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Mama Drama: Daily Discipline

Dear Mama Drama:

I have four-year-olds twins, a boy and a girl, who are very sweet, but admittedly very spoiled. They have many medical issues and there have been several times when we thought we might lose them. My husband and I are so grateful to have them that we often struggle with setting limits. As a result we are constantly struggling to get them to follow directions, put away their toys, and go to bed at a reasonable time.

We feel guilty telling them no and end up feeling frustrated a lot. We don’t know how to discipline them and need your help.

~ Undisciplined Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Undisciplined:

While it is extremely difficult to have gone through the near misses you have experienced, your children still need you to be in charge and set limits for them. Discipline is about teaching your children how you want them to behave, although it is often misperceived as meaning punishment. Your children need you to set limits and provide structure for them, so they will understand how to function in the world. The best way to show them how much you love them and how grateful you are to have them in your lives is to provide them the structures they need to grow and be successful in life.

Discipline begins with a consistent, though not rigid, daily schedule. This includes times for waking up, meals and snacks, self-care (brushing teeth, baths, etc.), playing, and going to bed. Regular routines for each of these activities help children to learn the steps involved and develop independent skills.  A great place to start is with a visual schedule. You can use clip art or pictures of your kids (most children really love this!) to display your daily schedule.  Help your children learn to tell time by putting time of day next to the pictures. I recommend having a schedule that is adjustable as different days have different activities. Attaching laminated pictures with Velcro allows you to put in a picture of school, the doctor, or a play date when those will be part of the schedule. Make the schedule simple to manage and understand.

Once you have created the visual schedule you will need to teach your children what it means and how to use it. Get them involved by having them help you arrange the schedule for the day and/or remove the activities that are already completed and put them in an envelope for the next day. This way when bedtime comes and that is the only activity left on the schedule you can say, “The schedule says it’s bedtime, let’s go get ready for bed.” It is harder for kids to argue with a schedule.

At four children have the ability to follow one and two steps directions and independently put away their own toys. However, if this has not been expected before they will need to be taught what you expect. Get their attention before giving them a direction. That means getting close to them, obtaining eye contact, and having them stop whatever they are doing before you give a direction.

Begin by being specific, “Put the cars in the car box.” or “Put the dress up clothes in their bin.” Then you will need to get involved and work with them. “I’m putting the yellow cars in. Are you going to put the blue cars in first or the red ones? ” Giving them choices empowers them and keeping the choices within the limits of your expectations empowers you.

Make sure you are using directive statements and not asking questions. If you hear yourself saying, “Can you… or will you…?” restate your expectation as a directive, “Time to brush your teeth.” Asking a question gives your child the option of saying, “No.” Make sure that is an option you can live with before you offer it.

Setting limits with your children will take practice and discipline for you and your husband. Talk about the language you want to use and support each other when you find yourselves slipping into old patterns. It may be helpful to take a parenting class to give yourself a jumpstart. Love and Logic classes are offered around the metro area and Jim and Charlie Fay’s book Love and Logic Magic for the Early Childhood Years is a great resource as well.

Change will be difficult at first for both you and your children. Expect them to resist a bit at first, but keep at it. Consistency is the key to success.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.