>Today my oldest (4 1/2) started whining and acting not nicely. I told her she needed to go to her room and when she was ready, she could come out. She said, “no”. I didn’t react well as I felt like she was being defiant to my face. And, I felt like I didn’t have anything to punish her with. I seriously did not know how to react properly. I reacted poorly and escalated the whole thing more than it needed to be – not b/c what she had initially done but b/c she continued to be defiant and wouldn’t listen. How do you choose the appropriate punishment? How do you stay calm in situations like this one? I feel horrible for the way I acted/over re-acted and for the way the whole thing spiraled out of control. <<
Let’s start at the beginning, to when your daughter first started whining. At that point, I would have directly addressed the whining, since that’s the first thing she did that was upsetting to you – I would not send her to the room. (I’m not a proponent of sending kids to their room since it doesn’t address the heart of the issue, which is their inner attitude.) I would tell her as soon as she started whining that if there’s something that she wants to say, she can, but it needs to be with a pleasant voice. Then I would have her practice using a pleasant voice to say whatever she was trying to say. If she whines in the future, do the same thing: immediately have her use her pleasant voice. If she refuses to speak nicely and escalates the situation, then tell her since she’s having a hard time speaking nicely, she can stay quiet until she can speak nicely. And if she persisted in escalating the situation, I would tell her that since it’s hard for her to remember not to whine, she needs to put her hand over her mouth to help her remember.
While this is happening, though, it’s important that you stay warm and loving. Keep her close to you during this entire time; don’t think that because she’s not whining that she should go play on her own. Take some time to connect on a heart level with her, to keep the bonds between you strong. This is a big part of why I feel I can be pretty strong (people looking in on the outside who didn’t see the big picture might think it was overly strict) when I need to and my kids don’t usually perceive it as punitive – because I’ve made an effort to keep our relationships strong and they know they’re loved.
Responding right away to the first thing that she did that needed correction would have avoided the entire scenario above, and the it wouldn’t have turned into a power struggle. I say that because lots of times parents overreact to situations because they feel helpless, so then they get more upset than they would if they felt they knew how to handle the situation. By interacting with her from a position of confidence and inner strength, you’ll feel loving and calm when you discipline her. To be continued tomorrow….
PS – thank you, R, for your patience in waiting for this response!