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Help me understand "Gentle Discipline"...crazy 2 year old driving me nuts!!

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

I am so fed up with the terrible twos...and he just turned two!! I don't think I quite understand the concept of Gentle Discipline, though I really really want to do things differently than those around me. I grew up being spanked, all of my sisters spank and preach that it's the only way to not have wild, selfish, uncontrollable children. Spanking is the atmosphere I was raised in and it didn't traumatize me or anything, it's just not what I want to do.


   My problem is, we're transitioning from baby-hood - where there's a little parenting, but mostly just managing - to toddlerhood, and I feel disoriented. If I'm not spanking, then what am I doing? How do I handle the not-listening, tantrum-throwing, maddening little person flinging himself around my home? We have been doing some time-out, mostly just when I'm so frustrated I know I'll scream if I don't get him away from me. I don't want to scream. I think that's just as damaging as spanking.


   Specifically, I am completely at a loss of how to deal with refusing to get in his car seat, booster seat at mealtimes, and huge tantrums whenever we change his diaper. He has to do those things! But he kicks and screams and arches his back and I end up holding him down to get his stupid diaper on him or forcing him into his car seat because we need to go. I hate this! That's not how I want to be, but I've got to get a diaper onto him. (Yes, I know I could potty train and I'm looking into that, I just don't think he's ready yet). Has anyone found good ways to negotiate/bribe their kids into a diaper change or into a car seat? I am not closed to bribery. I'm just so frustrated and I hate the atmosphere in our home when I get to such a high frustration level. I think at the heart of it, I'm disoriented with the big picture of gentle discipline as opposed to everything I've ever seen growing up - control and physical punishment. I need some sort of discipline plan or something to help give structure to what I do.


   As some background, he just turned two and can't speak very much yet. I'm sure a lot of his frustration comes from that.

post #2 of 15

For me the change was in adjusting expectations.  My parents were spankers - I can't bring myself to do that with DD.  They have very strict thought on how kids "need" to behave but it's almost like a light switch where one day it was ok and funny for her to throw a toy, then suddenly it was 'no you can't do that'.  GD isn't specific - you don't have do a certain set of things, but it's definitely about being more in tune with the kid(s).  For example, mine is also 2, and she has her share of tantrums.  Each and every one is different - different cause, different intensity, different day.  Toddlers are very much into learning and I think most are fairly sleep deprived and that's a major trigger.  I personally don't spank in a tantrum because it accomplishes nothing.  The child is upset, it only makes them more upset and when you use fear, it teaches nothing.  There have been times getting in the car seat was an issue, sometimes we run a quick 2 laps around the car to get the crazies out of her, but I try to make it as painless as possible.


I've made a lot of concessions for other things. Being naked?  Well unless we're in public I could care less if she wants to run around the house in the nude - it's a battle not worth fighting and because we don't make a big deal about it, she doesn't fight us on it even if she is in crazy mode.  Siting at dinner?  Well we've slowly been acclimating her to the concept of family dinner since birth.  When she was younger, and occasionally now, she sits on our lap if she's cranky and shares off our plate and it avoids the battle.  In public (we don't go out much) she has impeccable table manners because we can be more firm in our enforcement of siting when in public and she understands that our being firm really does mean business. I feel like the issue people run into most when they yell/spank/fly of the handle a lot is that kids actually learn to push m more - if mom or dad isn't freaking out, you don't have to stop yet because they aren't serious.  I have yelled at DD.  We were out and she took off running in a parking lot when a car was coming - Scared the shit out of me and my yelling certainly startled her.  I apologized profusely afterwards but she got the message - don't run near cars - and it was able to sink in more because I DON'T normally act that way.  She didn't cry, but the look on her face said I all.


