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Jessie Knadler is the author of Rurally Screwed and coauthor of the preserving cookbook Tart & Sweet. She’s been featured on NPR.org, in the Washington Post and French Elle. Her writing has appeared in Martha Stewart Living, Newsweek, Self, among many others. She lives in beautiful rural Virginia with her husband and daughter. Jessie blogs at rurallyscrewed.com.

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The Disciplinarian versus The Coddler

By Jessie Knadler |

A week or so after Jake got home from his year long deployment to Afghanistan, we were having a late lunch at a  restaurant with our nearly two year old daughter June.  June was having a…well, I don’t want to call it a temper tantrum, but she was howling plaintively and flinging crackers and ketchup packets off the table.   I didn’t particularly mind the histrionics because it was an off hour and the restaurant was otherwise empty.  Jake, on the other hand, looked a little concerned.

“Are we really going to let her do that?” he asked.

“Let her do what? If you see the waitress ask her to bring some more bread.”

“That,” he said as June flung another packet off the table.  ”Are we really going to allow our daughter to behave like that in public?”

“Jake, she’s one,” I said, bending over to pick up the crackers and ketchup packets.

“No, she’s almost two,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever too early to start instilling a little discipline.”

I laughed.  ”Such a soldier thing to say.”

“I don’t think we should coddle her when she behaves like that,” he said.

“Oh, so now I’m coddling her,” I said, just a teensy bit agitated.

“Well, yeah, by not telling her ‘no’ when she screams in public and flings stuff off the table.”

On the one hand, I had to empathize.  It’s gotta be difficult for a new father — Jake left our home when June was only nine months old — to go from the bureaucratic, tightly ordered, totalitarian world of the U.S. military to the anarchy of toddlerhood. On the other hand, whining in public and throwing crackers off the table is fairly standard behavior for even the most “well-behaved” one year olds. Or maybe I was just used to it, therefore more accepting of it.

What’s the right answer?  For us, we eventually took the crackers away from her and left the restaurant early, but the incident laid bare our differing parenting styles, widened and amplified after a year apart; to me, Jake is the drop-and-give-me-twenty disciplinarian, to him, I’m the squishy and enabling coddler.  Somewhere in the middle is June.

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About Jessie Knadler

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Jessie Knadler

Jessie Knadler is the author of Rurally Screwed and coauthor of the cookbook Tart & Sweet. She’s been featured on the Katie Couric talk show, NPR.org, the Washington Post, French Elle and made the cover of the New York Post. Her writing has appeared in Martha Stewart Living, Newsweek, Jezebel.com among many others. She lives in beautiful rural Virginia with her soldier husband, her two year old daughter and a wily dog from Afghanistan. Read bio and latest posts → Read Jessie's latest posts →

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16 thoughts on “The Disciplinarian versus The Coddler

  1. Lisa says:

    What you permit, you teach.

  2. Elise says:

    Sorry, I’m with Jake. If you don’t start early setting parameters for your child when do you? When they are in total control of you? I’m not talking corporal punishment but learning “no” and “removing them from a situation” doesn’t start too young. Why allow her to continue throwing the crackers, why not tell her no yelling? Neither of those are hard or unusual and certainly not considered too firm for a borderline two year old. A certain amount of consideration should be shown to other patrons, if not the staff of the restaurant. Educating your child begins early, work with her and help her underestand.

  3. JennNY says:

    I have 6 children (ages 20-5) I don’t consider throwing crackers off a table and being whiny normal behavior for a “well behaved child”. It may be normal behavior for an undisciplined child, but not from a child that knows that that isn’t acceptable behavior in a restaurant or any other place. Do children do those things, absolutely, I know mine did, but they did it once or twice and that was it. Unruly toddlers become unruly children/teens/young adults very quickly.
    I guess you and Jake need to sit down and figure out a happy medium! :)

  4. Korinthia Klein says:

    For us it was hard when my husband returned from 15 months in Iraq the first deployment, because I gave birth during that time, so there were two kids who had changed a great deal and one he didn’t know at all. Our older kids were 5 and 3 when he came back, and our new son was about 8 months old. My husband had been the stay at home parent, and it was hard on him that none of the information he remember applied anymore–new foods, new habits, new bedtime routines….
    /
    Anyway, for us, especially after the second deployment, we had to put a moratorium on daddy doing any discipline for many months after he returned because everything from hims was too big and scary and freaked them out.
    /
    I think we are finally in a place where it’s all fine, but I still see lasting effects of those deployments on my son who has trouble warming up to his dad.
    /
    http://the-quiet-corner.blogspot.com/

  5. Cynthia in Denver says:

    Sorry, but I’m siding with Jake.

    Perhaps it was an “off hour” at the restaurant. If there is even one other cutomer, it is rude and inconsiderate to subject them to your child’s loud antics. What if that sole diner managed an hour’s respite from their own child? Now you are going to kill whatever relaxation they are trying to achieve all because you do not want to set guidelines for your child? It is more than a matter of coddling or doscipline. It is a matter of courtesy and respect for those around you who are not raising your child.

    What age do thinl you begin to discipline? If the behavior is not nipped in the bud immediately (ie: correct), you may not find it so cute when she throws a tantrum at age 15.

