Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #2

September 13th, 2010 by Dionna | 16 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Today’s post is our first gentle parenting QUESTION (aka “suggestions”) post – please read to the end and give this mama some feedback on how you handle gentle discipline with more than one young child.

Today I am glad to present a guest post by Chrystal. Chrystal is a mother of two little girls, Zoë born 5/9/08 in the US and Kaylee born 2/14/10 in Uruguay. She is a professional freelance writer who believes in living every day like you’re on vacation. She has a BA in Public Relations and was a Marketing Communications Professional before becoming a mother and starting her own consulting business. You can find her at her blog: www.happy-mothering.com. Here is her gentle parenting success story:

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The Subtle Art of Discipline

The post “A Chance to Choose Nurturing Instead of Punishment” really made me think. My husband and I do try to parent using nurture and love over punishment. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is our ideal. The best example I can give of that is one area where we struggle the most . . . our daughter Zoë, like Kieran, LOVES water. If I give her a cuppie with water in it, I do need to watch her. She has figured out how to dump the water out of her so-called spill-proof cuppies.

But instead of screaming at her or trying to convince her that she is a bad person for dumping the water out of her cuppie to play with (don’t we all like to play?), we decided the best plan of action was to turn her into our “helper.” We conveyed early on that it is important for family members to help each other. So anytime one of us says, “Zoë, can you be our big helper and do XYZ?,” she almost always does so with enthusiasm. I shared in another post on my blog she even thanks us for the opportunity to throw away a dirty diaper. I don’t know about you, but I would never thank anyone for asking me to touch a dirty diaper.

Back to my point: when Zoë spills the water in her cuppie all over the place, all I have to do is illicit the “helper” in her and give her a towel. She does all of the cleaning!

Before I was a parent, if you had asked me, I would have wondered why so many parents struggle with the right way to discipline their child. Once I became a mother, however, that changed.

The Beatles said it best: “Love, love, love!”

I have really tried to see myself in Zoë’s eyes whilst shaping myself as a disciplinarian. How would I feel if someone three times my height and five times my weight was screaming at me, or even hitting me? Probably not so great.

So, I try to keep that image of a giant chasing me down, threatening me and physically hurting me in my mind at all times, although it’s not easy when she’s out of control and has just kicked her sister in the head or pushed her over, and she’s laying on the ground crying. Sometimes it’s clearly an accident—other times I’m not so sure.

Most days, we do pretty well, we try to reason with her and explain to her why what she is doing isn’t a good idea. Other days, we aren’t so successful in following our ideal path of parenting and she ends up in time out for a few minutes. But when we send her to time out, it’s not to shame her into submitting like some parenting techniques preach; it’s to separate her from the action that is causing the problem.

Three’s Company, Four’s a Setback

When it was just Brian, Zoë and I, discipline was not an issue. If she did something “wrong,” we would get down at her level and explain the issue to her. Maybe she didn’t always understand, but we knew someday she’d understand. And we have always preferred understanding to fear.

Things changed the day we brought Kaylee home from the hospital. Our patience quickly turned to fear of the baby getting hurt, and we realized our “explaining” form of discipline wouldn’t work as fast as necessary for some actions.

As expected, Zoë is a very excited and active toddler. Unfortunately, sometimes that means she’s so excited that Kaylee gets kicked, hit, head butted or knocked over. We’ve tried explaining why she needs to be calmer around the baby, but Zoë’s a toddler and the message just doesn’t resonate like it we would like it to, and that is understandable.

So, we’ve discovered that on some occasions where she isn’t listening, we DO have to separate her from the situation. In our house, that means a couple minutes in time out. It was a very difficult decision for us because it isn’t what we’d like to do, but we feel it’s necessary to protect her little sister and put an immediate consequence in her head. Zoë is a very social little creature, and being put in a separate room is probably the harshest punishment she could ever imagine. Thank goodness it IS the harshest punishment she’ll ever have to imagine at our hands.

So, while we would love to provide discipline with love at all times like we had imagined, sometimes when the second child is born and you’re first is still practically a baby herself (Zoë was only 21 months when Kaylee was born), some of your dreams are shattered by reality and you do what works best for your family. This is why we try our best not to judge other families’ parenting styles, you never know what someone’s life is like until you walk in their shoes.

My question for other parents of children that are close in age is, what gentle disciple methods have you found work best for you?

How do you avoid time-outs while respecting the needs of both children?

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There are two resources that have been the most helpful to me in my own gentle parenting journey. First, reading about others’ experiences: real-life examples of challenges met with respect and compassion can be both educational and inspirational. Second, when I face a challenge of my own, I have always been able to turn to my local AP group for a fresh perspective and creative ideas.

