His & Hers: Parenting to distraction

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller use this space to offer their views on everyday issues.

SHE SAID

Already the difference in parenting styles is apparent. Bob and I generally have the same values. We share the same interests -- even the same profession. But he has two tendencies when it comes to disciplining Dawson that absolutely drive me bananas. First and foremost, if you have raised children, you know that it isn't really possible to discipline a 1-year-old anyway.

At the same time, common sense tells us we can't let Dawson do whatever he wants, especially because he shows a remarkable talent for finding electrical cords and tipping over the trash can. Bob has two weapons in his parenting arsenal for situations that require daddy/Dawson intervention.

SCENARIO NO. 1: Dawson abandons his toy and crawls quickly across the living room to the entertainment center where he attacks the DVD player.

Bob (from the sofa): "No, Dawson." No (as in none) is precisely the response this garners from Dawson.

Bob (slightly louder): NO, Dawson!

Devious Diaper Boy continues to bang on the DVD player.

Bob (slightly louder but still sitting on the couch): NO, NO.

And on it goes, until Bob is yelling and Dawson is laughing at this hysterical display from Daddy. What is the point, I ask Bob. His reasoning? "He has to learn what no means." I would argue that what Dawson needs to learn in that situation is not to bang on the DVD player, but hey.

SCENARIO NO. 2: This situation occurs after Bob does get up and physically separates Dawson and the DVD player, usually by placing Dawson in his nursery. The nursery, I might add, is completely child-proof and full of colorful, noisy, allegedly entertaining toys -- none of which Dawson has any interest in. Therefore, his response is predictable. It goes something like this: ARRGGGHHHGHGGHGSGH!!!!! Followed by a lot of crying.

Cue Bob: ARRGGGHHHGHGGHGSGH!!!!!

Yes, Bob's response is to mimic Dawson. This, Bob tells me, is so Dawson can hear what he sounds like and will therefore be discouraged from continuing the unpleasantness. Bob uses this same tactic with his 11-year-old son Drew when he's unhappy about doing a load of dishes or not getting to stay up until 11. I don't know which of us finds it more annoying, the boys or me. Instead of one child whining, I end up listening to two.

My own solution to the Dawson discipline dilemma is not foolproof, I admit. I do what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for babies this age: I distract. When I see Dawson on the verge of doing something he shouldn't, I immediately attract his attention with a toy or new activity. The problem with this is that I spend a whole lot of my time running around trying to constantly entertain him -- and I have to say, my form of entertainment apparently isn't nearly so funny to him as listening to Daddy yelling "no" over and over.

HE SAID

Eventually Dawson will learn what "no" means. He will never learn if he's never heard the word. Imagine, a year from now, Dawson's ready to run out in the street. Instead of reacting to "no" I'll have to "distract" him by running back into the house to get a squeaky toy. Or when he's 7 and wants Mommy and Daddy to buy him a cell phone, I'll have to jump into a clown suit and begin a juggling routine. Sure, my method may not work yet. But eventually it will. At least I hope.

Callie Clark Miller is the special publications managing editor for the Southeast Missourian. Bob Miller is the editor of the Southeast Missourian. Reach them at cmiller@semissourian.com and bmiller@semissourian.com.

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