if he wants to pick a spot to think about why he’s angry or frustrated, and he usually picks a spot and goes there. I don’t know for sure, but I think the combination of having some kind of agency and being given the opportunity to think over what’s happening calmly works with our son’s personality, and that’s why this works. It’s been infinitely more successful than time outs, and I think that’s partially because Sean and I both really love this idea, and we’re much more consistent and confident when implementing it.
Friendly Hands are ALL THE RAGE
“Friendly Hands” is one of my new favorite terms — instead of asking our son not to hit him, Sean will ask if he can use his Friendly Hands. It doesn’t mean he stops hitting, it just means that the conversation is being framed around being respectful and he’s being given an opportunity to calm down. I also feel like the idea of Friendly Hands is nice on us as parents — we also get a chance to stop, take a breath, and refocus the situation.
What gentle discipline techniques have worked for your families?