So you do what you can to redirect, distract and otherwise ignore the tantrums and bad behaviors tat you can and make a big deal of the good one and it has a much greater impact on increasing the occurrence of good behaviors while strengthening the bond you have!

post #3 of 15

The car seat thing is really non-negotiable, and it's a really good way to practice the 1-2-3 technique.  Just calmly (but with the I'm serious about this voice) slow count to 3, and THEN put him in the car seat.  Do it completely consistently, and very soon you won't have to go past 1.  Just a "you can do this yourself, or I will help you on 3.

post #4 of 15
For overall answers to the how to coach vs discipline I would say read dr Markhams book. It's excellent, very easy to read and helpful. You can get it really cheap used online or even her website has many helpful articles, including about the terrific twos. My ds is 22 months and I subscribe to dr m and am reading the book and I don't find it too stressful most of the time.

Here's a link to a great article on the terrific twos:

In terms of getting him into seats (car seats, high chairs, stroller), I acknowledge that he doesn't want to go in per dr m but mostly that isn't enough and he freaks out sometimes. So I give him a cookie. I know maybe that sounds bad but I don't feel it's bad at all, particularly at this age as he's clearly not able to control his emotions yet and is more like a little cave man. Obviously this only works because I rarely give him cookies, but it does work perfectly 95% of the time.

Good luck!
post #5 of 15
First of all, I have no idea what I'm doing with my 2 year old either. But living in very close quarters makes it where I really have to think ahead to try to avert the screaming. My daughter is often sleep deprived and I really try to keep getting enough sleep at the top of my list every day. Also, things like diaper changes and car seats are changes to what she is doing, so I try to give her a heads up. If I just pluck her up from play to change her diaper it will be a war. But if I let her know I need to change her diaper, let her respond, and dialogue a little, the ensuing battle is much less... same with car seat rides, leaving the park etc..
post #6 of 15
Yes this helps a lot for me too:

"But if I let her know I need to change her diaper, let her respond, and dialogue a little, the ensuing battle is much less... same with car seat rides, leaving the park etc.."
post #7 of 15

It definitely is HARD to deal with a little person who is asserting his will so forcefully!  My son is 9 now, and I still feel like we have never completely pulled out of the "difficult stage" that started when he was 2 3/4...but I still cannot see how spanking him would have helped anything.  There have been times when I've been so angry that I felt like I wanted to hurt him, but I don't think hurting him would have taught him anything useful.  Gentle methods are worth the effort!


The book I'd recommend most is Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower.  If you feel you need more tools after that--either right away or in a year or so--Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon and the various books by Faber & Mazlisch are great for learning how to assert yourself verbally without getting enraged.


Here are some of my articles about what I've learned with my son, that I think might be helpful to you at this point:

Really Only Very Small--a strategy for resetting your thinking in the heat of the moment.

Act quickly and decisively, then consider offering a second chance.

The appropriate role of fear, with more philosophy on why not to spank.

Counting to Three--how it did and didn't work for us.


Several posters mentioned the need to acknowledge verbally that your child does not want to do something, while still being firm about the need to do it.  This is so important!  If you let his freak-out freak you out so much that you give up on getting him to do the thing, you're showing him that the freak-out is an effective strategy.  Sometimes, you can get a stunning shift in cooperation simply by showing that you heard what he's saying and you understand that he has a big strong feeling about it.  I often think, "What would Mister Rogers say?" and try to say it in that kind of very gentle understanding voice.  Just one complete sentence empathizing with his feelings can be followed by, "It's time to do X now," in the same gentle voice, and you'll likely get a very different reaction (and feel calmer yourself) than if you holler, "DO X NOW BECAUSE I SAID SO!!  DO X NOW OR YOU'LL BE SORRY!!" 


I'm sorry you have an uphill battle against your family.  My parents did mostly gentle discipline, so I learned a lot from them, and in some ways it comes naturally to me.  But there's a lot of good support here, and I hope it will be very helpful to you. :grouphug

post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 

Thank you very much for the input and ideas. I appreciate it and enjoy having some non-spanking advice to mull over. I'm pretty sure you are all a lot more patient than me, though!!


As my sister told me when I called her crying earlier today, it's all about perspective - it won't always be like this, it's a phase, plus the pregnancy hormones are not helping at all! I really like the blog entry you linked to, EnviroBecca, about the perspective that he is, after all, very small. I know that will help a lot in the heat of the moment when I'm so crazy-frustrated. Thank you.

post #9 of 15
I feel like its all about preventing the tantrum before it esculades.

