As a working mom of 2 children under 5 years of age, I am constantly looking for new and better ways to discipline my children.
Especially my 3 1/2-year-old, who has seemed to reach a phase where she can hear mom’s voice, but she doesn’t listen.
Knowing how to discipline a child is not a talent parents are born with. There is no cheat-sheet or skills seminar that expecting parents can attend where they learn the tricks to handle tantrums at a given age.
But it is something that every parent is must deal with whilst maintaining their own sanity and calm.
This is not easy!
We recently had a baby and that is when the “listening problems” in my oldest started.
Arya is a wonderful big sister and a very caring, social, and sweet child. But I have noticed that lately, she has been throwing more than a few tantrums.
I am desperately trying to avoid blaming a 3-year-old for my bad days, therefore, I reflected on some of her behavior patterns as well as my responses to them.
Here is what I found out.
Whenever Arya does something wrong, for example, playing with water and making a mess of herself and the bathroom vanity, I somewhat yell at her for doing that. It happened once, twice, and then went on for many more times.
All my responses to this behavior were either yelling, attempting to punish, and on some occasions, distracting her away from it.
I noticed that the former did not work, ever, but the later did.
After being yelled at one too many times, she started tuning me out. Now, she either ignores my yelling completely, or follow her “naughtiness” with some other negative behavior such as screaming at me.
Yes, I know that yelling did not work, or in fact it does not work when disciplining a child, but it just seems like the most easy, instant and automatic response to fixing a bad behavior.
Parenting is hard and exhausting!
In my sleep deprived, exhausted mom moments, it is difficult to think through a tantrum let alone resolve it with sweet, dulcet tones.
But, after one too many failed attempts, I had to step back and re-evaluate my discipline tactics.
Here are some discipline techniques that do not work on preschoolers, especially with my 3.5-year-old.
As a parent of 2 girls under 5, I am not here to judge, or tell you how to raise your child. We all know what’s best for our family and we work hard at balancing a work-life routine.
However, I hope that these points will save us some sanity when we attempt to discipline our little ones!
9 Discipline Techniques That Do Not Work with Preschoolers
Time out is one of the most common form of discipline techniques used by parents.
When I used time out with my preschooler for the first time, it generated slight fear in her and the technique worked. However, after a few tries, it stopped working.
Because she found something interesting to do in the time-out room (which was the bathroom for me because she was afraid of the dark bathroom).
Then I realized that using a time-out as a punishment was ineffective.
If I was sent to an isolated place after I misbehaved, I would not be remorseful. I would be fuming and using the time-out to get even angrier.
Similarly, when we give time-outs to children, they do not learn from their mistakes. They get angrier, or show tantrum, or in some cases, create chaos while in time-out.
The err that landed them in time-out becomes a full-blown behavioral issue.
Instead of using time-outs as a punishment, it should be used as time spent thinking about what they did, without calling it a time-out.
This is a big one!
Many cultures believe that spanking is okay, and it is an effective discipline method.
I am not one to question the cultural aspects of spanking, however, I know for a fact that spanking a child does not fix their behavioral problem.
“But sometimes they deserve it!!!”
Maybe so, but only you can judge that with your child.
What did they do to deserve it? How big of a damage was it?
Maybe something small, or just inappropriate to us, or maybe we just lost it because we were exhausted after a hard day’s work, and your little one was pressing all sorts of buttons within you! And, one spank stopped that behavior right away!
Trust me I get it!
About 81% of Americans believe spanking is appropriate, and I am a part of that percentage.
But here is the thing.
Spanking does not work; simple as that.
Studies show that spanking creates emotional detachment between you and your child by generating fear, anger, and even disgust within the child. One spank could lead to several spanks within a child’s lifespan, and research has shown that spanking can lead to violent behaviors, academic and health problems.
Bribing or adding too many incentives
This is a very common discipline technique that parents apply with their little ones.
I must confess that I use this quite frequently than anything else!!
Bribing to give a toy or candy, or whatever the child desires is one of the quickest ways to get children to comply.
However, this method of discipline may be harmful in the long term. Children should not be bribed or rewarded excessively for behavior that they should already do.
Keep in mind that bribing or adding too many privileges is different from rewarding a child.
Bribing happens before a task is completed or in the middle of it. For example, if you listen to me, I will give you candy. Or if you finish dinner, you will get to watch TV. You basically play on the child’s desire or want to get them to do something.
Reward is usually given after the fact to applaud or recognize the effort by the child. For example, giving them dessert after they finish picking up their toy.
The idea here is the order of the privilege, that is, if given before a desired behavior and more of it, it becomes a bribe, but if given after a desired behavior, it becomes a reward.
This is the opposite of the point above.
If you remove a privilege to discipline or even punish the child, it makes them stubborn and often resentful towards you.
Children understand losses, therefore, if you take away a privilege such as TV time, or extra play time, they comprehend it as their loss.