I’d like to provide a resource like that here at Code Name: Mama, so I’ve introduced a series that will feature your stories and questions. In particular, I’d love to feature stories that build on consensual living principles or the techniques and ideas discussed in books like Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids; Playful Parenting; Unconditional Parenting; and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

I am not looking for stories about parenting techniques such as time-outs, negative consequences, coercion, or punishment.

If you have a gentle parenting success story or a question on how to gently handle a challenging situation with your toddler or preschooler, please read the contributor guidelines and contact me. Let’s not go through this journey alone!

16 Responses to:
"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #2"

  1. Tracy

    I struggle with this same thing a lot with my two young toddlers (who happen to be twins, so they are the same age – 20 months). The only time I really feel anything like a “time out” is necessary is when one has caused (or is about to cause, depending on how fast I can react!) physical harm to the other on purpose. Biting, hitting, etc. I know it’s all pretty normal at this age, but I obviously don’t want them to get the message that it’s OK to hurt anyone (each other, themselves, me, anyone else), so I’ve started doing “time ins” for now. I don’t put them in another room, but I separate them from each other and sit the biter/hitter down in her little chair while I can soothe the bitee/hittee and make sure she is OK. To my surprise, so far anyway, they have stayed in that chair for a few minutes. Then a few minutes later when everything is calmer, I reinforce that it is not OK to hurt anyone, and we usually end with a hug or a kiss between the sisters.

    • Chrystal @ Happy Mothering   HappyMothering

      Twins – wow you really have your hands full! We have tried putting Zoe in a chair in the same room, but not with the same success you’ve had. It just seems to rile her up more. Now that Kaylee is a little older (and so is Zoe), we’re doing a little better with “explaining” to Zoe why she needs to be careful with her sister. And she has gotten good about telling Kaylee that she’s sorry and giving her a hug and kiss when she realizes that she hurt her sister.

  2. I completely relate to this post. It’s a whole new adventure when you are disciplining two . . . especially when you also worry about (intentional or unintentional) physical harm coming to the younger one via an overzealous older child.
    My first (E) was 23 months when her little sister (J) was born; they are now almost 4.5 and 2.5. And I’m 7 months pregnant, getting ready to do the whole introducing-new-baby-into-the-mix thing once again.
    At first we did “resort” to some time outs with E when she was clearly hurting or about to hurt J. Sometimes removing the older child in those situations IS warranted . . . an explanation doesn’t always cut it. I think it depends on the age of the older sibling. We found the need for this decreased as E got a little older and a little less impulsive. But you can’t always take the time to reason with a 26-month-old who’s about to use her 3-month-old sister’s head as a soccer ball, ya know?
    Since then we’ve tried to stress the sibling cooperation angle to head off conflicts before they start. This doesn’t always work (even the best of friends go at it occasionally) but focusing on the positives in their relationship and promoting a sense of “they’re in this together” helps. At first this was mostly encouraging the role of the older one as helper and teacher. Of course, my 4-year-old is very into order, school, rules, etc. So, having her take on this “role” suited her well. Now that they are older, it’s more of a give and take where we encourage them to help each other and work together. It’s actually quite sweet, and often comical.
    Sometimes this cooperation manifests itself in strange ways, though . . . recently my two have started taking off each others’ shoes and socks when we come inside. They think this “helping each other” is great though, so whatever works.
    Something else we kind of “fell into” totally not on purpose is having the girls share a bed; they sleep next to each other all night every night. (They actually share a mattress on the floor in our master bedroom.) I think this has probably helped their relationship more than anything else and as a consequence discipling in general has become easier overall. I don’t know why it works, it just does!
    And sometimes you just have to ignore it! If I involved myself in EVERY sibling issue that comes up in any given 24-hour period I would lose my mind, LOL! They usually figure it out!
    No matter what, siblings find a way to survive each other . . . and someday you can laugh about things that once horrified you. (Like when I found my 2 year old STANDING on her baby sister . . . you know, how some people do when their back needs adjusting?) Eek!

    • Chrystal @ Happy Mothering   HappyMothering

      Hi Valerie. I’m glad to hear it gets easier and that I’m not alone here :-) Kaylee will be 7 months tomorrow and things have slowly gotten a little better now that she isn’t so fragile, although I have had to explain to Zoe that she can’t ride Kaylee like a horsee (like she does with Daddy) more times than I can count. LOL.

      I like the cooperation angle and I think that will work well with them once they are a bit older. Zoe likes being the authority on everything already (typical oldest child) so I can see her being a good teacher for Kaylee as they grow up together.

