Sunday, October 26, 2008

Any belief that I am in control is pure conceit

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or professional in which you discuss how you "discipline"? I've just thought about this again while filling out the questionnaire given to us by the speech pathologist I mentioned in my last post. You see, the fact is, we've never found a method of "disciplining" that works with Oliver. Time outs? They don't work. First, he doesn't seem to mind sitting in a quiet place for any length of time. And the minute we tell him he is free from this "thinking space" he goes directly back to doing whatever landed him there to begin with. Spanking? Well, I don't believe in it for starters and both times when we did spank Oliver, he laughed all the way through it, making us even angrier, which is not a fun place to be. We spoke sternly. We yelled. We had do-overs. None of it has worked. I remember buying Dr. Sears' Discipline Book and reading it from cover to cover before angrily throwing it across the room because nowhere between those covers did he suggest anything that I even thought might work. Sometimes I believed that Oliver just didn't make the consequences connection. And that may be partly true sometimes but I don't think that gives Oliver enough credit. Mostly I think it is rather a matter of desire. Oliver is just willing to put up with the consequences, no matter what they are (which is one reason why ABA never worked so well for us), so that he can do those things that have captured his interest -- whatever they may be. Usually this involves making some kind of outrageous mess or destroying something that belongs to someone else.

Lately we are battling over:
* the excitement that is Vaseline spread over every available surface.
* eating the pool noodles that belong in my RDA kit
* spraying Simple Green or Windex all over the place. (Yesterday I lost two fresh from the oven loaves of bread!)
* dumping the box of legos
* eating vitamins by the handful

Over the years I have wavered between the desire to hide all attractive items from view and insisting that we leave them where they belong so that Oliver can learn about decision making. The first option saves me lots of hassles but it just doesn't feel right. Especially now that Oliver is getting older. Still, when I climbed the stairs today to find Vaseline covering the windows, desk, computer, chair, carpet and boy. ... well, I only blamed myself for not putting it away after using it. The stuff is just too tempting for my sensory seeking guy. (and anyone with ideas about how to get vaseline out of my upholstered chair, please let me know.)

All of this leaves me feeling like I have to constantly shadow the boy around the house. My only alternatives are to 1) require him to stay where I am, 2) move with him from room to room, or 3) accept that I will ultimately have some sort of mess to clean up if I don't do #1 or #2. Normally, I use a combination of the three throughout the day. But it is no way to live -- not for either of us.

I remember last year when we spent so much time potty training. I tried everything until I finally hit upon the winning strategy: leaving it up to Oliver. I made it very clear to Oliver that he had a choice in the matter but that it was up to him. I turned the control over to him and that was all it took. Within a few days Oliver was potty trained and we never looked back. So I'm adopting this same strategy with all the items on my list above. I'm not moving them and I'm not making a big deal about it when he makes the wrong choice, except that he has to help clean up whatever mess he makes. When I see him reaching for the Simple Green I simply remind him that he has a choice to make. While I'm standing there he always makes the right choice and I thank him, but as soon as my back is turned he pretty much does what he wants. I make him help me clean up and tell him that I am disappointed about his choice. In between I give him lots of "good" sensory options to fill those needs.

I don't know if this "strategy" is going to work or not. It is heavily reliant on Oliver's grasp of what I am trying to communicate with him. But I remember when we were at the height of the potty training saga and I found myself just totally resigned to the fact that ultimately it was his choice and that I could only support him through the process so much. That's the way I feel now. Resigned and accepting that with Oliver anyway, learning is not going to be so much about consequences (if you do this then X thing will be done to you -- what most people think of as discipline) as it is about making choices and learning to have the discipline to control his own behavior. Sure, I'm emphasizing the consequences of poor choices, but my disappointment, or pride, or gratitude are so much less tangible than being sent off to a "thinking space."


  1. We are big fans of the "Love and Logic" discipline technique. I fully embrace letting our kids make the decision, and deal with the consequences. Cotton likes to pour water everywhere. We went through several months of "you can pour water in the sink, or outside" before he started realizing this rule was not going away. His "punishment" was cleaning it up. ( For real not just an attempt.) Anyway, it doesn't work over night, but it works. Good luck, we have the same issues! Let me know if you find a magic secret:)

  2. It sounds like Oliver and Frog are two peas in a pod on this one. I've adopted the same strategies as you and given up hope of finding any professional with a better answer. It may be a messy rout, but ultimately it is their decision and up to them to learn self discipline. Good Luck and keep us posted! :0)

  3. You make a lot of very good points. I do use time out, but it doesn't work, but if I am angry it is good for him to be away from me.

    Egg doesn't understand when I say if you don't stop shouting you will be on your bed. He responds by shouting about not going on his bed.

    Redirection is something I am trying to implement, it is my fault we are in a slump just now. I just keep either changing the subject, praising the good, and reminding him that we can have nice and happy time or a horrible time.

    One thing that is working is our kitchen is locked, if he is tantruming, I remove his toys, def if he is throwing them. I lock them in the kitchen and tell him that he can only have them back when he is good.

  4. Ha! Are you sure we aren't all parenting the same chid and simply passing him from mom to mom? I swear, you described Nik; well, except for the potty training -not there yet.

    Um, sounds weird but *try* seriously scrubbing the chair with UNSCENTED baby wipes. No kidding, baby wipes clean up the most amazing NON-baby messes (including coffee and cat puke on rugs, FWIW). Might take several passes to get the worst of it then use a steam-based upholstery cleaner (like the kind you can rent at Home Depot if you don't own one).

    Good luck!

  5. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Wow. That's a tough one. My kids are NT and time outs worked well with them, as did threatening to take away any object that was being misused.
    Could you let Oliver use the Simple Green in a controlled setting like having him help you clean stuff?

  6. I can't describe how glad I am to read this post. This is the kind of thing I think about all the time, but never find anyone to discuss it with. Your approach sounds good to me.
    The hardest thing for me is the destruction of things (by chewing or eating) because I can't think of a meaningful consequence.

    By the way, what is it about pool noodles? Ours all look like swiss cheese!