The Five Stages of Toddler Discipline!

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You’ve probably heard of  the ‘five stages of grief’. It is an actual really useful and sensitive theory coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. But for me they were made immortal by the inimitable Homer Simpson.*

As I observe Bubs’ transition into the ‘terrible twos’ (yes, he’s one and half, but the name is false advertising, trust me) it strikes me that my coping-mechanisms for all his wobblies fit eerily well with these ‘stages’. Sometimes I’m pretty Zen about it all, whilst in other moments a baby-shaped strop can bring on the mists of deep self-loathing (#dramaqueen).

When I say ‘stages’, I don’t mean that there’s a clear progression. No ‘from denial to acceptance in five easy steps’ here I’m afraid, and I know that you discerning readers wouldn’t buy that kind of crap any way. It’s more of a cycle, not a vicious one, more a sort of normal-and-slighty-annoying cycle. Let’s see if it rings true for you…

Denial: “Our children won’t be like that!”

There are many ways in which we like to kid ourselves regarding our kids. On a larger scale there’s refusing to believe your darling little baby will ever gain the ability to talk or shout or play-dead in a Sainsbury’s car park. On a more day-to-day basis it’s playing down the last tantrum. It wasn’t as bad as I remember it we recite to ourselves. Because denial is sort of necessary sometimes, it gets us through. Who needs to dwell on the fact that darling little Tarquin somehow reduces them to tears simply by refusing all forms of food? Nah, it didn’t really happen. Now, lets go shopping…

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Anger: *suppresses internal rage* *swears under breath*

You know, I’m sort of in denial about the anger stage. It shouldn’t exist (because loving someone unconditional involves never experiencing any negative emotions, right??) so, therefore it doesn’t. But, just for you, I’ll admit it; ever since Bubs was really little there have been moments when I have felt genuinely angry with him. *collapses under and avalanche of shame*

Intellectually, we may understand that this screaming-fit isn’t designed to hurt us, and that really our little ones don’t quite know what’s going on either. But anger and intellect aren’t best pals really, are they? So when a human-being has been shouting/sulking/resisting all forms of affection for a while, feeling a bit put out is how most of us respond.

I say ‘a bit put out’ what I mean is incandescent with irrational rage.

We try not to express this rage to our children, of course. We try to be reasonable, rational, mature human-beings with unending patience. We’re not, of course, so the inevitable guilt kicks in and we feel awful about being angry with someone who can’t even tie their own shoelaces yet.

But we all feel it, so don’t worry. I once tweeted something like “Just checking, muttering “oh piss you off!” to a cranky child under your breath is totally fine right??” Someone replied that they sometimes did the V-sign behind their toddlers back. That made me feel a lot better.

Fear: “Please don’t kick-off, please don’t kick-off…” *crosses fingers, holds breath*

I am yet to experience the joy that is a complete toddler meltdown in public, though we’ve come close several times. Like when Bubs spied a squeezy fruit pack I was buying at Aldi and almost full-on climbed out of the trolley and on the supermarket conveyor belt to get at it. So many lols. Having a tiny person scream at you and physically resist your every attempt to diffuse the situation can be ever so slightly mortifying. Once this inevitable event has occurred and we’ve managed to bundle said child into a car/pushchair/sound-proof room (and had a little cry in the loo), we’d all like to think that was that. Some of us may lapse back into denial. Ah, sweet, sweet denial. But another response to this kind of shenanigan is fear.

Suddenly a simple trip to the shops is greeted with a creeping sense of anxiety. You constantly keep one eye on your little bundle of joy for any signs of escalation. Rubbing of the eyes, pouting lips, coveting unobtainable items on the shelves (such as scissors and whisky bottles); these action cause you tense up, ready to spring into a pre-emptive strike of placation.

We are afraid of two-years-olds, people, how did this happen???

Bargaining: “How about you have this toy and I have the car keys back?” 

To assuage our fear of a one-person-hurricane tearing through Aldi, we become experts in negotiation. No, Jemima, you can’t have that pair of XL men’s fluorescent cycling gloves, but can I offer something in the line of a breadstick?

I’m not ashamed to admit that raisins, rice cakes and CBeebies form a major part of my behaviour management arsenal. I also like to keep a favourite book/toy close by at all times so I can swap out whatever sharp/electrical/breakable item Bubs has got his hands on for something less hazardous.

One of my mum’s gems of advice was when you take away, always replace. A sage instruction from Mumsy there (and a rare piece of actual straight forward good advice on this blog, so savour it), but there are some times when the desired object cannot replaced. You could offer your toddler the crown jewels and they would still refuse to give up the manky hairband they’ve found on the ground in the park (does anyone else’s child seem to come across these with alarming frequency??). Sigh. So the bargain becomes a little more one-sided. Like, okay you can have that previously forbidden item, just don’t eat it. That’s where we usually get to anyway, which leads me nicely onto:

Acceptance: “Oh fine, watch another ten episodes/have some chocolate/decorate your bedroom walls using the contents of my make-up bag.”

Of the many qualities to be admired and emulated in veteran parents, the ability to just not give a sh*t sometimes is first on my list. What would have sent them into a complete tizz with toddler number one is now an amusing episode; fiery rage off a duck’s back. So what if they have another chocolate or spend 10 more minutes on the iPad? Is it really worth the drama? Is it?!?!? This doesn’t mean that they care any less, just that they have seen it all before and learnt to pick their battles.

I consider myself quite tough in my stronger moments, but I too am quickly learning that sometimes Bubs will get what he wants, even if it isn’t what I’ve deemed best/arbitrarily decided. There are bigger fish to fry.

Will Bubs escape holding my hand (being carried like a sack of protesting potatoes) when crossing the road? No. Not for all the screams in Screamtown. Will he get me to open a ‘strawberries and bananas’ pack from him by climbing desperately onto a moving conveyor belt? Yes, yes he will.

Will I let my 17 month old child pick up dog poo from the pavement because he really really wants to and is physically struggling to reach it? No, a thousand times no. But will he get his 23rd rice cake by suddenly, inconsolably screaming during a moment of silent reflection in church? Yes. Well played sir.

Of course, eventually this philosophical attitude to it all is eroded by multiple tantrums/sleep deprivation and there we are a funk of rage/grips of fear/haze of denial again. But it’s okay, it’s the circle of strife! Humans can be really annoying sometimes. Even little ones.

Had any good (i.e. really bad) toddler moments recently? Share by commenting below, tweet me @aafew or…


*Now, the more astute of you will notice that The Simpsons got it slightly wrong – they replaced depression with fear. But because depression sucks, I’ve written about it before, and fear is funnier, I’m gonna go with Dr Hibbert on this one.

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And then the fun began...



4 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Toddler Discipline!

  1. Pingback: Something for the weekend: Toddler trials and tribulations | Slouching towards Thatcham

  2. This really made me laugh Aileen! It’s not often that I immediately think “I must share this on Facebook” but in this case I have – hurrah! 🙂 #thetruthabout (thanks for linking)

  3. Oh yes this is so true – and I think the acceptance stage is reached much more quickly with the second child – you’ve already been through denial with the first anyway! The advice to always replace when you take away is a good one although I agree that often there’s nothing that you can replace the removed item with that will work!

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