Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reaching the curb

There she sat, next to her brother, across from her mom and dad. Gobbling down her dinner. Spaghetti. Shovelling it in, hardly chewing. She had to finish fast. Real fast. Her title was on the line. If she strained her ears she could her the squeals of the other girls as they each took a turn to beat her record for double dutch fasties. One last bite. A chug of milk. Quick wipe of the face.

"May I please be excused?"
"Can I go to Jackie's house to play double dutch?"
"Yes, you may"
"Thanks Mom!"

And with that she bounded out the front door. She jumped all 3 steps off the porch and ran down the driveway and across the street to Jackie's house. But she did not make it across the street. Before she could reach the curb she felt a tug. Something grabbed her. The force turned her around in mid-air. Before she knew it, she was being pulled back towards her house. A mighty hand had her by the scuff of the neck. In order to keep up, her little legs had to pump and run in double time.

She knew she was in trouble. No words were being said. Her own words caught in her throat. She fought back the tears. There would be no defending her double dutch fasties record. Instead, there would be a scolding and a licking.

As they approached the porch she felt the massive hand unclasp her collar of her t-shirt. Terrified, she glanced over at her friends across the street. Play had stopped. All eyes were on her and her dad.

"Laura Louise! You know better than to run across the street! You could have been seriously hurt! You could have been hit by a car! Get inside!"

Petrified, she looked up at her father. The setting sun making his face appear shimmery and distorted.


And with that, she turned, just as her father's hand smacked her behind.

That little girl was me, many, many years ago. But I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the striped t-shirt I was wearing. The cotton shorts. I remember that one of the skipping ropes was pink and the other a lime green. I remember how anxious I was to get back to my friends after dinner. I remember how mad my father was at me running across the street without looking. I remember the licking I got.

To this day, I always look both ways before crossing the street. To this day, I (usually) insist on walking to an intersection to cross the street. To this day I remember the licking I got that evening. That form of punishment was effective...and still is, over 35 years later!

My parents were (and are) great parents. I have a very special bond with both of them and I love them very much. I credit them for raising me so well. Growing up, spanking was a component of our household discipline. It was a last resort, but it was in the arsenal. Fortunately, I rarely misbehaved which equated to very few disciplinary actions. But my brother sure saw his fair share.

Now that I am a parent, do I resort to corporal punishment? In a recent post, Kelly, over at Don Mills Diva (AWESOME BLOG BTW!) asked for my thoughts on spanking and discipline. WOW - what a complicated topic! But I will try my best to put into words my parenting theory on discipline - I am sure it will be complicated, chaotic and a bit wishy-washy. Sorry. Like most moms, I am usually flying by the seat of my pants in most situations.

The bottom line is that I am against spanking - fundamentally I believe that spanking does not teach the proper lesson. Ideally, I hope to intervene before discipline is required - avert and distract seems to be my model! But, I am human, I am emotional and I am a mom in a very crazy world.

In the past 4 years, I have tried my best to discipline in a meaningful, appropriate, civil manner. Sadly, there are a handful of times that for whatever reason I deviated from my ideology. And, there are even more times that I have contemplated deviating form plan.

For example, when DJ was 2 and Anderson 1 we flew to BC. In the Vancouver airport (a very large airport) DJ wondered off. He was gone for about two life-times, or 4 minutes - the longest four minutes of my life. When we found him hidden away in a privacy phone booth I did not know if I should hug him or hit him. He scared the crap out of me! I wanted to smack him - smack some sense into him - but then I realized he was 2 and that he really did not understand the seriousness of his wondering off. Plus, I should have been a better mother, I should have kept a better eye on him. For the record, I did not spank - but I did hug him very, very tight for two reasons!

As a mother, faced with disciplining a 4 year old, a 3 year old, and an almost 1 year old every day, my limits are tested. But before I decide how to discipline, I try to examine the situation. I do not think it is right to punish a child if you, the keeper of that child, caused the situation.

For example, last week, I knew the boys were tired and the girlie was cranky. It had been a long day. But, I insisted on taking them to the grocery store. Well, I do not need to go into detail - let's just say it is amazing that all 4 of us made it out alive and that Loblaws did not ban us for life from their premises! In all the commotion, I suddenly realized that I caused the situation and that the kids were hungry and tired and that misbehaving was their way of expressing their frustration with having to grocery shop. Instead of screaming, instead of enforcing timeouts, instead of spanking, I just walked out with all 3 kids in tow. What was I thinking trying to get a few last minute items? Their poor behaviour could have been averted if I had been smarter.

The bad boys chair. Yep - we have one. Poor Anderson sure has chalked up many hours in that chair. In our house, three warnings, and you go sit in the bad boys chair. Now that Madigan is getting older, we may have to change the name since she may have to spend time in the chair!

Time outs. I think they work. DJ gets time outs. Anderson gets time outs. Toys get time outs. Mommy and Daddy even get time outs. They are not long. And usually not timed. Instead we allow a few moments to calm down, think, and regroup. It usually works.

Hand squeezing. When the boys were small, and now with Madigan, we sometimes revert to hand squeezing. A child goes to touch the fireplace, we squeeze their hand and firmly say, "NO, HOT." They usually get the idea after a few squeezes. Though you should ask my father about stopping me, as a 15 month old, from turning off the TV!

Consequences. Every parenting book or course offers a bit on setting natural consequences. This is a good strategy and we use it in our household quite often. Last week I kept telling DJ to play nicer with his super hero. I warned him he could break it. And that is exactly what happened. I did not get mad or discipine him for playing rough or for not listening to me - just let him experieince the consequences of his actions.

