Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NO! NO! NO!: Logical Consequences and the Crisis of Opposition

I had forgotten how much I love writing this blog. Thanks for all the 'welcome back' messages!

I got a comment about oppositional behavior, and I just couldn't wait to post about it. Remember when I last left off talking about Montanaro's three crises? Remember how I said I was hoping against hope that "this" was the terrible twos?

It wasn't.

There are lots of useful analogies about challenging toddlers. People often say it's like having a preverbal teenager, which is my favorite, and a sentiment I can totally get behind. Before I go on, I just have to say that, for us, entering the crisis of opposition has been a little like early labor for a first time mother. There comes a point at which the hurt is so intense, so unlike anything you've ever felt before, that you're sure it can't get any worse than this, and then it does.

In any case, I think we're really here, now. Nuvy is a delight as long as I don't ask anything of her. She is adorably verbal, heartbreakingly affectionate, and generally sweet and well meaning. But...

THE MINUTE I invade her interior monologue to ask her to (insert benign request here--come to dinner, put on shoes, take off shoes, get sweater, etc.), it all falls apart. I am given to understand that this is not only normal, but healthy, and that it is a phase she'll grow out of. Here's hoping.

So in the absence of having raised up a perfectly cooperative two-year-old, I consulted the literature. I found a few articles here, and here, that are good opening discussions of the "natural and logical consequences" discipline strategy. I think (have been trained to think) that this is a superior method to corporal punishment or "time out". In my educational experience, it is miraculous. In my limited parenting experience, it does work, but somewhat less dramatically for parents than for teachers. By now, this should surprise nobody.

I will state for the record that I am absolutely opposed to corporal punishment and all sorts of intimidation tactics in child-rearing. In the next breath, I have to admit that I am bossy as hell and tend to insist on my own way (I'm glaring in your direction, peanut gallery dwellers), and sometimes pretty forcefully. I have, in fact, yelled at my toddler on more occasions than I like to think about, and have, in extremely tense situations, impulsively smacked her on the hand or bottom three times that I can remember right now. I'm not proud of any of this, but it can and does happen, even to people who KNOW it isn't right.

Now that that's off my chest, I do not believe that yelling or corporal punishment has ever, EVER improved a bad situation with Nuvy. The best that ever happened was that she was temporarily intimidated into obedience, but it was at the cost, of some modicum of her respect for me. I'm sure all you old friends of mine out there are smiling wryly. I would say to you just what you think I would say. ;-)

So, if your family and friends tell you you must discipline your child by corporal means to be effective, I would suggest that there is ample evidence to the contrary. Here is a very nice article from Tomorrow's Child regarding the Montessori approach to discipline. It is an empowering, child-driven philosophy that aims to nurture a self-disciplined child, in contrast with methods that aim to produce an "obedient" child.


The difference between self discipline and obedience is an important one, and it represents a fundamental difference between two ideas of "good" behavior. As you might have guessed, I hope that I am nurturing a self-disciplined child. I think that intimidation methods like corporal punishment, yelling, and even time-out in certain applications, tend to pretty effectively produce obedience, at least for a while. Unfortunately, the effect is only maintained as long as the child's main objective is to please the parent, and parents will find--sooner or later-- that the child's desire to please the parent is, well, intermittent at best. Once parent approval is no longer the child's primary concern, discipline strategies that rely on the child's desire to remain in good standing with the parent fall apart. I know I keep coming back to this (as in my post about praise), but I believe it. Montessori-style discipline, or "normalization" is about a child's learning to make good decisions whether or not adults are there to impose them. Sounds like a tall order? I suppose it is, but I'll try briefly to provide a few central pillars for discussion. Of course, please read all these articles I've linked to. These are just a few quickies:


1. Choose Rules Carefully: There are lots of "rules about rules" that you could read up on, but my rule litmus test is to ask myself, "Do I REALLY mean 'No.'?" I mean, am I willing to pick up my marbles and go home over this? Could I reasonably be persuaded otherwise? Is it just because I'm tired? If not, it's not a rule. I try to make as few rules as possible and make them real. Other things are open to negotiation, and I do think it's ok to negotiate with toddlers, and even to be persuaded by them, because it empowers them, and helps them to understand that talking can sometimes work (whereas whining and hitting do not) to get you what you want. There's lots more about that, but I said I'd be brief...