      That’s a great suggestion about them sharing a bed as well. My sister and I were about 2 1/2 years apart and we shared a bed for several years until we got a little older and wanted our own. I think it helped us with bonding as well. So maybe when Kaylee decides she’s done co-sleeping we’ll try that out.

      Good luck with your impending arrival! There were 3 kids in my family growing up and we were all very close.

      • um yes, trying to explain to the 3 yr old why he can wrestle with daddy and do a “log roll” over his face is okay but NOT okay to do to your 8 month old brother is NOT easy lol. and being a broken record “the baby doesn’t LIKE that, please stop, please don’t do xyz, see how he’s crying, it means it hurts, if he cries, you need to stop!” I use that a lot “if he starts to whine or cry it means it hurts him/he doens’t like it and you need to stop right away”. Now that the baby is 1 he sometimes likes a little ‘wrestling’ but not much, however the 3 yr old still needs lots of reminders. and sometimes separation is just the key to survival i think. I agree it’s so easy to be very AP with one but when there’s more, you have to really do what’s best for the family as a whole, and that might mean compromising some things, etc.

  3. Sarah

    Mine were 22 mos apart – now the LO is 2 and we’re waiting for #3 to arrive in February.

    First it does get easier. One day you won’t have the fear of baby getting hurt. They will survive : )One day you’ll pull the baby off her big sister and wonder how on earth she ever managed to get the upper hand. THen the tables will be reversed.

    What I did was wear the baby on my back as much as possible. She was close to me and out of her sisters reach. I could then spend my time either with her sister or doing what I needed to do.

    As the baby got older and spent more time moving around on her own there were times when we really had to watch out. Our older dd, Ella, had some medical issues that caused a lot of aggression. So we saw blood, frequently.

    Sometimes if Ella was really having a tough time calming down we’d wear her on our back as her ‘time out’ everyone was safe and she knew we loved her. We always phrased it as such. “In our home, everyone needs to feel safe. Agatha doesn’t feel safe when you hit her. I love you and need you to feel safe also. When you feel calm enough to be gentle let me know and you can come off my back.”

    We also found it was always more helpful for us to pull the LO away from the situation rather than pulling our older DD away. Pick up the baby. Cuddle, love, and apologize. Once shes calm, you’ll be more calm, and will be better able to handle talking to your older DD respectfully.

    We also had to do a lot of negotiating and mediating for the kids – now they’re getting pretty good at figuring it out on their own. If one of them wanted gthe toy of the other I could usually get there before it was taken, then I could help them come up with solutions to get the toy without taking it away.. i.e. trade for something else, play together.

    Now our girls still get into disagreements nad blood shed still happens on occasion, but they are best friends and well matched for each other.

    • Chrystal @ Happy Mothering   HappyMothering

      LOL. I’ve actually had to pull Kaylee off Zoe a few times in the last week. She’ll get a grip on Zoe’s hair and just won’t let go! So now we’re starting to have to explain to Kaylee that she needs to be nice to her big sister (more for Zoe’s benefit so she sees that we’re being fair and equal).

      That’s a great suggestion about wearing the little one on your back. I’ve worn her on my front a lot, but it’s still hard to get some things done that way. Now that Kaylee is crawling she doesn’t want to be worn as much.

      I love your explanation of everyone feeling safe. We do something similar, but I really like your wording. I also think tending to the little one first is a great idea. That shows the older one that hurting her sister is not a good way to get attention.

      We’ve just started with the toy trading as well. Zoe has recently started taking toys away from Kaylee, so we’ve shown her that if Kaylee is playing with one of her toys that she wants, that she needs to bring a new toy for Kaylee to play with before she takes the other toy away. It seems to be working well most of the time.

      Great suggestions ladies, keep them coming!

  4. Stephanie

    I’m curious to read the comments, too. I have two children, nine months apart (one was adopted as a newborn, the other was a happy surprise pregnancy, born 9 months and 4 days after her sister). So at the moment, I have a two year old and a two+ (almost 3) year old. Having two toddlers is so difficult, it is impossible to convey to someone who hasn’t actually done it day after day after day, night after night after night. I have tried very, very, very hard to be AP and I just can’t see that happening all day, every day, with two toddlers. For me, doing AP “right” would be with just one child to whom you can take the time and give the attention to. Doing that with two – well – I disappoint myself every day.

  5. Janine   AltHousewife

    I don’t really see a problem with time outs. I got them all the time as a kid and while I remember hating them, I know myself and that I would have totally taken advantage if my parents had tried any less harsh forms of discipline. I get that the goal is to err towards discipline versus punishment… but the ‘real world’ is full of punishments. Being written up on the job, or likely being put into time out of some sort at school, detention, etc. I don’t think that time out is necessary for every problem obviously (having a toddler clean up her own mess is great and no need to punish for something that is not done maliciously and doesn’t harm anyone) but TO is a pretty benign and non scarring-for-life way to offer a small child what to them is major incentive not to repeat an action (such as hurting the baby).

