"Don't do that."
Sound familiar? The phrases (and many, MANY more) used by a mommy with a curious toddler. But I found a solution. We have actually been using the strategy for a very long time and it works like a charm when we stick to it.
Allow me to introduce a must read for every parent (caregiver, babysitter, childcare person, etc!)...
It is an easy read. Short book. There are also DVDs. I have read the book and watched the DVDs. Both teach the same parenting skills. I own the book but checked out the DVDs from the library. Personally, I don't really see a need to own either, just check it out. If you ever want to refer back to it, check it out again.
This book taught me how to discipline Devin without making a big deal and without it completely disrupting our lives. No yelling. No spanking. No discussions. No adult tantrums in response to the child. No fake apologies.
The discipline strategy is timeout. And timeout is not rocket science but this book keeps it fair. It gives the child 2 warnings then timeout for approximately as many minutes as they are old. One thing that I LOVE about this book is it helped me realize that Devin is a child. Shocker! But seriously. I hear others all the time trying to rationalize with their kids and asking them why they have to keep telling them. You have to because they are kids and don't have the processing skills yet to rationalize.
I know that the subtitle says that it is for children ages 2-12. And now some of you are doing the math. Yes, Devin is 16 months old. And yes we have been using this since he was about 10 months old (when he started walking). It still works! I don't know if it would work for all babies that young, but Devin caught on. At first we would have to literally stand behind him and hold him in timeout for one minute. He didn't get to stay. He would cry hysterically the whole time during that minute. But he learned the limits.
After we had been using this for a couple of months, Devin understood that he had to stay in timeout. So I would put him in timeout then go to a different room to set the timer. But he would still cry giant alligator tears with huge sobs. He was just fine. Let the kid cry in timeout. It didn't hurt him one bit!
Timeout continues to improve. Now Devin will sit in timeout for his minute and a half without an emotional meltdown. He just sits there. We have taught him that the beeping noise from the timer does not release him. He has to stay until one of us walk back to him and tell him, "You can come out now." And he knows he has to stay and we are not going to play the "timeout game." If he tries to play the timeout game where he comes out, the time starts over. There were a few times when he decided to come out just before his time was up or when the timer beeped. I took him back to timeout and his time started over.
We don't have an exact timeout spot. If we are playing in the kitchen or living room, normally timeout is by the front door. If we are upstairs then timeout is normally the hallway. If we are out in public, timeout is anywhere I put him. For us timeout is isolation. No books, toys, animals, blankets, etc. This is one thing that I don't agree with 1-2-3 Magic. The book allows kids to go to timeout to their bedrooms and play with all their toys. The theory is the punishment is simply having to change activities. I don't agree. Timeout is not a time to go play with different toys so I purposefully take everything away.
After timeout we simply go on. No fake apologies. No explanations as to what was wrong. No revisiting the crime because it is a fresh start. (This is something the book teaches and I love it.) If Devin goes straight back to the exact thing he was doing before then it is an automatic 3 and he goes straight back to timeout with an extra minute.
The only times I have had to explain the situation to him was when he went straight back to the same thing for the 4th time. After sitting in three consecutive timeouts, I realized he wasn't getting it. He was just curious. For example, using very firm voice, I told him why he can't peel paint off the corner of the wall that already has a missing chunk. I started counting over and told him, "That's 1." He hasn't touched it since.
What's the hardest part? Remembering to count. Sometimes I just start telling Devin, "No!" "Get down" "Don't." He doesn't respond to my commands very well. It is also a challenge to be consistent with timeout when I'm tired and am not in the mood to deal with anything.
And here is the bonus. I used this when I was a teacher. It worked like a charm with my junior high kiddos. I had to modify it for a classroom setting but the idea was the same. There is a different book written specifically for teachers using the 1-2-3 Magic but I have never read it.
Good luck! And as Proverbs says,
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."