Monday, January 25, 2010

The Reluctant Disciplinarian

As a teacher, you'd think disciplining my child would come naturally to me, wouldn't you? Well... it doesn't.

In fact, that was what I had the hardest time with as a teacher, back when I started out almost eight years ago. I wanted to be everyone's buddy, everyone's confidant, the lone adult who "got" these kids - their Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. Of course this led to the class working their butts off to get away with murder 24/7.

So then I switched gears and became the screaming banshee of a teacher, getting in kids' faces, turning red, and causing everyone's blood pressure to raise unnecessarily. (Oh, God, sometimes I wish I could just gather my first year of students, those first graders at PS 114 in the Bronx, and give them all enormous hugs and boxes of chocolates. They got a pretty crappy teacher that year, unprepared and emotional. Of course, now they're all around 14 and would think that's lame, but still...)

Over the years, I found the balance necessary to maintain order in a class.
1. Clear expectations of behavior.
2. Praise for good behavior.
3. Clear consequences for misbehavior that are followed each and every time.
4. Maintaining a calm, cool composure, no matter how upset the kids (or you) get.

It works. But the hardest part is when that sweet child who never misbehaves suddenly has a bad day and you have to call her parents. She starts sobbing, begging you please, just not this time! And you know she means it, that she'll never do it again, and you don't want to give bad news to her parents anyway, and wouldn't it just be easier to let it slide just this once?

But you can't. That's the deal. The same rules apply to everyone. And guess what? That kid lives, her parents live, you live, and now everyone in that class knows that you're fair and honest and mean business.

So now, what do you do when the child in question is an adorable almost-two year old, the sweetest kid you know, the light of your life, your very own offspring?

If you're me, you keep finding yourself thinking, oh, she's just having a bad day. Oh, this is just a developmental phase. Oh, maybe if I get her mind on something else we can avoid this situation. And, worst of all, maybe I won't even attempt this activity at all because I know she'll have a meltdown. (Which explains why I almost never go shopping with her, never turn on the TV to check the weather because she won't want me to turn it off, why I rarely go on long trips on the subway with my darling.)

I really don't want to become one of those mothers who's at her daughter's beckon call. It's bad for me, surely, as it rules my life and makes me feel frazzled. But it's also bad for Stella because it'll prevent her from learning to deal with disappointment, anger, and sadness, and might just create a kid who expects the world to revolve around her. (Believe me, I've had some experience with this type of child.)

So the Brooklyn Baby Daddy and I have started giving time outs and I'm frankly surprised that it's working. I'm staunchly against spanking and honestly, I used to be against time outs (it's a long story that harkens back to when I thought my ticket to hell would be purchased the minute I gave Stella an ounce of formula or let her fuss for a moment in the crib).

But every kid is different, and this works for her. The theatrical sympathy of The Happiest Toddler on the Block ("STELLA'S MAD THAT SHE CAN'T EAT ANOTHER COOKIE! SO MAD!"), the coddling, the constant looking for a way to distract her -- this all just made it worse. But once we taught her how to sit quietly in one spot for one minute (two minutes as of April 14th), she learned to both cooperate with our demands and dread the routine.

So, this is major work in progress, but now when she starts screaming because I won't let her spill the box of Cheerios all over the floor, I get on her level and warn her, "Stella, if you don't stop, we'll have to give you a time out." And she either stops or she doesn't.

The hard part is talking myself into actually following through when she doesn't, rather than reaching for the broom and bracing myself for a cleanup.

1 comment:

Martin said...

God, this is refreshing. This. Is. So. REFRESHING. Big fat digital hugs to the whole BBDBBMBBB(T?) family.