As a nanny with many years of experience, the hardest thing to do when starting with a new family is to undo improper discipline. Children who have good discipline instilled at a young age are happy, well adjusted and wonderful to be around. Children with spotty or no discipline at home are bratty, rude, disrespectful and are only fun to be with when they are getting what they want.
Always getting what you want can be a big problem, because in life we don’t always get what we want. This means that undisciplined kids have a tough time adjusting to school, playgroups, babysitters, and especially authority figures.
So what is the difference between a respectful, happy, sweet child and a bratty one?
I say it is in the way the child learns to understand the world.
A child who is disciplined understands that authority figures are there to support and protect them and ensure their needs are met. This child feels safe because she knows that she can rely on her parents.
A child without good discipline faces an uncertain world. This is because the way things are handled at home are always changing based on his parents’ moods, priorities, issues, etc. He discovers very quickly that if he exploits whatever mood mom or dad happens to be in, he can get whatever he wants.
These kids are incredibly versatile, creative and spot-on intuitive when it comes to knowing when exactly is the right time to push mom and dad’s buttons (or the nanny, teacher, sitter, etc.)
It goes like this: Kid is doing X. Parent tells kid to stop or Y will happen. Kid checks in with mood of parent and sees that the parent is bluffing. Kid continues doing X. Parent gets frustrated, starts yelling, getting upset, etc, Feels guilty that they are being a ‘bad parent,’ etc. Kid continues doing X until they know for sure that some sort of discipline will actually happen.
By that time in this scenario, the discipline comes in the form of threats and anger from the parent.
The kid gets exactly what he wants plus some because by this time, mom or dad feels guilty about losing their cool and wants to make up for it.
Not effective, folks. The huge problem with this scenario is that Y, the original discipline put forward by the parent didn’t happen.
Here is the truth. Kids know when you are bluffing.
Let me say it again. KIDS ALWAYS ALWAYS KNOW WHEN YOU ARE NOT SERIOUS. They can smell a fib from 50 feet away… And the cute little buggers are going to call your bluff time and time again, until you get serious.
I’m not kidding. If that scenario is playing out in your house, it’s time for you to grow a pair. Take it from a nanny who was requested many times by parents of children that others refused to sit for.
Here’s what I mean by ‘grow a pair:’
Step One: choose some kind of disciplinary action as a consequence. My favorite is time out. (Don’t start freaking out or stop reading here if time out hasn’t worked for you in the past. I’ll get to the best methods to use with it) Other consequences could be loss of allowance or TV time, having to go to bed earlier, etc. etc. The key here is that whatever you use must be motivating for the child, something they don’t want. It also has to be something that you WILL do consistently every time (Read: grow a pair and get ready to be a parent)
Okay, we are going to use a little math here… Stay with me. We are going to call your chosen consequence Y.
Step Two: When the kid starts doing X or says he won’t do Z, Say,”ok, you have ___ time to do it/stop or Y will happen.
This is the most important part, people: At that EXACT second, begin timing/counting. Don’t stop the clock/counting under ANY circumstances. You are a parent here. This is NOT a negotiation. This is where you get to be dictator. This is where you teach your children that you are someone they must respect.
If you get to the end of the allotted time and he has not stopped/started doing what you have asked, you do Y IMMEDIATELY. If it is time out, you tell them they owe you 2 minutes, or they lost 1/2 an hour of TV time, must go to bed 1/2 an hour earlier, etc.
Step Three: If he is still being belligerent at this point/ still not doing what you asked/mouthing off/ trying to negotiate/trying to beg you to stop/ANYTHING other than what you have asked him to do, then you up the ante. Say, okay, you are going to owe me another minute of time out, or another 1/2 hour of TV time, etc. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
Keep going, upping the ante, increasing the punishment until he does what you have asked. This makes it easier for him to do the right thing than the wrong.
(Quick PS here, no offense meant by saying using a boy as an example. I have seen plenty of girl hellions too)
Okay, now if you are new to this, or if this kid has always gotten his way, he most likely will not make the first couple of times you do this easy for you. Remember this: no matter what he does, or how much he fusses, etc, you must stay calm. If the situation starts to get out of hand, for example, if he starts screaming/crying/tantruming, DO NOT talk to him or respond to what he is saying in any way. This is not up for conversation or negotiation. Immediately pick up a tantruming child and put him in his room or another neutral space and tell him that he is welcome to come out when he has calmed down.
