[The Dilemma of How to Discipline]

My 2 and a half year old is a pretty chilled kid, sweet and passive for the most part and a pleasure to be around. But as with all tykes his age there is at least one episode a day where he morphs into Kidzilla and astounds his parents with his vicious outbursts. 

This behaviour started not long after he turned a year old, and conversations with other parents have led me to believe that the whole notion of the Terrible Twos is in fact a terrible misnomer. Be not fooled, parents of small babes. The real temper tantrums and troubles will not start only at 2. They will creep up on you waaay before and only escalate about 265 notches the minute your precious cherub blows out the candles on his 2nd birthday.

Case in point… This morning. Bathtime is pretty much always a source of disagreement in our home. Ryder usually freaks out at the mere mention of the word. Once he is in the water, he mostly loves it and will splash around with his toys and bubbles (…bubbles which I must admit are increasingly the result of the bottle of household detergent he’s just emptied into the water while mummy isn’t looking…don’t even ask.) 

But the lead-up to the bath? No way Jose’. To him, he is like the proverbial calf as it’s being led to the slaughterhouse. He finds the whole thing unjust. Life threatening. An utter tragedy that must be prevented at all costs.

Anyway, this morning he proudly announced “I got a stinky bum, mummy. Please change me?” to which I replied that it was time to bath. “I don’t want to bath,” says he. Mummy ignores. “We must bath so we can go out for a day of fun!” I say enthusiastically. He is not convinced.

“I don’t want to bath!” comes the reply, with increasing urgency, volume and unraveling emotion each of the 23 times he repeats it over the next 3 minutes.

Whatever, kiddo. Your butt smells like rotten cheese. In the bath you must go, I thought.

I dunk him in. He splays his legs like a chicken about to be drowned (yeah, two animal death metaphors within 4 paragraphs. Sorry furry, feathery friends.)

And then he starts screaming: “It is wet! It is wet!” I don’t quite know what “it” is. I’m not sure I want to know. And then I see him clutching his cheek as if he has been stabbed. “It is wet, mummeeee! You wet ittttt!” he repeats dramatically in between howling.

Turns out “it” is the sticker he’s had on his face since last night, a makeshift tattoo he and his little cousin thought were cool and which he fell asleep with. I had indeed wet it as I’d wiped his face with the facecloth, and in that single, simple action it appears I’ve brought his entire little world crashing down catastrophically around him. 


I grab his towel and start patting the sticker frantically. “It’s not wet! It’s dry!” I try to reassure him, while grabbing the mirror to show him. But by then he is too far gone. There is thrashing of limbs. Gnashing of teeth. I am in the thick of a moerse tantrum, vicious and violent to the max. It continues long after I hurry him out of the bath. Angry, shrill screaming shattering the Sunday silence of our townhouse complex, coupled with violent heaving and sobbing and lashing out. 

Eventually 15 minutes in, after trying to soothe and coax (and umm, Instagram a snippet of the whole debacle) Mean Mummy takes over. Mean Mummy is me, but with venom in the voice and a menacing wagging finger. She does her usual threatening “If you don’t stop crying…” and “I’m warning you!” But nothing. No positive result. Any break in the crying only serves the purpose of gathering momentum and coming back fiercer and louder. 

Mean Mummy decides a time-out is in order to calm him down a bit. Usually just the threat of time-out is enough to shush him, but not today. It only makes him more inconsolable as I march him to the spare room. He tries to make a break for it. I give him a quick pre time-out lecture about why he’s going into time-out in the first place. Blood curdling howls ensue. Then silence for milliseconds. Then more blood curdling howls. I crack when I hear him sputtering and choking on his snot. Sjoe. Well, it was a long, tough, 45 seconds of time-out before I decided that’s it. F off Mean Mummy. You are damaging this child and one day he will end up in therapy and blame you. Make way for Zen Mummy. 

Zen Mummy is much calmer and more easy-going. She only appears when I have had adequate sleep. She speaks in soft tones and keeps her cool while the kid is freaking out. Zen Mummy holds him and explains that his behaviour is not nice, it’s naughty and he is a nice boy so he should not act this way. He keeps screaming and then smacks me on the arm. Zen Mummy fights the urge to lose her cool. Ok, let’s explain again. “Good boys don’t hit people, especially not their mommies. Mummy loves you and she…” THWACK.  He lands another smack on my arm. Then a slap on the head. Are you freaken kidding me?

So I launch into Sad Mummy mode. Sad Mummy is the one where I fake cry and become very sad and disappointed in his behaviour, because I might have read somewhere that this could teach him empathy, flip, something like that. I rope Dad in at this point and tell him through fake tears that I’m sad because Ryder hit me and is not being nice. Ryder meanwhile is still screaming like a banshee although I suspect he’s long since forgotten that this all started over a wet sticker. A minute in, Dad can’t take the screaming any more and he lets out a huge, angry shout… which promptly shuts Ryder up and startles Zen Mummy out of her bubble. Ryder lasts 10 seconds without crying. Then he starts again. But it’s definitely come down a notch or two.  Now its mostly whimpering.  

At this point it’s all been going on for about a half hour. Suddenly without warning he asks for water, takes a sip, and then shuts up and holds me tight. And then lets out a chuckle. And then he’s happy. Like giggly, smiley happy, like the last 30 to 45 minutes actually never happened. 

Living with a toddler who is now almost a threenager, is so blinking unpredictable and I’m still figuring out the discipline thing through trial and error. All I know is, I am so not the hardened disciplinarian I thought I would be. I would imagine I’m totally going against every bit of advice ever given by experts, books and Dr Google.  But flip, I try to do what works in that moment. Consistency has never been my thing. 

I recall my own childhood which was filled with threats from my mum of “Must I get the wooden spoon (or sometimes, the mulberry stick)?!” I don’t think I was ever hit with either of these items, but the legend and promise of their wrath was enough to whip me into shape. I have smacked Ryder twice but it achieved nothing more than prolonging the situation, so I’m not really in a hurry to repeat it. I don’t like shouting either,  which is probably the result of hearing loads of it when I was growing up.

So far, touch wood, I have been lucky that his most ghastly behaviour takes place only in our own home and not in the company of others. I have no idea how I’ll handle it if and when he suddenly lets the rest of the world in on this dark and nasty side. I suspect I might walk away, shaking my head in pseudo disgust and pretend he’s not mine. 

Which leads me to ask: what do you do when it comes to discipline, friends? Do you smack? Do you talk? Do you do time-out? What works and what doesn’t work? Please share your tactics and help a fellow mama out.

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2 thoughts on “[The Dilemma of How to Discipline]

  1. I think it's such a tough one especially at this young age. Personally I don't believe in smacking and time out. (My mom also used to threaten with a wooden spoon that was never used lol). You must read http://www.ahaparenting.com/ she talks about a “time in” instead of a “time out” basically means that you are with them to help them manage emotions that they just cannot manage at that age. I also did a post on tantrums here: http://onestepatatime.co.za/toddler/handling-toddler-tantrums/
    I sympathise because I know especially when they are tired the littlest thing can set them off (like the wet sticker) but consoling and distraction also helps. Yesterday Nicky was so upset his lego man was lost. It was a desolate “man!” the whole time I was looking for this thing and I still haven't found it. But I found a monkey toy for him and he was happy whew!

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  2. Hey Heather. Thanks so much! A mate of mine also suggested time in instead of time out – and I really love the approach now that I've been more conscious of it and of how I handle tantrums when they occur. It's way harder when I'm tired and drained myself after a stressful day at work, so I love that your post touched on the very important need to look after yourself too. Take care.

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