August 9, 2010


Just ask me, my children are perfect.  Angels, sent from heaven.  Not a malicious or unkind bone in their bodies.

That doesn't stop them from being human, though.  And part and parcel of being human is just plain screwing up.  Not knowing better.  And it is for this essentially human characteristic that the word 'no' was invented.

They have lived in a bubble where everything they did was cute.  Everything they did was harmless.  That time has ended.  Now when SI has a toy that DD wants, instead of tricking her into dropping it or just taking it away, DD has advanced to grabbing her sister by the shoulder and throwing her to the ground.  This is not malicious behavior, she simply doesn't understand that her actions might hurt her sister.  "No" has entered our parental vocabulary, but not yet the grubling lexicon.

Our biggest battle?  Both girls have taken to headbanging at mealtimes.  This causes their chairs to teeter alarmingly on their back legs before falling down again.  We are trying desperately to teach the girls not to do this, which brings me to my philosophy on rules.

I believe that if you can't say why it isn't allowed, there's no good reason it shouldn't be allowed.  So anything that isn't permitted to my children is limited to an extrapolation of one of the following:
  1. You may not do something that will hurt yourself or others
  2. You may not do something that will break wanted property
  3. You must be polite/avoid rudeness
 My husband has added his own fourth rule- "Because I said so," but I don't like it.  While I understand his logic, I am determined to parent and discipline with a foundation in reason.  I want my kids to grow up and know that if they're not allowed to do something, there is a VERY GOOD REASON.  I have never, even as a very small child, found "because I said so," to be adequate explanation.

That said, there is a cardinal flaw in my discipline plan.  Not that M and I see discipline differently- after all, what couple is actually always a unified front?  No, I am counting on the idea that I will be trusted as an authority on The Way The World Works a priori.  And I see the conversation regarding, say, headbanging in one's seat, as going much like this:

DD - "Mommy, why can't I headbang in my seat?"
SM - "You will knock the seat over and therefore hurt yourself and break that chair.  Two of the three things you are not allowed to do."
DD - "But I'm being careful!"

How does a parent come by the authority to know what will happen before it happens?  Will they simply trust me to know that it's true?  Or will they have to experience the mighty forces of gravity and momentum before they accept that they might knock their chairs over, that they might hurt themselves or the furniture?

Saying "No!" is hard.  So much harder than changing diapers or kissing bruises.  What's worse, they simply don't understand it.  Having no experience with scolding, they find it hilarious.  Mommy and Daddy make such funny noises when grublings slam their heads into their chairs.  Mommy and Daddy make such funny faces.  Babies simply don't come understanding that might not be allowed to do all those cool things they've figured out they can do.

Right now, my technique is to say, "No!" firmly, and then ignore the child until she starts doing something else.  This doesn't work with tossing your sister onto the floor, but it does seem to work- a little- with the headbanging.  The fact of the matter is that I have never actually been an ultimate authority before, and I don't quite know how to do it.  I've been an authority on things on which I am an authority, but I am not actually an expert in the areas of right and wrong.  I'm more experienced in this department than my children, but still...  It's a strange thing, this business of being in charge. 

Parenting just gets weirder and weirder, doesn't it?


  1. Lea,

    Hi, this is Theresa, your old buddy from Girl Scouts. It's been years since we've seen each other - I think we were fourteen? Anyway, I'm so glad I can keep up with you through Facebook and by reading your blog. I come over here every time I see you've posted something new. I love following your journey as a mother. Your posts are so well-written and interesting.

    I think you might be interested in following It's a really great look at research in child-rearing and child development.

    I want to commend you on your desire to give your daughters reasons for being disciplined. They'll both grow up into sensitive, kind human beings because of it. I just wanted to say, though - be prepared if they don't understand, or don't want to understand, those reasons when they're very young. Through my experience working in a day care center, I saw that very little children often don't know or don't care that their actions might hurt someone else, even if the someone else is a friend. They're not vicious; they're just not developmentally ready to understand empathy. I saw people try to explain things to kids who just weren't getting it or not wanting to get it. I tried a different method - kid did something wrong, received a firm "no" and disciplinary action. Kid cries, kid sulks, kid gets over it and apologizes, and then in a much softer tone, I then explain to him why he was disciplined and commend him for apologizing. In that state of mind, the kid is much more likely to listen. He may not fully understand it, but if it's reinforced as he gets older, he'll understand it later.

    You probably knew all this already - just thought I'd throw in my two cents. I think saying "no" and ignoring is definitely a good idea, too. It all depends on the situation, really.

  2. Giving reasons for "No" is terrific.
    Positive reinforcement works best, as
    "Mommy and Daddy make such funny faces!"



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