(note: his own bedroom is the very best place for this. Never put a child outside, in a garage, or any place he is afraid of. The point here is not to punish him, but to let him calm his tantruming.)
If he comes out and is still whining/crying/tantruming/bratty, etc, put him right back in his room and tell him that he can come out when he is calm.
When he comes out and is calm, or after he has calmed down and you go retrieve him, tell him he owes you consequence Y for his behavior, but that if he does what you originally asked him to do without complaining, he will not owe you any more.
Step Four: Mete out the consequence. This is a big deal. You must do what you said you were going to do, whether it’s bedtime, tv, time out etc., it must actually happen that day.
Here’s an important little trick: If what you requested was for him to do something, like clean up his toys or take out the garbage, have him do it now, before you mete out his consequence. This way, if he starts to slack or complain or does not to it all the way, you can continue to increase his consequence until he has finished his task. Then, you thank him nicely for doing what you asked, and tell him he still owes you consequence Y, and have him do whatever the consequence was.
‘But,” you might be asking, “What about their little egos? What about their feelings,” etc etc … Well, I am here to tell you that unless kids have good positive discipline at home, those little egos and feelings can quickly turn them into bratty little monsters. OF COURSE you tell them you love them and that they are special, OF COURSE you be sure that they know you believe in them and you will always be there for them….But you do not, under any circumstances allow them the walk all over you.
The best way to care for their feelings is to never punish or discipline in anger. Remember to stay calm. Calmly explain what the consequence will be. Calmly tell them when they owe you a consequence. Calmly mete out the consequence. You are in charge here.
The most incredible thing I discover after I have had to discipline a child with time out, etc, is how affectionate and sweet the child is to me afterward. Honestly, I am not kidding. After the kid gets out of time out, he will sometimes give me a hug, or want to come play a game with me. This is the best time to show some affection. Tell them you love them, and you don’t like it when you have to discipline, but that you need to make sure they stay safe and do the right things.
I have seen miraculous things using this method. Parents have told me after I have taken care of their children for a couple of weeks that they have seen a change in them, and they ask me how I do it. Children can be and should be wonderful to be around. They are one of God’s sweetest gifts, and I promise you that if you can get good discipline down, your child can be sweet, obedient and wonderful to be around too.
Here is an explanation of the best method I have discovered for disciplining, using Time-Out.
Before I ever mete out a time-out, (if I have just started with a new family, for example) I give a warning about it first. If a child is not doing what she should, I say, “If you do that again, you will owe me a time out.” I make sure that all of the children have been warned or heard a warning to another child and understand that there will be consequences for bad behavior. I always try to use the simplest discipline that is effective. If a warning is enough, I immediately stop. That’s important, you must be fair. Always immediately STOP disciplining once you get what you want. Children will have immense respect for you if they feel that you are fair.
When a child that has been warned has bad behavior, like refuses to clean up toys after I ask nicely, for example, without negotiating I say, “You have 5 seconds to start cleaning up,” then IMMEDIATELY start counting “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”. If she has not started cleaning yet, “I say, Okay, you owe me one minute of time out. You have 5 more seconds to start or you will owe me another minute, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” I continue to countdown and add minutes and stop as soon as they start cleaning up.
If at any point they stop cleaning, I will say “I don’t see you cleaning. If you don’t start cleaning again, you will owe me another minute, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
After the cleaning is done, I take them to the time-out spot. This should be a place free of any clutter or toys where they cannot see the other children, but you can see them or check on them often. (Don’t stare them down or watch them the whole time. Ignore them during time out unless they move out of the space) I like to have them sit on the stairs, on an empty counter, or in a chair that is at least 10 ft away from anything they might be tempted to play with. Explain that if they move from the spot, they will owe you an extra minute, and be sure that you give it to them if they do.
Set a timer for the time and tell the child they can come back and play when the timer is up. If it is an especially bad or dangerous altercation they are in time out for, I tell them I will get them when the timer is up. I then take a minute to talk about why they were in time out, e.g. why we don’t hurt other’s feelings, why it was dangerous, etc. Also, if the child’s feelings were obviously hurt, or if they are visibly still upset, we talk through their feelings, why they were in time out, and how they can do it differently next time. It is very important at this point to listen to them. This should be a discussion, not a lecture. Ask questions and really show them that you care about them and want the best for them. Then let them go back and play. After their ‘sentence’ has been served, be sure that you mentally give them a clean slate. It’s very important for each child to feel they have been treated fairly.
