Distraction as a Discipline Tool? Um, No.


Notice how once a baby learns to crawl she gets her hands on everything in sight?  It’s a wonderful moment for your baby but parents scramble to figure out what to do about this little octopus.  “We just distract him away from the cord to play with something else,”  one father told me.”It works most of the time.”

Yes, it may work “most of the time” but there’s a problem with distraction as a discipline tool.  You baby gets the message that the cord was OK, but “here is something else, even better.”  This does not afford your child the important opportunity to learn from you that playing with the cord isn’t allowed.

Children rely on us for guidance.  They deserve a clearly stated limit in our calm/firm voice and some follow through.  If they keep reaching for the cord and all we do is keep saying “Noooo?” it sounds like a game.  If, instead, we give them a long sentence like “Honey, if I let you play with the cord it could hurt you.  It will be much better if we don’t play with the cord,” we lose their attention after the first couple of words. Sadly, this teaches them not to listen.

Instead, I suggest you bravely use the word “no” as you fix or remove the cord, or coffee mug, or pen. If you want a longer statement you can say “I won’t let you play with the cord.”  I like the word “No” because there is a clear message here.  But since you said “No” or “I won’t let you play with the cord,” our follow through becomes of tantamount importance.

In my classes I used to joke that you should buy a roll of duct tape in your favorite color and carry it on your wrist at all times.  Observe what your child goes after and either smile your approval or say “No, no glasses.”  After you say NO either twist it, fix it, remove it or tape it down.  This way you don’t have to deal with the same item over and over, day after day until you reach a level of frustration and start yelling.

Your baby-proofing efforts are one of the most important gifts you can give your curious baby/toddler.  Just think: once you’ve done your job, you are offering your child a full laboratory where they can exercise their curiosity with your approval!

Of course we don’t want to baby-proof so well that it looks like you’ve just moved in.  Deliberately leave some drawers, cupboards, boxes, extra purses and toys around that invite exploration.

Distraction does have it’s place, however.  For example in the doctor’s office, in the grocery store or in a playgroup.  When there is no way you can baby-proof, distraction is a good thing.  But even as you distract it’s a good idea to add in “No touching.” “No hurting,” and then distract or pull your child away.

Is everybody sleeping okay at your house?

How’s potty training going? Worried about September?

Are you dealing with a slow or fussy eater?

Needing some discipline advice age 1-3 years?

Kitty is available to coach or counsel you on these and other topics, right now!