Sunday, December 09, 2007

Where positive reinforcement ends and I consider crate training my toddler

On the surface Chicky seems to be the most gentle, thoughtful toddler you could ever hope for. She says Please and Thank You (and You're Welcome - she's big on the You're Welcomes). She's friendly enough to say Hello and Bye to family, friends and strangers in the grocery store but not so friendly that she's in your face every second. She plays well on her own, even though she prefers to play with someone else. She's helpful with easy chores and generally is very good about putting her toys away when asked.

Chicky is the child every parent dreams about.

And then there's the Chicky that comes out when no one else is around but me or Mr. C.

That Chicky hits when she's frustrated. She slaps. She screams. She'll haul off and cuff us in the ear if we get in her face or do something to displease her. She'll throw things, either at us or in our general direction and her aim is so good that if the item hits you, you'd better believe she meant to hit you.

I've tried to teach her to hit things like pillow cushions when she's frustrated, and she does, but nothing alleviates her suffering like hand hitting flesh. The other day I tried to teach her to clap when she felt angry but the end result was a whack to my head and then she clapped. It looked more like a victory celebration than redirecting anger in a positive manner.

When it comes to dealing with my toddler's outbursts I believe in redirection and praise. In my job as a dog trainer I preach the gospel of positive reinforcement and rail against constant negative punishment. Not that punishment doesn't have its place, its just not what I generally go for first or teach my students to rely too heavily upon. But toddlers aren't as easily shaped and their behavior not so easily modified with simple praise and small treats as animals are - and it's beginning to make me frustrated too.

I'm the person who, if I really set my mind to it, can teach a dog to do any number of tricks, from fetching the paper to turning off a light switch. I can teach a dog to be as obedient as that dog is capable of being (I'm a trainer that believes that not all dogs are created equal, and that's just the way it is), but most days I feel as if I'm failing with Chicky.

It may seem odd to compare caring for a dog to caring for my child but if you compare a modern dog training book written by a positive dog trainer and a modern child-rearing book the methods are not so different. But the fundamental difference between the two is the emotion involved. For me, when a dog acts out and refuses to cooperate with all my methods I simply walk away and try again later. When my child refuses, however, it's a whole different ballgame.

She pushes me. I think many of you know where I'm coming from. The angrier I get the more she laughs and does what she pleases. Is there anything more grating than reaching the end of your rope with your kid and having them laugh in your face? If there is, I hope to never see it.

A couple of weeks ago she pushed me further than my nerves could take. I was just getting over my morning sickness but still not feeling all that well. She was bored from multiple weeks spent in the house and acting out more than usual. Mr. C was home but it was one of those days when I felt he was pulling his weight. It probably wasn't the case but that's what it felt like at the time.

After many time-outs, naptime had finally rolled around. I was done. As I tried to change her diaper, after chasing her around her room for about five minutes and finally wrestling her to the ground, she kicked me - hard - right in the stomach. And then she continued to do so, or tried to do so, even though I told her not to.

I snapped.


My bare hand slapped her bare butt before I even knew what was happening. Hard enough to leave a small pink mark and a sound that got her attention. Chicky's face slowly crumpled as she went from laughter to tears. I don't think I'll ever forget that day or that face. I don't believe in spanking such a young child. I don't know if I believe in spanking at all, but a toddler? I was completely ashamed of myself.

I remember how I was feeling before I spanked her. Betrayed and emotionally pained that she wanted to hurt me. Walking away didn't seem to be an option at the time.

I'm not beating myself up over this, too badly anyway, because I know I'll be pushed again. I'm human and she's a kid. We've got a lot of learning to do.

I don't have a nice, clean ending for this post because this entry, like this subject, is more of a "To Be Determined" subject. My hope is that I'll be able to continue raising my child in a positive manner with occasional punishment only as necessary while I keep the memory of that day I spanked her in the back of my mind. Chicky is a good kid, all of her violent outbursts aside, and that's got to come from somewhere. Does that make me seem slightly delusional and naive? Well, that's to be determined.

It's worked for my dogs pretty well so far.


Maddy said...

I sometimes think we're on a steeper learning curve than our children are!
BEst wishes

This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

Amy said...

Argh. I was right there with you, right on the precipice of a spanking many, many times this past month. The laughing is the worst part. And I hate hate hate to say this, but I think sometimes dad makes a difference. We natter at them all day. Dad doesn't. A booming male voice and steely resolve can get attention right quick. You read my post today - guess what?

The Poo is ANGELIC today.

Wishing you luck. I know how hard it is. I'm living it right there with you, buddy.

