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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Discipline without a showdown

By John Rosemond

Over the years, I have repeatedly encouraged parents to "strike while the iron is cold" concerning problem behavior, meaning that the best time to deal with misbehavior is before it occurs, preventively.

A mother in Minnesota recently shared a creative variation on this theme that is worthy of passing along.

When she is trying to leave the house to run an errand, her 2-year-old has a talent for undoing whatever preparations she makes for their departure. She will pack a bag and as soon as her back is turned, he will unpack it. She will put something by the front door and he will move it to some secret place.

She has tried putting things out of his reach or pre-empting his antics, but he manages to stay one step behind and ahead of her at the same time. Having done two tours of duty in the toddler wars, I can picture all this fairly clearly. I'm equally certain that many readers can relate.

She writes: "Recently I have been sitting him in a designated chair before we have to leave the house. I give him a book or something to hold onto and tell him that his job is to help Mommy by staying in the chair until it's time to leave. This usually works, and it cuts the hassle factor waaaaay down. I've also used this same strategy when he gets out of hand when I'm in conversation with another adult. Instead of trying to address every problem separately, I just send him to his quiet spot for a few minutes before the conversation even gets rolling. In both cases, I make it clear that he's not being punished; rather, that he's being Mommy's helper."

What a great idea! By using her noggin, this mom has managed to turn a negative situation that might well have grown steadily worse if she had tried to punish her little boy's shenanigans out of existence into one in which he's her helper instead of her nemesis. By striking while the iron is hot she has turned lose-lose into win-win. Wonderful! This is what good parenting is all about!

Apparently, however, our Minnesota mom has shared her success with some folks who have "questioned" what she is doing. As a result, she is beginning to doubt herself. Oh my. Here's a mom who's devised a clever way of teaching her toddler self-control, who has avoided entering into a power struggle with him, who is saving the both of them emotional wear and tear, and people are looking askance at her.

A pox on them! I spent considerable time over two days trying to figure out why some people are bothered by a toddler sitting calmly in a chair as opposed to creating bedlam. Is this too simple? If that's the root of some skepticism, I would point out that the simplest answer to any problem is generally the best. Or is Minnesota Mom's success causing some covert jealousy? Are some other moms resentful that she has managed to defuse what they have not been able to defuse for lack of forethought and creativity? There is, after all, there's a lot of one-upMOMship going on these days, as unspoken as it may be.

In any case, I am compelled to bestow upon Minnesota Mom my coveted "Parenting at Its Best" Award for creative thinking under pressure.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at www.rosemond.com.