Corollary: mean "no" when you say it


2. Model the behavior you want: This one was a no-brainer for me, but the very devil to live up to. The argument goes like this: How do you expect to teach your child to be respectful and kind by hitting him or speaking to him in an angry/threatening tone? Do you anticipate the day when he yells or hits back? Again, you can achieve temporary obedience by intimidation, but there is a time coming when you will no longer be as intimidating as you are now. Just something to think about.

Modeling is also a way of keeping the rules clear. If standards of behavior are different for you and for your child, you can imagine the confusion, and the precipitant devaluing of the standard itself.

The fact that we are not perfect parents (are you?), and we slip up now and again in this regard gives us another modeling opportunity. We find we have the opportunity to model appropriate conciliatory behaviors. I have had several opportunities to model for my daughter a sincere apology when I have made a mistake. It's not that I like screwing up, but I think it's valuable to her to learn that errant behaviors can be adequately dealt with by apology, discussion and reconciliation. A child who is asked to forgive, and has an opportunity to offer forgiveness, also learns that she will be forgiven her mistakes, and so may learn to acknowledge them. I think most of us could use a little of that.

Caveat: Kids have a keen nose for insincerity. Remember when you were a kid and an adult tried to bait and switch you? Believe it.

Of course, self-discipline is a process and obedience is a behavior. I want my child to obey me, in the short term, but to obey her own better nature in the long term. The thing is, if she's to develop her own better nature into a strong will, I may have to sacrifice some part of the immediate obedience that would be convenient (not to mention aesthetically pleasing) to me. To people who have raised children, or have been raised themselves in a more authoritarian style, this will surely look like "spoiling" and you will be cautioned to apply more direct heat. I would encourage you to stand your ground.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe children are "spoilable", but I don't think it's respect that spoils them. I think it's lack of discipline on the part of the parent--learned by the child through modeling inconsistent behavioral cause and effect, a frequent by-product of authoritarian rule. Political analogy: ever notice how it's always a totalitarian government that gets overthrown. It's not overthrown because it's oppressive, but because it's subjects discover that it is weak.

But that deserves its own post.

6 comments:

My Child's Diary said...

Thank you for this post!
I agree a lot with the "natural and logical consequences" strategy. After all, it is the only logical strategy possible:) But, did it happen to you that Nuvy received this strategy as a punishment? What was your response for that? Also, could you please give a few examples of the consequences you impose for breaking the ground rules? Thanks in ahead, Miri

Testdriver said...

Hi, Miri.

Hmm. I hope I understand your questions correctly. Most of my experience with this method has been with Montessori children who are not my own, but who are in school. It is a very different thing to be sure.

this is long, and there are many more examples, and I hope some others of you will offer yours as well. These are a few of mine:

I do use logical consequences as our "punishment", but I don't consider it a punishment so much as a cause-and-effect relationship between events. That is how I want Nuvy to view it, too. A punishment, to me, is a consequence of the displeasure of the parent, and as such is meant to hit the child where it hurts. The immediate effect may be obedience, but the larger lesson is that the child should endeavor not to displease the parent. Nice, but I don't think it is the most productive message for the child.

A logical consequence at our house might look like this:

If you use a toy or tool inappropriately (assuming the child knows the appropriate way to handle the object--say, a crayon), you are asked to relinquish it, and may not play with it again for a time. You are then directed to another activity.

Most of our "consequences" arise from some derivative of mis-handling something, as above, and the consequence is immediate and directly related to the offense (write on the wall= no pens for a time, not "time out" or no outdoor play, or whatever other punishment you might think of--it gets too abstract very quickly). For a slightly older child, I would have her help clean the wall--but for many toddlers, that additional battle might make for a pyrrhic victory.

On hurting other people: if she is unkind to a friend or her brother, she is asked to go and play by herself, either in another room or at another activity in the same area. This sort of looks like time-out, but feels to me like a more direct consequence: abuse toy=lose toy. abuse companion=lose companion.