How well they understand that the loss is associated with them misbehaving or not listening, is questionable.
Privileges should be earned and should not be taken for granted.
But preschoolers are still in their learning phase to completely grasp this concept. This discipline technique works well with school-aged children who can understand that this loss of privilege is a consequence of unaccepted behavior.
Punishing, with chores the child hates
Punishing with a disliked chore is usually common with older kids, but some parents may try that with the preschoolers as well.
This is like a time-out, where they fume with the chore and get angrier.
When I try to punish Arya, I noticed that she does not understand the term punishment too well. What she understands is the feeling that comes from being punished. That is the fear we use to make sure they do not repeat unwanted behaviors. However, the feeling is not just fear.
If I make her clean up the scattered toys, she shows anger and stubbornness. But when she is done playing, she happily puts the toys away if I play nice.
Any form of punishment does not really work. It may instantly fix or stop the naughtiness, but it comes with several consequences.
Another big one!
Any form of shaming is emotionally abusive.
When I was in class 5, I bought several books from a local vendor that came to our school. The vendor said he was going to return the next day to collect all the money from the sale.
I told my father that I needed the money and he gave it to me, however, I accidentally left it at home.
My teacher shamed me in front of the entire class, stating that I was forgetful and stupid. I remember her words, her facial expression, and how I felt till this day. And each time I remember it, I feel angry and bitter inside.
This happened 24 years ago!
Of course, my mom stopped by the school with the money I had left at home and the vendor was paid, but I have never forgotten that incident and that teacher, ever!
“Since you were naughty, mommy will not speak to you anymore”.
I can’t say I have not heard this one before!
Silent treatment is another discipline tactic that does not work.
If you are taking quiet time away to handle the situation, that is fine. However, if you are shutting the child out to teach them a lesson, that method of silent treatment is not good.
We may think of silent treatment as a peaceful method of discipline because no verbal or physical harm was done.
However, giving a silent treatment is a manipulative method of gaining control of the situation. It creates confusion and guilt in children, and they can grow up to become push-overs, where they let others step all over them.
Silent treatments are basically emotional abuse that severs the bond between parents and children as well.
This is my favorite discipline technique!
I should say my favorite failed discipline technique 😊
Threatening to resolve a situation can often back-fire. Trust me, I have tried it with a 3-year-old, and it did not work.
Threats like, “if you do not finish your dinner, you do not get to watch tv ever”, or “if you do not clean up your toys, they are going into the trash”, were my failed attempts with Arya.
Here is the thing though.
Threatening in the above situations could have worked if I kept my word. But honestly, which parent would throw their child’s toy in the trash, or can you really keep them away from TV forever?
Threatening back-fired because after a few times she knew that mama was kidding. It then became a useless disciplining tactic.
This method can also be unhealthy for the child-parent relationship because overtime children learn to not trust their parents and that is a problem.
Okay I am sure many of you will agree with this.
But sometimes it feels like the only way to get your child to listen to you is by yelling.
Well, I am sorry to confess yet again, but this is another discipline technique that I use quite frequently. When she turned 3, she gained magical powers that tell her which of mommy’s buttons should be pressed and when.
I am not kidding!
She knows what things she isn’t allowed to do but she will do it anyways. And when she does, it usually accompanies a tantrum spin.
Usually I try to reason with her or try to calm her down. But with a new baby and barely any sleep, lately my first instinct is to yell.
We know that yelling never solves anything.
When we yell, they yell or act worse. But when we remain calm and try to get them to calm down as well, the situation becomes more bearable.
Yelling only gets us more frustrated because it may have worked the very first time you yelled at your child (worked out of fear), but as you do it more, they become more irritable as well.
And when yelling does not work and our heads continuous boiling, it can lead to other forms of punishment such as hitting. We want to avoid that!
Therapists also believe that continuous yelling at children can decrease their “sense of security and self-esteem”. Yelling on occasion is not going to affect children negatively, but it never really works anyways!
Yelling at them will activate a child’s flight and fight response. When you are crossing the street and a car approaches you about to hit you, do you run or freeze? Freeze right!
Well, similarly, with their flight and fight response activated, the child freezes up and stops thinking for that moment. So even when you are yelling, asking why they did what they did, etc., it will not make any difference to them because their thought process freezes.
This way, they never learn from their mistakes nor learn to accept them.
One thing I have come to realize is that children do not misbehave; they mostly behave like children. They do things appropriate to their age, which we as adults may find socially inappropriate.
But we must think of their behavior as a form of communication.
As a parent, the last thing I want to do is justify my child’s behavior, especially if she is really misbehaving.
But I have also realized that preschoolers are learning, and they go through learning and experimenting phases. Their behavior is often associated with a why, and as a parent, we need to learn to understand that why because we resort to any sort of behavior modification actions.