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January 14, 2011 9:29 pm

The Sucky Disciplinarian

avatar by Mimi Hecht

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The first time I told my son “no,” even I didn’t take myself seriously. I’m pretty sure I even said it with a slight laugh in my voice. Something like “Nooooooo” with the “O” sound extending into a “Oooooh you’re so frikkin cute, come here.”

Since those first ineffective “no”s my sixteen-month old’s habits have turned from unpreventable no-worthies like putting dangerous things in his mouth to more deliberate actions like throwing food off his high-chair and even scratching. I am slowly coming to the realization that I am failing as an authority figure to my little two-foot human.

You see, I’m just not cut out for this discipline stuff. Which isn’t exactly surprising, considering my inability to consistently reprimand and administer warranted punishments always made me the best camp counselor and babysitter when I was younger. As a new mother, I excelled at all the nurturing. nursing, cradling, bathing – I can do that. I can love. I can cuddle. I can give. Call me Mother Theresa. Just don’t make me say “no.”

Part of me doesn’t believe that my son can actually do things that deserve discipline. When he started up with scratching, I acted naïve. Awww, he must think he’s tickling! He doesn’t mean to hurt me! I just need to cut his nails! Even the devilish, testing look on my kid’s face went completely ignored. And did I mention he’s a redhead? Between that and his parents’ rebellious streaks, he’s practically hardwired to be a trouble maker. And what do I tell myself? That I’d rather have a mischievous kid than a lemur. As if those are the only two options! I am ridiculous.

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Just the other day, my budding acrobatic grabbed a toy, hoisted himself from the coffee table to the couch and onto the sofa chair where he then dropped the toy and dived head first off the back of the chair to retrieve it The result? A murderous cry and nasty purple bruises on his cherubic yet totally guilty face. I freaked out, knowing deep down that my inaction ever since he started climbing on furniture has led to this moment. “This is how he’ll learn,” I told myself, knowing that only an element of that is true. I should have tried harder.

I’m so bad at this “no” stuff that I’ll even devise ways to not have to discipline. Every time my tot opened and emptied our storage bench, I said “no” and removed him. He was kinda starting to get it. But after a week, he started doing it again. I thought to myself, “I am not going through this.” So what did I do? I emptied all the important things I was conveniently storing and instead filled it with something he can touch – toys. Yes, the little rascal got his way (and then some!), but at least I’m not driving myself crazy for something that was, well, failing anyways.

What’s worse is that my son seems to know that I am a sucky disciplinarian. He actually started laughing when I say “no.” And lately, he’ll even do something he knows he shouldn’t – like steal my phone and hide it in the sofa – then casually turn to me, hold his finger up like a teacher and give me a drawn out “nooooo.” Naturally, I react by going against the most obvious disciplinary advice: I burst out laughing.

Good job, Mom. You’re a goner.

Thankfully, there’s a trick called ignoring. Now I’m a pro at that! Throw a tantrum. Ignore. Kvetch for the cookie until your voice is raspy. Ignore! I have successfully curtailed a few bad habits by cutting off my supply of attention.  They are the sucky disciplinarian’s sweet moments of success – also known as “effective laziness.”

But I know that, in the end, it is active discipline that effectively molds balanced and well-behaved kids, not to mention communicates true love. So I need to go to discipline boot-camp, or else it’s only going to get worse. My husband demonstrates much more prowess in this area, but, alas, I am the work-from-home mom whose consistency can really make a difference. I have no problem admitting that this flaw stems from an inherent laziness. Discipline takes a commitment to consistency that, if I had it in me, I’d be using the elliptical that’s been collecting dust in the guest room. What I need is for someone to call me out and whack me upside the head every time I’m about to catapult an opportunity to educate my son. For now, I’m going to take my toddler’s mocking (but, come on, absolutely adorable) responses as the ultimate challenge. He may be smart, but I am smarter!

Yet if you heard me say that out loud, you would notice the weak, defeated undertone and realize that the saga of the absolutely preposterous, failing, hopeless and completely sucky disciplinarian has, in fact, only just begun.

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