Time out disciplining is never an angry affair. If more than one child is involved, calmly talk through what happened, speaking to the children separately if necessary, then mete out the discipline accordingly, eg “I know Sarah hit you, and she will get a time out, too, but it was not okay for you to take away her toy, so you owe me one minute of time out…”
Here are some common issues you may encounter:
- Screaming or Tantruming: immediately pick them up and put them in a safe place and tell them you will talk to them after they are done. Alternately, if the child is older, you may need to use the countdown method with a time-out consequence for tantrums.
- Negotiation: Some kids are amazing at getting into your head to get out of doing what you want, like the kiddo that yells “Stop! Don’t count…..” and tries to talk to you or reason with you to get out of consequences. It’s important that you stop this behavior in it’s tracks unless you want to be in a state of constant negotiation for at least the next 10 years. If they start trying to talk to you when you are trying to discipline, DO NOT ENGAGE with them. Say “I’m not going to talk to you about this right now. I need you to do X or Y will happen.” Don’t get flustered. Breathe. Remember that you are always going to be available to talk to your children when they need you, but if they are demanding that you listen to them because they know you are disciplining them, that has got to stop. Put on your grown-up panties and show them you are their leader, not a doormat. In some instances, you may also need to discipline negotiating behavior, e.g. “You have 5 seconds to stop talking/yelling/whining and start doing X or you owe me a minute of time out. 5, 4, 3…. etc.
- Leaving the time out space/yelling or tantruming and/or making noises while in time out: Some kids are just really going to test you. They have to be absolutely sure you mean business before they will listen to you. If you have one of these children, I don’t envy you. But don’t despair! It will take some consistency, on your part, but it can be done! The second they leave time out, add another minute to their time, “You moved out of time out/are not being quiet, so you owe me another minute. You have 5 seconds to get back in time out/stop making noise or you will owe me another minute, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1” If they leave the space and really think it is a game and don’t return, calmly pick them up, set them back in the space and say “you now have an extra minute. If you get up again, you will owe me another one.” As many times as they get up, stop the timer then CALMLY pick them up and put them back in the space and assign them another minute. NEVER restrain a child physically unless it is necessary to keep them from harming themselves or others. Physical restraining can be dangerous, easily escalates to violence, and shows a lack of respect and trust. Be patient, and keep picking them up and putting them back as often as they get up. You have to outlast them, even if it means they have to finish their time out later on that day. It is important that they understand that the easiest thing to do is to just serve their time out. This process may lead to the next bullet:
- Exceeding a reasonable number of time-out minutes: depending on your child’s age and disposition, it is unreasonable to expect them to quietly sit in time out longer than 5 minutes for younger or 10 minutes for older children. (note that this doesn’t include time spent testing you/out of the time out space) Decide ahead of time (and discuss with the kids!) the maximum time out time and alternative consequences that escalate to a large consequence (early bedtime, no allowance, no TV for a month, etc). Once the child has maxed out their time out, move up to a bigger/different consequence. Be sure that they receive ALL consequences that they have ‘earned.’ It’s okay if things escalate to take a break and have them serve the rest of the consequence out later. This means that sometimes the time out ‘sentence’ will not get served until after they get back from school or the store, etc. Just make sure that you do what you say you will do.
- Disciplining in anger: Take a time out, walk away and breathe, etc. if you are feeling angry. Say something like “I am upset right now, so I’m going to take a break, but you are going to owe me a consequence for X, and I will tell you what it is when I get back.” Discipline is meant to teach, not to satisfy your anger habits. Set up a place where you and the kids can go to cool off. Make it a nice, pleasant place with quiet games, soft lighting and pillows. Teach kids how to manage their feelings by example. Tell them that the ‘cool off’ space is a place where they can go when they are feeling upset so they can calm down and decide what to do. Use the space yourself when you notice you are getting too angry to calmly deal with whatever is happening. Remember that consequences should stay arbitrary. Keep them fair and predictable if you want your kids to trust and respect you.
Well, there you have the discipline method that works for me. Keep in mind that this method may not work for everyone, for example, a child with autism or other developmental delays or disorders.
I also know there is always more than one way to do things. What methods work best for you in disciplining children?