Saturday, April 9, 2011

Aggression Anxiety and Disagreements on Double Discipline

[A reposting from the original / Asked in July 2005]


Hello. My question is about sibling rivalry. I (being an only child) never had to deal with the fighting with a brother or sister. I am noticing with my 2 year old boys that they are getting very physical with each other at such a young age.

They don't watch anything that involves violence (to my knowledge, they did go to day care). I am trying to get them to use what words they do know to call dad and I, they so that sometimes, but most of the time I get a loud scream from one because the other took the toy and the other hit them with a toy to try and get it back.

Is this normal? How do I keep it from escalating to physical violence at this age?

Another question:
I am still learning how to discipline my boys. I have tried the redirect approach, warnings, then time out. Nothing seems to work for myself and husband. My husband has a tenancy to get physical with them (spanking)first. I don't agree with that, but it is looking like that is what I will have to resort to. When I try to discipline them with the redirecting approach, they look at me and laugh and go back to what they were doing that got them in trouble.

Time out seems to work a little bit. This sounds cheesy, I have watched the nanny TV shows and gotten advice from them on how to do the times outs. They have helped a little, but it is difficult to go about my daily business, with one child in time out, trying to get out, and the other tormenting the one in time out. Please--any suggestions for this would help.



Twins provide quite the rapid introduction to the concept of 'sibling rivalry', don't they?

More than the fact that you never had to deal with fighting a brother or sister as an only child, more like your mother never had to deal with a pair of tussling tots!

Let me start this response with some reassurance by answering the part of your first question: without hesitation, yes. What your twins are demonstrating is absolutely, 100%, completely normal. Unpleasant and parentally disarming, yes, but entirely and wholly expected.sometimes even well before the oft-bemoaned "twos".

More reassurance: clearly no one "likes" the idea of physical violence between their children, so we rapidly try to determine what could have kick-started you have done with the mental evaluation of whether or not they had seen any inappropriate programming or witnessed some pugilistic peers at day-care. Removed from any peripheral environmental stimuli, the developmental reality is your boys are at a point where they are learning that negotiation (in their minds, the battles are negotiation!) is often necessary to "get what you want".

Twins by virtue (some might mistakenly say misfortune!) of their near-synchronous birth are forced to address sooner than their singly-born counterparts need to that as the Rolling Stones so astutely observed, "you can't always get what you want." From the very beginnings of their lives, your boys (and all multiples) have had someone directly "competing" for the household goods and services.

Now before you start feeling guilty about your maternal time being divided, and start taking an mental inventory of the occasions when your (and your husband's) attention and affections bestowed boy-ward have perhaps been less than perfectly equal, take a step back...

Parents (and perhaps especially twin parents) do what they need to do to best meet the needs physically, emotionally and spiritually of each family member. For me personally, some of the toughest moments of those first days of twin-mommydom were those in which I had to acknowledge that it was logistically impossible to do everything for both twins simultaneously. You likely experienced that same uneasy revelation. My guess is that by age two, each of your boys have already learned that their needs will be taken care of.

Back to the issue at hand, how to address the physical violence that often occurs as a result of conflicting (or the exact same!) "needs"/desires/goals of your boys.

Believe it or not, you already are heading in the right direction, whether you realize it or not!

Immediately following your "fighting" question, you have a "discipline" question.

That is your Mommy smarts kicking-in, Jessica! You are 100% on the money that at age two (and even earlier), your boys can, and need, to learn via a consistent, disciplinary consequence/punishment that inflicting pain on their sibling (or anyone else) is unacceptable behavior. You may not be able to "keep the violence from escalating", but you certainly need to teach your boys that if and when the violence does escalate, there will be unpleasant ramifications.

I admire your acknowledgment that you are "still learning" how to discipline your boys.

And I equally admire your admission (it is NOT cheesy!) that you have garnered tips from "Nanny" shows. Nannies are professionals who in most instances have years of work-earned experience in how to effectively assist in raising children. They absolutely should be sought out for their contributions and advice! Count me amongst the "cheesy".Nanny 911 has helped validate some of the corrective methods we've already employed, and has also provided basis for creative behavioral modification that we will no doubt need to address in the future. Don't apologize, and I won't either!

Honest parents, myself included, rarely seem 100% convinced that our methods of discipline are "working".largely because the punishable behaviors are often repeated despite the application of a time-out/withdrawn privilege/consequence of choice.

By age two, "redirecting" provides little motivation to alter behavior. Redirection (along with a firm "No!") is a fairly effective way to keep younger ones from hurting each other when they are believed to be too young to fully comprehend correction. But at this point, your boys sound beyond that stage.