For opposition when I ask for her cooperation: If she won't put on her shoes, I just put off going outside until she's willing. If the outing can't be put off, I say, "I'm asking you to put on your shoes, but if you won't do it, I will do it for you, because we really have to go now." Then if she still refuses, I (as gently as possible while she's flailing) put the shoes on for her and ignore the screams. At that point, once the battle is lost, she usually stops fighting. I try to give a kind word and a hug, and ask if she's feeling better. That usually defuses it.

If she is abusive to me (hits, throws things at me, bites) the consequence is that I show my displeasure in a pretty unmistakeable way. I think that is a logical consequence, and one she will reliably encounter with others, which is why I like it. I get really close to her and say in a very firm, unhappy voice (I like to think it's not yelling...) "I will not let you hit/bite/throw your plate at me! That is not OK! If you do it again, you will have to go away from me.

If the behavior reoccurs, I say, "please go away from me now," and take her or send her to another room to be alone until she is able to calm down--I check on her every two minutes or so. Once she is calm, I say the same thing more gently, and with a hug and an "are you feeling better now? Great. Me too."

Again, please share your strategies if you have some you like.

My Child's Diary said...

Oh thank you so much! It is encouraging to read as I do agree so much with your words.
My son is only 14 months old, and his behavior has been mostly cooperative so far. For now, our logical consequences are mostly physical - meaning removing him from the area or object he is abusive to and redirecting his behavior. Sometimes I ignore his behavior (screaming or crying to get what he wanted, for example), as I think it will stop when he has the language. Indeed, he usually stops screaming after a few moments. If he hurts anyone, I just remove his hands away, if he insists, I hold them in mine for awhile. I explain that by hurting he hurts this person's feelings. Thanks!

Nolamom said...

I love that you're back! You are back, right? This isn't just a once-in-a-blue-moon post?

Discipline is so difficult for me. I had traditional (bad) discipline growing up, and much as I disagree with these tactics, I find myself reverting to them (though tempered at least) when the going gets tough.

Thank you for confiding the occasional smack and not-so-occasional yelling. I've done these too, even though I know better, and I wonder if I will ever let go of feeling guilty for not being a perfect mother.

But on to my question: what do you think about ignoring bad behavior? If you recall, I have one 4 yr old on the spectrum and a 16 mos old who seems to be developing typically. We use some behavioral techniques for my oldest, which I try to marry best as I can with what I know about Montessori, and behaviorists will tell you that even negative attention reinforces undesired behavior. How does this square with Montessori philosophy?

M. T. said...

This is a fantastic post! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I got so much out of this and you confirmed SO much that I am trying to do. It's good to know that I'm using alot of these principles.

When you said:
"Other things are open to negotiation, and I do think it's ok to negotiate with toddlers, and even to be persuaded by them, because it empowers them, and helps them to understand that talking can sometimes work (whereas whining and hitting do not) to get you what you want."
YES! Thank you for this too! I have been told I am "intimidated by my daughter" and am too weak because I negociate. She is strong-willed and I am normally compliant, so I know that manipulatation and bullying on her part are things to watch for, but I am trying but to bulldoze HER thoughts and wishes.

And yes on the losing respect with spankings. I have, and she did. :(
I don't any more. I wish my husband wouldn't either . . .

Is Nuvy's father on board with all of this? My husband comes from a VERY authoritarian family and he is extremely skeptical of this "freedom" and "respect" with regards to children thing. :)

Mrs. D said...

Have you seen any of Alfie Kohn's parenting stuff? I first fell in love with his "The Punishment of Rewards" and have moved on to "Unconditional Parenting." I haven't read all of your blog yet (although, having found it this morning, I have to say I've done a pretty good job getting through 2/3 of it!!) I love Alfie's approach AND I'm also a big fan of the Positive Discipline series -- although I haven't gotten to put it into much practice yet. I have two step-children, ages 13 and 8 and I'm getting ready to have my first baby in 8 weeks -- planning for a Montessori environment, but we'll see. Love, LOVE, your blog.