Julie Pippert said...

I've heard or read a variation of this same story---heck, wrote it myself!---100s of times. It's usually a toddler, and usually one hurting a parent on a bad day.

For me it was my second child, who just won't take redirection or positive discipline, can't be negotiated or timed out of bad behavior, and so forth.

It's a horrible moment, isn't it?

But I'm glad you aren't being too hard on yourself.

The outbursts? With my expertise (LOL at me, all of 5 years and two kids) it comes from bright kids feeling frustrated, or sometimes frustrated and powerless.

I wonder if it's coming now, now that you're a little back to you, as a release of what built up.

But you aren't delusional. She is a good kid. This is her only tool to communicate these emotions...she'll pick up your other instruction. She will.

This will pass.

Take care.

Using My Words

Julie Pippert said...

P.S. I always say everything I need to know bout parenting I learned at puppy kindergarten. So I get you on that one LOL.

Using My Words

Two Shews said...

Oh goodness. I have SO been there. Was there with #1 and reaching there with #2 as the days pass. They are 3 1/2 and nearly 2. I think the first swat is more educational for mom than the kid-- I know that the moment it happened, I swore that I couldn't let it again. Not in that context, anyway, one of anger or reaction.

You're finding your way just fine. She acts out at home because that's where it's safest to experiment with her new powers of free will. She's a good kid with lots to figure out. And lucky she's got such a contientious mom to help her out.

Don Mills Diva said...

Yup - been there. Wrote a very similar post about a very similar smack about a month ago. There's no question that my two-year-old son reserves his very worst behaviour for me. It's tough - this parenting gig - real tough. Chin up.

Girlplustwo said...

oh honey. there are so many things they never told us about motherhood, aren't there. you are doing just fine, babe. absolutely.

Susan Getgood said...

Just about everyone has had this moment, and most do the exact same thing.

We implemented the human version of crate training, the time-out. Even at that young an age. In the crib or in the room, where they can't hurt themselves. And you ignore her for as long as you can stand it. It saves your sanity and makes the point that the child is just not someone you like at the moment because of the specific behavior. And like dogs, the punishment comes on the behavior not hours later :-)

flutter said...

I can only say I don't love my mom any less for her having smacked my butt. *shrugs*

This human thing is hard, yes?

Rusti said...

I'm sorry you had to go through this Mrs. Chicky - and I can only say that I hope to have your same resolve to use positive reinforcement with my kids... but I'm going to have to say that I'm sure my kids will be spanked more than once, especially if they are anything like their mother & father were at those ages... ;) heck though - Kels & I got spanked and we turned out just fine - we were quick learners though I think :)

motherbumper said...

I tell myself that she takes it all out on me because I'll always love her - which is true, but to say that I haven't been pushed over the edge is a lie. This parenting gig is hard. They probably wouldn't have any suckers like us if the job advert had told the truth.

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh hon...every parent has been there. Anybody who insists that they haven't is lying. It's okay. She won't love you any less.

You've heard about my struggles with Diminutive One. I can't even tell you many times I've had to put him in his room and walk away because I was too angry to deal with him constructively.

I wish I could say it gets easier, but the issues just change. We do the best we can. I really believe that as long as they know we love them and will always be their champion, they'll be alright.

S said...

I did it, too. Once, but, as you say, that's enough. It has always served as a potent reminder to me.

Arwen said...

We call our daughter 'Dr noodle and Ms Hyde' because when she is good she is very very good and when she is bad she is horrible. Our daughter is 6 and acts this way still. I wish we had an answer because it leaves me in tears.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Yup, I know your story. And, it is worse when your child is an angel wherever you go b/c you truly can feel misunderstood (wait, change all those 'you's to 'my' and 'I").

Baby steps, that's what I feel like I am taking. Every day, baby steps toward being the mom I want to be, no matter what. It just isn't easy.

All Things BD said...

I've been there, just like every other mom. I've spanked in anger, and have used the iron grip on the upper arm far too frequently. I hated when I did that, but man, can kids bring you to the brink without even trying.

Recently, I've found myself outside of their bedroom, holding the doorknob so that my eldest can't get out and continue the meltdown. It's for her own safety, really, because when she pushes me that far, I'm afraid of losing control. God cursed me with a child EXACTLY like me.

Don't stress too much. It happens and you learn and move on.

Lisa said...

You are right about how little ones are alot like the pups... In that they need positive reinforcement. And a simple command. And lots of praise when they do the right thing... If I had a nickle for all of the times I've caught myself talking to my son the same way I talk to the dog...