True confessions time: my husband and I prior to the birth of our twins fully anticipated giving a corrective "swat" when the infraction merited a major consequence. Our parents had spanked both of us, and it had made an impact, so to speak. However, when it came time to actually do it [swat/spank], it felt wrong for me in a way I could not have predicted.

You say "I don't agree with it [spanking] but that is looking like what I will have to resort to."

Again, let me compliment you...not that I am condoning spanking necessarily, but in that you seem to realize you and your husband need to come up with a uniform, united approach to discipline for your home.

If you don't "agree with it [spanking]", you shouldn't do it. Although your husband's corrective method is uncomfortable to you, kudos to him for his willingness to take an active role in the family discipline. Many fathers feel as though they are not the "responsible" parent for the children's behavioral learning. Clearly your husband is willing to take a major role in raising his sons to know right from wrong.

You two need to discover a compromise. Your husband needs to work with you to determine an alternate way by which you both can feel comfortable, and can then effectively teach your twins right from wrong. Interestingly enough, spanks, time-outs, groundings, removed privileges...all can be equally effective---or ineffective. The strength of any corrective method is consistency and unrelenting application of predictable consequence upon each and every infraction.

Please let me encourage you and your husband to have a loving, sit down talk about creating a united, mutually-acceptable disciplinary method for your household....when the twins are down for the night! When my husband and I renegotiated/reformed our disciplinary plan, we decided upon time-outs.

We still (ours are almost 4) use time-outs, and have since a very early age. They have evolved greatly. In the earliest incarnation of time-outs, we placed the violator in their crib, with all stimuli removed, for a pre-determined period of time. Some folks are apprehensive about crib-use for time-outs and have concerns about sleep aversion as a result. If this is a concern for you, place a time-out "PackNPlay" (no toys/books/stimuli) in a removed from the fun area of your home. Other families have used the high chair (to keep the child safely contained) as a "Thinking Chair". The time-out zone/area needs to be removed from the other well-behaved twin entirely, who as you mention is always going to torment or entertain the contained. It needs to be a place where the "punishee" cannot "get out", where there is NO fun to be had, and where they can be safely contained.away from you, their sibling, and the fun. We have also made a point when a time-out is in session to enjoy some rare one-on-one time with the non-punished twin. I have often gone into another room and read a book with the well-behaved twin on my lap. That one-on-one time is rare, and fairly prized, so that positive reinforcement of good behavior can be an effective motivator toward appropriate behavior as well.

Whatever "plan" you and your husband decide upon, make sure you are both committed 100% to be a united front in its implementation. With Mommy and Daddy applying the same consequence, every time, they will learn sooner. A twin benefit may just be that a sibling seeing their sibling receive the same consequence they do might aid them in learning more rapidly that certain acts are not permitted in your home. You may also need to jointly acknowledge that during these stages (even years) of important early learning, some of the "daily business" items may need to go on the back-burner, or happen in non-twin-waking hours. The night crew at Wal-Mart got to know me well, and my husband often takes laundry loads to our basement at 10pm and beyond! Flexibility as a couple is a must at times like this.

If you are unconvinced the boys are "learning", and they don't seem to be altering their behavior, that doesn't mean the method is "not working". Most doctors will say new 'lessons" take at least 3-5 days to "learn" and regressions after learning are not uncommon. Your boys are at an age where they are desperately and rapidly assimilating cause and effect for so many aspects of their lives. As parents, the implementation of consequence over and over and over is exhausting. The temptation is great to merely "overlook" a vicious poke or shove, or offer a lesser punishment/consequence when we are just tuckered out from repeated dual detonation. Don't do it!!!

Every time I have wavered from our kids' punishment protocol, even ever so slightly, it is as though they feel compelled to "re-test the boundaries" and behave like untamed banshees in order to re-establish what the norms are in our house. Please use my lapses as a lesson and motivator to be consistent. When I reflect on the aftermath "testing" hours of behavioral unpleasantness that could have been avoided if only I had not "been lazy".

Believe me, one consequence is far easier to enact than the barrage that need to follow those twintensified "we're confused about what exactly happens when we hit" sessions!

Hang in are so on the right track by addressing these issues now. Yes, physical violence between siblings is a "phase", but it will recur unrelentingly if you don't teach your children that the hitting/biting/poking/pushing is unacceptable.

I wish you and your husband a productive discussion on how you will jointly pursue household discipline, and wishing you a set of rapidly learning and accommodating boys!

Thank you for a great question(s) and please keep in touch-

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