A Reader Writes:
Our daughter is almost 11 months old and we are trying to figure out the best way to train her not to touch things that are dangerous like cords and outlets and such. She’s a very lively and strong-willed little girl. We’ve been doing a lot of hand smacking with a ruler, but with limited success — and I really don’t like the fact that she flinches now every time that I tell her no (but of course doesn’t stop what she’s doing!). Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or books that you would recommend? Being a first time mother, I know I’m probably somewhat unrealistic in my expectations, but I really want to raise obedient, respectful, and disciplined children … I’m just not sure exactly how to go about doing so!
I think the most important things you say about your situation are “limited success” “I really don’t like the fact that she flinches” and “doesn’t stop what she’s doing.” You are not feeling happy about your current method of discipline and it’s not working anyway.
I commend you for recognizing consistent discipline as an essential component of good parenting. No matter where you fall in the spank or don’t spank debates, however, I think an 11 month old is way too young for any stronger discipline than a “doesn’t hurt at all tap to the fingers” (with your hand, not an object) accompanied by a stern “No!” And I even avoid the tap to the fingers thing.
When a baby stops responding to your stern “No” (and it sounds like your daughter has) you need to do something more. The “something more” I prefer to do is remove, distract, and repeat. Remove your child from the forbidden object or activity (put her in another room), turn a deaf ear to her complaints for a minute or two, and then return to distract her with an activity, a hug, a conversation, a toy, or a game. If she returns to the forbidden activity, that’s where the repeat comes in. Remove her again, ignore her protests again, and attempt to distract once more. It might take many times before you succeed.
This takes time, effort, and (yes!) discipline on your part, but it’s well worth it in the end. It might not work perfectly every time, but if you are consistent in your discipline, eventually even the stubbornest child learns not only what she is and is not allowed to do, but the more important lesson of “Mama loves me but she means what she says and I must obey.”
As for recommendations, I really like Dr. Ray Guarendi’s no-nonsense approach to child rearing, but I hesitate to recommend any one approach for all parents. What works beautifully in one family might fail in another simply because different parents and different children have different needs and temperaments. As you gain experience, you will get to know what kinds of things work best with your daughter and gain confidence in your parenting skills. Read as much parenting advice as you want, but take and use only what works well for you in the end.
And now go give that lively, strong-willed daughter of yours a big hug and a kiss from me!