  6. I read on a blog somewhere before I had my second child that the best reaction when the older hurts the younger (in an attention-seeking way) is to immediately give the younger one your attention: pick her up, kiss her, ask her if she’s okay – rather than starting out by yelling (or whatever) at the older one. This is really hard to put into practice when your instinct is to admonish first – and if you’re across the room from the incident when it happens – but works well.

    Another thing I’d suggest is being able to separate Zoe from the baby in a neutral sort of way rather than a time out: can you put a baby gate between two areas with appropriate toys for each child in each, and give them some time apart when things get too boisterous?

    I totally sympathise: mine are two and a half years apart, but I still felt like I spent the first year or so of the baby’s life automatically yelling/sighing, “Get off your sister.”

  7. Kelly

    I find so few resources that address peaceful, gentle discipline with two or more. It is a challenge for us too, but getting easier as time goes on. Today, for instance, DD1 (3) missed her nap and was totally off. We were getting ready for a hike and she started snuggling and tickling DD2 (4.5 mo) and all of a sudden DD2 was screaming, crying. DD1 had bit her belly- hard:( I picked up DD2 to soothe right away and asked DD1 to go have a minute in her room. After making sure there was no blood and latching DD2 on I asked DD1 to join us on the couch. I had a brief talk about being kind to each other and quoted the Francis England song she knows so well- “best friends take care of one another”. She then asked to nurse and I let her.

    It is hard to respond with love when someone else, even your child, is showing anger or aggression. It has def. been something that I have had to work on, and still do each day. I think what I am noticing in myself is that each time I am at least conscious of the opportunity to be peaceful, even if I dont always choose that (meaning sometimes I raise my voice, no hitting of course;). The time out… well even if it is literally a minute or two sometimes it gives me the ability to be gentle when she returns so for now, it stands. Infrequently, but it happens.

  8. Sarah

    I so needed this post. It is really hard to know how to use gentle discipline with your first when they are hurting your second. I have been physical moving my first, since she doesn’t , when I ask her to. It upsets her to be picked up and moved and usually starts her crying. I’ve just been at a loss with what to do. I also like Christine’s suggestion of physically removing the younger one.

  9. TinkAe

    Chrystal, this is a really good guest post!! =)

    Ladies, I’d like to address some confusion I sense over what we’re all trying to say about TO. First, “Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions” are what many of us don’t easily think of. So, it’s highly advantageous that we share these.

    Enlisting TO comes (too) easily for many of us to think of & yet, at times, that’s the proper tool. To my view, those times are when one child has crossed over into harming another or a child’s own behavior can’t be helped in any other way & the kid just needs a “moment” (Don’t we need “a moment” sometimes too & find it helpful?).

    Respectful & compassionate parenting leads by example. I find it an excellent example to expect respect from my child (in compliance w/TO..it is after all, my child’s choice to comply & what a beautiful thing to see your child choose to comply & return the respect we work so hard to instill!). When it comes to TO, again, I think it needs to be limited to only certain, dangerous circumstances. But, we must remember, when handing out TO we must do so with calm & respect. Otherwise, the lesson of MUTUAL respect can get lost.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I agree that if TO is going to be used, it should be w/respect and calmness (as hard as that is at times).
      Alternatively, what about a “time-in”? Instead of sending the child off by him/herself, what about sitting together quietly on the couch while the child safely shares her anger, or cries/gets comfort, and then calms down? Cohen talks about a time-in/”meeting on the couch” in Playful Parenting. The other child could either be safely engaged in another activity, or even there on the couch too. Maybe it would be good for the two littles to reconnect too?

      • Sarah

        Time outs have never worked for us – and at this age the kids connect what they’ve done with what happens next (TO) our DD1 would bite her sister, then send herself to time-out. Obviously it wasn’t working if she thought it was okay, as long as she separated herself after.

        Time-ins, however, are very effective for us. More often then not the problem occurs b/c a child is either trying to communicate or to get attention. Both of those can be reached easier with a time-in of some sort much easier than with any other approach we’ve used.

  10. Natalie

    I have just found this blog and this post was so interesting! I am expecting identical twins and my daughter will only be 20 months when they are born (if I carry to full term). So far we don’t really have to actively discipline her, I just distract, remove her from the situation, or remove whatever is causing the problem, but I know that this isn’t going to work forever. She is very high-energy and independent. She is always on the go! I don’t know how we are going to manage to handle things when the twins arrive, but this post is giving me ideas!

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