Avert and distract or remove. This is a very popular form of "discipline" used in the Storrie household. Two kids want the same toy, offer a different one. One kid is being destructive, remove him/her from the situation and offer a different activity. The remove aspect can involve removing a toy or removing a person. You should have seen my mom's face when I followed through with my threat to leave Nana's house if the boys misbehaved.

That brings me to an important discipline theory I try to use: always follow through with your threat. I never make a threat I cannot or will not keep. As mentioned above, I threatened to leave Nana's house if the boys misbehaved, and that is what we did. After driving the 50 minutes to get there, our visit was cut short when two little boys would not nap. We came home early. It aggravates me to no end when parents make idle threats. My husband is guilty as charged...he threatens to spank!!!

I am not sure if any of this post makes sense. Nor, do I even know if my discipline theory is ideal. But, for the most part, it works for us. Yes, I have spanked my two eldest boys - but I can count exactly how many times and I know exactly why I reverted to corporal punishment - DJ reached for the stove burner (March 2005), and Anderson bit me (December 2006), and he also put his baby sister in danger once (April 2007), both boys got a spanking when they ran out into traffic at playgroup (February 2007).

In our house, each child seems to react to different forms of discipline. Anderson needs the bad boys chair to calm down. For DJ, it usually only takes a certain look or tone of voice and he understands he crossed the line.

But whatever the situation, in my opinion, both react very well to hugs, encouragement, and praise. So, before bad behaviour can even take place, I try to use those weapons of love to keep them on track. Reinforce positive behaviour to avoid having to discipline bad behaviour.

This parenting gig is tough. Right now, most issues revolve around toys, bed time, being nice and sharing. In time the issues will probably get larger, more complicated and more serious, it may be school, or sex, or even drugs. I can only hope I am doing the right thing now...and I hope that however I discipline, it allows my children to grow into healthy, well-behaved, confident, secure individuals. Individuals who ultimately choose being good over being bad.


Family Adventure said...

You make excellent points. I am still mulling over my reply to DMDs original post. It's such an interesting topic - thanks for sharing your opinions!


Anonymous said...

Very well-written. I think it's so brave to write on this subject...I haven't summoned the guts yet!! lol

Tot's Mom said...

I don't believe in spanking either. But sometimes it is hard tyring to keep my temper in check, especially after a tiring day. So, I tend to yell instead. And even that makes me feel guilty afterwards!

Mama P said...

I write for Babycenter, and I did this post about spanking (I'm a non-spanker) and it got soooo many interesting reactions. So many people are afraid to initiate the conversation, but it's so nice when they do. I'm of the ilk that parents need as much support as they can get - the spankers supporting the non-spankers and vice versa. we all just are on the "fringe" sometimes, right?

Nice blog.

Mama P said...

Here's the link if you're interested in reading my take on spanking.

Be warned: Soooo many moms were so mad at me. They thought I was judging them or being idealistic - raising wimps.

My response back was that there was no judgement at all. Everyone has to do what is best for them. In my case, I get too angry and don't trust myself with the spanking. Nor do I think it works in the long run. Immediate? Yes. Long run? Not so much.

I wonder why we mothers feel it so strongly to judge each other? I really try not to, and I'm always so grateful to come across another's writing who is honest about how friggin' hard motherhood is. Thanks for that again.

Barrie said...

What a thoughtful post. With a thinking, caring, rational mother like you, your children will learn to navigate life successfully. :) Happy New Year!

Kathryn said...

The story of you rushing to your friends house really sucked me in. You are a great story teller!
I guess I'm not very black and white on this (and many other) subject. I don't really believe in spankings, but my parents spanked (with belts too) and I turned out fine. I just think that spanking takes away from what the child did wrong. Instead of them feeling badly for what they did I would end up feeling badly for spanking.

Pregnantly Plump said...

We haven't gotten to the point of actually needing to discipline yet, but I liked reading this. I know it will be coming up soon. I know disciplining will definitely be one of the most difficult parts of parenting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and what works for you.

Emily said...

Fantastic post. Discipline should be like a haircut -- chosen to fit the particular person. We give time-outs to a 17 month old now, which we never would have needed with his older brother.

We do not hit. For many reasons, I cannot stomach the idea. But, the biggest reason we don't is because I want that to be a forbidden area to me when I am angry. I don't trust myself and want to be sure I have a very bright line.

Don Mills Diva said...

Wow - that was a great post Laura - proud to say my tag inspired it. The anecdote you used really illustrates why you can't count out spanking entirely - it CAN be effective when perhaps nothing else is. I think our philiosphies are basically the same - against spanking until we feel we need to spank.

Karen MEG said...

Laura, I came by via Don Mills Diva, and I am so impressed by this post! And even more impressed by the fact that you have 3 kids under 4 - WOW! It certainly doesn't seem that you're on the lunatic fringe!
Tough and controversial subject. I grew up in a household where spanking existed, but it was very rare (at least for me) unless my Dad was boiling mad. I tend to have a hothead, like my Dad -- not such a good thing when you've got young ones.
My son, a very responsible kid, I've never even had to give him a time out! He's almost 8. We've had words, or sure, but only in the last couple of months.
My daughter just turned 3, and she's the one that has had tantrums in public and the like. A very strong-willed girl.I think your tactics are great... we've done the diversion and timeouts with her, which work most of the time. While not all out spanking, I have OFTEN felt the urge with her. So I'm sad to say that she has experienced a couple of smacks on her diapered behind, when all else failed :(. It looks like we're getting past that stage though, thank goodness!
Love your blog!