Amie Adams said...

I think the laughing at my face is the one that gets me the most too. It's scary how infuriating it can be, and we're the moms who have all the tools at our disposal.

It's those days when I can't believe that any child actually gets to grow up to be an adult.

Mom101 said...

I'm sorry, I can imagine that you must be feeling so conflicted. But you know that expression about it hurting you more than it hurt her? I think that's pretty much true right now.

You were defending your belly. I can only imagine that if she were kicking your feet you wouldn't have had quite the same reaction.

You're a good mom.

Alex Elliot said...

I think every parent goes through this. You have my empathy. I totally agree by the way about raising kids and dogs. My dog does listen better though! said...

I am a firm believer in positive parenting (not to be confused with permissive parenting) and validating emotions and use of logical and natural consequences. No, I don't think that a toddler can be reasoned with, but yes, I do think that they can be disciplined (which simply means "taught", as in "disciple") without heavy-handed (no pun intended) punishment. Not even punitive time out.


We all have our bad days. And days when one child is doing the work of five.

For me, 3yo - 4 1/2yo has so far been the toughest year with both my older girls. They talk well, so you *think* you can reason with them. Not so much, it turns out. But, you still have to keep talking the talk until they "get it", and in the meantime, do all the positive Pavlovian behavioral stuff.

I am a vehement anti-spanker. This does not mean that I haven't had my bad days of laying hands on my own kids. No spanking debate here, either with the yards of statistics or the anecdotes from either side - but I will say that from my reading and own life experience, I believe there is a BIG difference in outcome between parenting that whole-heartedly and without reservation uses spanking as a top-tier method of authoritarian discipline ("I spank you because I love you and this is one of the primary ways I will teach you.") and the parent who has a bad moment and gives a smack on the butt, and then realizes that this is possibly not the best way to teach a human, even a small human who is more like a mad dog at times. happens. As I always say, there is a reason that the little stinkers are so cute. Otherwise, there are days when they'd be out the door on a fast bus to Des Moines.

In my book, you are an A+. You *think* about things. You look for process improvements. You are aware. Your kids don't know just how much they lucked out. :-)

T with Honey said...

Hmmm... I think you're onto something with the crate training idea.

I installed a baby gate on Princess's bedroom doorway to keep the dogs out of that room while she was smaller. There have been a few times where she has pushed/kicked my buttons one too many times so I plop her in her bedroom, close the gate and walk away.

And, usually, it works. We both get a 'time out' away from each other while she is somewhere safe.

OhTheJoys said...

Also guilty.

I wish I knew what to do.

It is the same with The Mayor.

Christina said...

Been there. More than once, too.

It's tough, but it's something nearly all of us go through in the toddler era.

Time outs can work well, although the beginning is tough, since they don't understand the rules and will simply get up. In that case, time outs behind a gate or door work well.

Heather B. said...

I was awful as a child. Like really, really terrible. Once I intentionally pushed my brother off of his bike and so my mother hit me with a pool cue. A nice firm smack on the ass and I totally deserved it and of course later my mother ended up feeling terribly about it. I'm not advocating smacking your child into submission but instead I cannot imagine what it would be like to have someone a) completely disregard your every word and b) have them push you to the point where you get that angry. You're not a bad mother, you're just human and you both were probably cooped up for a long time. It happens. You get past it. My mother hitting me was like decades ago, I'm over it and now I try not to piss her off. Or if I do, at least now I can run really, really fast.

Tania said...

Almost been there. I've been worried ever since that I won't be able to restrain myself next time.

Manic Mommy said...

I've been mentally composing a post addressing becoming "the yelling mommy." I don't want to be her. I have RC (2 1/2) who does the laughing and I have HRH (just 5) who acts as if I didn't speak.

We never spanked because you lose the moral high ground. But both of us have resorted to a slap on the hand when we're out of ideas and completely fed up. And here's the real beauty: It doesn't work.

Out of ideas and hoping he'll outgrows it.

Lawyer Mama said...

I've been there, sister. I've been there.

In fact, last weekend we were at a busy arts and crafts fair on the pier and Hollis ran away from me with one of his little friends. For the 2 minutes we couldn't find them, I was blind with panic. When we found them, he tried to run away from me again laughing. I smacked him on the butt. I definitely didn't hurt him, but I did startle him.

kittenpie said...