I have a very dramatic, feisty, stubborn 3.5 yr old and I always try and prevent tantrums from happening by figuring out the "why" are they frustrated. It's still hard at this age for them to communicate properly and be pleasant all the time.
Step A
Ex: are they bored, hungry, thirsty, tired, misunderstood at the moment, in need of attention, in need of affection?
A 2 yr old cannot always say " mommy my need right now is affection" , even, "mommy I think I'm thirsty, my blood sugar is low" lol

If all their needs are met then move to step B (be so in tune with your child, you know what their " love language" is and what their most desired needs are)

Step B
move onto situations that might need explaining:
" I know you are mad about the toy being taken away but ...this is why that happened.. Ex it's harmful to you, it's broken, time to share, time for dinner etc. they aren't dumb, keep talking about situations and they will catch on even at 2.

Also give little CHOICES all day long until in becomes habit ... Such as things that don't really matter to you, but matter to your kid.
do you want red socks on or blue?
Do you want oatmeal to eat or an omelet?
Do you want to leave the zoo now or in 5 minutes?
Do you want to read this book or this one?

The reason for this is 1. So they feel in control of things in their world and 2. When it comes time for you to ask them to do something you want, you calmly say : mommy gave you lots of choices today and now it's my turn, we need to clean up, or get dressed, or make bed etc. 90% of the time this works and a tantrum is avoided and everyone is at peace. Even with my stubborn daughter. She feels I respected her all day. They catch on to this early too. 2 yrs is perfect age to start this.
These concepts are in great detail in a book called: Love & Logic

If you still sense tantrum coming on: stay calm and move to step C

When all else fails
Step C
They are throwing the dreaded tantrum :
Every kid is different but you can
1. If you're in a public area ... Take your kid aside like a bathroom or private area and explain that "you will stand here until you can be a nice boy/girl and stop crying. If we want something we ask nicely with please or thank you"
Reassure him that you love him but his behavior is unacceptable. Stay there obviously with him. No one wants to hear a kid screaming in the middle of the grocery store or church. But again... Are they bored? Tired?
Bring things for them to do.

After he's done, if someone deserves an apology, teach him to say he's sorry to others and to you for throwing the tantrum. I always make sure my daughter says she's sorry for acting that way to reinforce empathy.

2. Sometimes all I have to say is, "if you're going to act like that then I'm taking X away for the rest of the day." This is still gentle in my book and gives them the choice to behave. This teaches they are not entitled to everything.

When you follow thru 100% of time, they realize it truly is unacceptable behavior and you don't have to do the whole timeout thing anymore.
post #10 of 15

MommaKuhel has great advice, and I like the handy step-by-step format!  There's just this one thing I would avoid:

"you will stand here until you can be a nice boy/girl and stop crying."

Nice people cry sometimes.  Nice people behave very badly sometimes.  Your child does not stop being a nice person when he misbehaves.  I think "nice" is an okay word for describing the BEHAVIOR you want to see, but when you say, "be a nice boy/girl," you are saying, "You are not a nice person."  That's a pretty negative and discouraging message.  Instead I would say, "We're going to stay here until we feel calmer and ready to use nice words, indoor voice, and gentle touches."  (There are times when I feel it's manipulative to talk about what "we" are going to do, but in a tantrum situation it really is true that all of us--child, myself, and anyone accompanying us--need to regain calm and make sure we are nice going forward, because the tantrum is upsetting for everyone!)

post #11 of 15
Great points! I never thought I was attacking my child's character, implying she's not a nice/good person just because her behavior is not nice. You're right though! I agree. To my daughter, I'm saying she's not a good person, she's bad etc ... Hubby and I are so used to using the "you're going to stay here until you can act like a nice girl" phase we will have to transition it to "you're going to stay here until you can calm down and make a good choice .... Along those lines. My thinking was if her behavior is rude, crazy, unpleasant she would then qualify as a brat or not a nice person. But like you said, that's focusing on negative. We should encourage good things!

