I’m going to say something very obvious to most of my readers: being a parent is hard. There is so much information out there, and there are so many theories that it can be nearly impossible to know what is really “right” at any given moment, especially because what may be right for one set of children may not be right at all for one’s own child.
Because we spent so many years planning to have a child, my wife and I spent a long time theorizing, developing strategies, thinking we’d figure out all of the hard stuff in advance. Certainly with enough brainpower, we could dodge tantrums and outbursts. We’d have an advantage over all those poor parents who got pregnant by accident. Of course, reality is, that wasn’t the case. One can rarely predict just how these parenting tools are going to work because there’s always that x-factor: the kid. The kid can change everything.
Like so many parents, my wife and I just assumed that once behavior issues arose, we’d use time-outs, and they would work, and that would be that. We started using them when BG would bite or pull a tail sometime after his first birthday. We didn’t use them often (really only the tail pulling seemed to warrant it), but they were effective enough. However, because we are always trying to evolve as parents, always considering new perspectives and possibilities, I began to find through my reading that time-outs were maybe a little more problematic than I had ever considered, so we essentially stopped using them. We tried the praising of positive behavior, and more recently, “time-ins” (where one of us essentially takes a time-out with him until whatever issue were were having passes). Honestly, though, we’ve had little in our toolbox when it comes to discipline, and as a result, we have a child who has been flailing a bit. In fact, we have been flailing so much, I can honestly admit we’ve had not much in the way of discipline at all. We had lots of “No hitting!” and “We don’t bite,” but these did precious little to stop our son because he was testing one boundary after another and finding that there weren’t really many there.
As I’ve been trying to find solutions to our aggression problem, I’ve started reading some new material, the first of which has been John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby. This is a great book for anyone interested in exploring a bit of developmental neuroscience. It’s great, and it’s common sense, and it’s just what I needed to see where I was going wrong with helping my child develop his moral center. So, we’re back to time-outs.
I do believe that for many children and families, time-outs may be all wrong, that they may prove harmful even, but in a home where attachment parenting has been practiced, where a child has a strong, confident attachment to his parents, where he has a good deal of quality attention from both parents each day (we still don’t have him in any sort of daycare), I think a time-out sort of approach can be used with better results. The idea that a child will feel alienated by a time-out approach, that s/he will feel removed and excluded from the family is one that could hold ground, and especially for a younger child, one who doesn’t grasp cause and effect well yet, one whose attachment may not yet be strong. However, I’m beginning to realize that doesn’t have to be the case. So we have implemented abbreviated time-outs. BG hits, we take him very calmly and lovingly to his room. Let him know he’s having a timeout because he hit, and we don’t hit because it hurts. We close the door, and leave him in there no longer than a minute, and then talk with him briefly about why hitting is wrong (it hurts people), and then we move on. It took no more than two days of this before he slowed down on the hitting. I even saw him stop his hand mid-air a few times. He’s starting to think about his behavior. He’s beginning to control his impulses.
I’m not saying we’ve found a perfect solution because we still have some behavior issues, but what I have found is that our inconsistency in discipline was harming our family and was sending our son some serious mixed messages. My next book that I’m very excited about is called The Whole-Brain Child (Siegel and Bryson), and it’s amazing. It beautifully details how we can use neuroscience as parents to help our children integrate both sides of their brains, and in doing so provides some really lovely strategies for helping kids through everything from tantrums to decision-making, to aggression, and more. I’m early into it, but it’s really good stuff.
Something else I’m considering more is just how different boys are from girls–and how different some boys are from one another, especially with regard to the need for physicality. One of my theories about BG’s violent outbursts is that they are little testosterone surges. A friend’s husband told her that he could see these surges in their sons, that he has them, and that the feeling associated with them is really hard to manage. A book J and I have enjoyed since we found out we were having a boy was It’s a Boy (Barker and Thompson), a really great attachment-oriented book that details the very specific development of boys. It’s so insightful, and it covers that need boys have to be more physical, to have some rough play, but also be taught how to have rough play safely (and as one of you mentioned, it’s vital). We’re trying to honor that need to be physical a little more, and at the same time, we’re watching it carefully, tempering it with lessons on how to be gentle, how to play without hurting one another. It’s hard for someone like me who has never been into physical play to do, but it’s important because it provides an outlet for my son that he doesn’t have elsewhere.
So we’re working at it. The biting has stopped. BG is still pushing kids, but when we took a trip to Ikea a week or so ago, we talked him through an encounter with a smaller child with whom he was sharing a tunnel, and he didn’t touch him. This was a big step for a child who has a hard time with other kids in his space, but it showed us he’s malleable, that we have a chance to get this right with him early, and that maybe, just maybe we won’t be worrying about his aggression his whole life. As with so many matters in parenting, the years will certainly show us the answer.
A final note: Thank you for all of your encouragement, support, and advice. I have taken so much of it into consideration as we continue to form new strategies. It is also so helpful to know that we’re not alone in this. Anyway, thank you all for taking the time to help our little family. It means the world. xo