Every mom knows these times, T. Seriously. The day that pumpkinpie kicked me in the face with both feet while I was changing her? I threw her in her crib and walked away until I could calm down. Which was better than another similar day, when I dropped her down on the futon just a little harder than necessary - and her face collapsed. I felt terrible, but still? I was still angry, because she had been pushing hard and taking glee in it. It's true, even those sweet kids like ours can be devils at times. I've been raising my vcoice way more than I like lately, too. I'm not quite sure when/how it ends. Good luck to us both, honey.

mamatulip said...

Oh, have I ever been there. There are times when I have to literally sit on my hands because if I don't, I'll smack Oliver.

When I was pregnant with him, Julia kicked me in the stomach. Hard. Just like Chicky did to you. It was early, I was tired and sick and she was off. the. fucking. wall. So she wound up and kicked me and my kneejerk reaction was to smack her. And I did. Hard. Left a mark on her leg. And I felt horrible about it. HORRIBLE. For a long time.

You're not alone. Hang in there. said...

(Ack..I just re-read my comment and it sounds completely obnoxious. Please excuse me, and believe me when i say that I'm giving myself my own pep-talk with it, my own affirmations. My knee-jerk response isn't always as pacifistic as I wish it would be. I have big, red button plastered all over me.)

Julie Marsh said...

There's something about defending your belly, as Mom101 and Mama T said. During this pregnancy, I have been subconsciously, irrationally protective of my belly. CJ nailed me in the forehead with a flashlight, but that didn't incite as much of a reaction on my part as the times that her feet or elbows have connected with my belly.

sweatpantsmom said...

We're all familiar with that rope, and reaching the end of it. Don't be too hard on yourself. You are a good mama.

Hannah said...

I agree with Flutter, I don't love my mom any less either because she smacked my butt sometimes.

It's hard not to protect yourself when the toddler gets physical - and you know damn well that they know they are doing wrong.

Tomorrow is another day. And this won't be the last time you lose it, I'm sure. But you love Chicky hard enough in between times that those are the bits she'll remember.

Minnesota Matron said...

Of course, best not to smack or thump, or anything physical. We all know that and strive toward. I actually had a HUGE turning point in this area after hitting my 11 year old. Twice. In the span of two days. Stryker and I are nearly exactly alike and rather (ah) intense. He was being horribly, unbearably rude to me, muttering about how 'worthless' I was as a parent (yes), and then he mimicked me and I slapped him on the arm. I felt TERRIBLE and tried to make it all up to him, telling my very shocked son how sorry I was and I would never do it again. Until the next night when we played that game all over again. I felt like the classic wife-beater, who showers the woman with flowers afterward. It was not a good feeling, sort of like pond scum seeping into every cell. Ugh.

And it was my dear spousal unit who transformed the situation. After I sobbed through a description of the whole exchange and how I had hit our son again, he didn't offer sympathy or even support. Instead, he said, "If that's the path you're going to choose--hitting--be really clear about that choice. Because I'm not going to go down that road. You know, the physical violence road. But it sounds like you are, and well, just be clear about that choice, because I can't support it."

Wow. And I've never hit one of my children again -- although I have gone into the basement and screamed and beaten a few pillows silly.

Redneck Mommy said...

Been there. And am pretty sure will be there again. It sucks big time...even when they're older.

However, I do find the outbursts and the parenting a whole lot less frustrating as they get older.

But then, they're not teenagers yet.

Sigh. Good luck. We all need it.

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, yes, I think most of us can relate. Someone very wise once said that our children trust us more than anything and they trust that we will love them no matter what; and that is why they are comfortable enough to behave like complete monsters with their parents. I think she was spot on.

I was totally against spanking until I had a day like yours. I still don't think it's an appropriate punishment (and on the rare occasion I do swat my son I feel like such a turd afterwards), but in the heat of a moment when your child is abusing YOU (yes, my son has done the same thing), the fight or flight response comes into play.

From Here to There

Kimberly said...

We've all been there. I remember vividly the day my older daughter pushed and pushed and pushed until I snapped and smacked her firmly on the butt. She cried (and out of her eyesight) so did I. This parenting thing is the hardest thing we've ever done or will do.

b*babbler said...

Not to make light of it, but I'm becoming convinced that there is a reason that children don't have real memories until they're around 3-4 years old. It gives us enough time to make our mistakes when they are insanity causing monsters in their infant/toddler years (holding months old infant up in front of face and asking why the f*ck won't they sleep? Been there, done that..) and to get our equilibrium without ending up with teenagers that want to murder us in our beds for our earlier transgressions.

Otherwise we'd might all end up in therapy for life!

Clink said...

I am a brand new parent and the spouse and I are already questioning the benefits of crate training for children...glad to see we aren't the only ones!