    Good luck.

  6. Candice says:

    Sou son is a year and he doesn’t act that wAy my husband and I do not stand for a child doing that youay think that since there was no one there it’s ok but it’s not there is still the few customers in there not to mention staff and the aw the ones who clean up your child’s mess let her rule u know than good luck telling her she can’t do something or she’s grounded when she is over

  7. JessinMA says:

    Oh, man it is never easy. Thankfully the restaurant was empty and you were spared the exhausted and annoyed glares of fellow diners! I think that saying she’s too little is an easy way out. She isn’t a rational human, she’s a barely toddler, but if not now, when? Will you start to say ‘no’ when she’s 2 or 3? She’ll always seem like a baby because she’s your baby. I don’t think anything severe is called for, but maybe start trying out calmly saying, “No, thank you.” to her when she’s having a fit. Remind her that you can’t understand her when she’s all worked up and ask her to take a deep breath (you do one to show her) and ask what she wants or needs. Sometimes you can’t provide it, sometimes they’re inconsolable or contrary just because and then it won’t help much. But small steps, build it up. I say a little work now along the way makes it so much easier than figuring out how to suddenly ask a 3 year old to behave when no expectations have ever been set before. You you can do it!

  8. Kathleen says:

    You might want to check out Love & Logic http://www.loveandlogic.com. I used it first for classroom management when teaching K-12 and was happy to see it roll right over into helping my son figure out life starting from day 1. The guts of it is to keep your decision making in the calm, logical part of your brain and keep it out of the fight/flight/freak out part. So, lots of 2 part choices and immediate, meaningful consequences. No drama and no complex series of events to memorize. What you expect from your child is what you live every day. Good luck!

  9. jess says:

    i’m with jake. important to set rules (even simple rules) when they are young. it shows them respect and authority. your kids may not like you for it most times, but they will respect you in the long run. a little table manners go a long way. being firm with your kids is key. and the parents NEED to agree on discipline (whatever the discipline is)

  10. Launa Renouf says:

    Thanks for your your content – really interesting. We love our Kindle and the best site for tips and tricks is coolkindles.

  11. 1of14 says:

    I often found myself feeling “they’re kids- that’s what kids do”, when my husband was mildly irritated by what I thought was normal kid behavior. Maybe because I’m the first of fourteen and he’s the first of two he just assumed I knew what I was talking about?

    He has relaxed a lot since the initial culture-shift of becoming a dad. Then again, I have to agree with most of his objections to my coddling. :)

    We both know that there are healthy parameters to set, even for toddlers. We try to be consistent, kind and firm in setting them. A tantrum at home will not be rewarded by anything more pleasant than being dropped in the crib. But really, what are you going to do if one is thrown while you’re out and about? I’m not going to acquiesce to any demands. I might remove them from the situation (sit in the car and be bored) until they cool off and are ready to come back on my terms.

    I wish you and your husband (and your daughter) the best as the two of you blend your perspectives together and reach a wholeness that is greater than the sum of all the parts.

  12. The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a thirty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

    1. Jessie Knadler says:

      Um, I hope you gave your cousin a beat down.

  13. joss says:

    So the single mom perspective–Until my daughter was almost 4 I had no car and rode the bus in Tucson, AZ. My ex husband was in New Hampshire, there was no respite. Ever. I was a preschool teacher with six 2 1/2 year olds in my class.

    There is no end to the demands and tantrums if you give in to them. Consistency is key, and promotes a healthy relationship–your kiddo feels safer when they know what the boundaries are and those boundaries are consistently maintained.
    Screaming temper tantrums were not a luxury I could indulge her in when I needed to get a toddler, her diaper bag and four bags of groceries to the bus stop, on the bus, off the bus and to our home. So I came up with two rules, and they have served me well to this day (my kiddo is now 12.)

    1. Consequences are always laid out prior to the offense, or, if nothing else, while the offense is occurring–now it’s the kid’s choice instead of you being mean.
    2. Consequences are never delivered in anger or emotionally. This is the way life works. You have a little adult in training. The ball is in the child’s court.

    When grocery shopping, we had the melt downs. I used to tell her “We don’t get the good things we want when we are hitting, kicking, or screaming.” This was used together with “People don’t like hearing you acting this way. (your kid already knows this, it’s why they act that way.) So when you yell, cry, throw things, hit and kick, we have to leave the store. Right away.” I actually left carts of groceries sitting in an aisle and walked out, set her on the sidewalk, sat down next to her and let her scream it out. When she’d calmed down we went home. The next morning when she wanted cereal instead of toast, I had to explain we left the cereal at the grocery store because she had lost her temper and it was not ok to make people around you sad because you aren’t getting what you want. Do you think maybe we can go back today and bring home the cereal?

    I have been blessed/cursed with an unusually long memory, my first verifiable memories I was 18 months old, though I suspect some of them are from earlier. Toddlers are SMART, and they can be reasoned with, but you have to explain everything, and you have to remember its hard for them to respond in kind. I taught my preschoolers basic sign language . . . “eat” “hungry” “thirsty” “ouch” “sick”, etc.

    You can do this mama! You can have a well behaved child without being a disciplinarian. Think “authoritive” instead of “authoritarian.” ;-)

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