I also want to point out, if your child is so far gone and they are crying and unresponsive etc then just hold them close like you're cradling or hugging them. Don't just watch them throw the tantrum helplessly. Grab them in a loving way and say "ssshhhhh"or "calm down.... calm down... calm down , its ok, I'm here with you.."

Kids sometimes cannot calm themselves down on their own....
When they are responsive to you, then you can discipline or talk about it etc. It's unproductive if you're trying to discuss with your child and they can't even hear you or focus. They still need to be taught or corrected (even though they are calm now) but it happens after they are calm discuss things. Otherwise the parent starts to get louder and louder to compensate the noise of the tantrum.

Sometimes I've even used, "you will sit on my lap until you're ready to clean up your toys." That gets boring quick.
All in all, you want your kids to respect you, not fear you. Big difference. Fear is about controlling and intimidating them into doing what you want which will carry on to their adult life and they will let people control, intimidate, disrespect them through out their life.

The diaper changing battle: distraction!! does he like books or certain toys? Make the diaper change a positive experience for him... Tell him "I'm going to read a book with you or play with you (what kid doesn't love to hear that from his mom?) but we have to get a diaper change now!" Lay him down and have him point out things on the book or toy while you finish up. Distraction! He won't even care about the diaper because you are "playing" with him in his mind.
Edited by MommaKuhel - 2/12/14 at 6:46pm
post #12 of 15
Originally Posted by MommaKuhel View Post

I also want to point out, if your child is so far gone and they are crying and unresponsive etc then just hold them close like you're cradling or hugging them. Don't just watch them throw the tantrum helplessly. Grab them in a loving way and say "ssshhhhh"or "calm down.... calm down... calm down , its ok, I'm here with you.."

The theory to this is great it just doesn't work with all kids. When my DD gets worked up, you'll sooner have a black eye than get a hand on her.  Any talking, shushing, rubbing, holding, hugging will just throw her over the edge.  Most times I can sit near her, but there have been times she won't let me in the room. When she's ready she will come to me.

post #13 of 15
I really liked the "peaceful parent happy kids" book by Laura markham.. It's a great overview of the gentle parenting concept along with techniques.. Her website www.ahaparenting.com is also very helpful. I've read a lot of parenting books and this is my favorite by far!
post #14 of 15
Another book recommendation specifically regarding communicating with toddlers is the "happiest toddler on the block" it's not necessarily gentle discipline but really great for how to talk in a way they can understand..and how to listen to what they are saying.. There are some things in it like time outs and stuff that we haven't needed but overall it's a really fast easy read with some good techniques smile.gif
post #15 of 15

I agree that some kids calm down being held while others can't stand it!  You have to try it and see.  When I was a teenager babysitting, I had great success with one kid in particular, making myself into a sort of human cage that stopped him from hitting his sister or throwing toys; he calmed down more quickly each time I did it and once actually said, "I like how you don't let me go," as he melted against me at the end. :love But some other kids react to being held as if you're trying to manipulate or humiliate them, or they just find touching uncomfortable when they're tense.


MommaKuhel wrote:

The diaper changing battle: distraction!! does he like books or certain toys? Make the diaper change a positive experience for him... Tell him "I'm going to read a book with you or play with you (what kid doesn't love to hear that from his mom?) but we have to get a diaper change now!"

This is a great time for the "When...then..." phrasing that I learned on these boards years ago: "When you have a clean diaper, then we'll play with the fire truck!"  This still works well on my son at 9 years old.  (I mean, not for diaper changes!  Now it's like, "When you have finished your homework, then we'll play Clue.")


One thing that worked for me when he was fighting diaper changes was singing, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" at the top of my lungs.  It's a good song for that because it's long enough for all but the messiest diapers, but the "fee fie fiddly aye oh" verse can be repeated if you need more time, and it's just a nice lively song.  My son has been a railroad enthusiast since he was tiny.  I think that using the same song over and over helped cue him to cooperate.

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