Monday, January 31, 2011

Being a Tiger Dad

With so much in the news and blogs about some Tiger Mom, I thought I would write a post about parenting. Over the years, I have had a lot of time to reflect on parenting and how effective it was. My first parenting experiences came from the hands of my parents raising me and a younger brother. Looking back, they gave me a lot of freedom to do things and to make my own mistakes but they also were masters at choosing their battles and knowing the right time to step in and nip things in the bud. So when I found out that I was going to become a parent, I knew I wanted to model myself after them. I also decided that I was going to never spank my child.

Spanking is a form of discipline that seems rooted in fear. I am bigger than you and I will hurt you if you disobey me. It just never seemed like the proper attitude to take towards discipline. My parents spanked me on occasion, probably less than a half dozen times my whole life, but enough to get a taste of it. While I don't think I carry any scars, psychological or physical from those spankings and I still love my parents, I just still feel that making someone fear you if they do wrong is not the right way to go. I also didn't want to become like 90% of the parents around me. So many times I see kids running around acting horribly and parents shouting idle threats at them. The kids rarely listen and if they do, only for seconds before continuing to do what they were doing. Occasionally the rare parent steps up and will discipline the offending child by giving them a timeout, verbally dressing them down or spanking them, but rarely does the punishment stick. The kids quickly realize that the punishment is fleeting and go right back to what they were doing. With this in mind, I became a parent and found a way to avoid these pitfalls.

The first lesson I imposed upon my daughter is that tantrums are not acceptable behavior. If she has a melt down, she has two choices, to stop or to go to her room and only a few seconds before I decide for her. At first, I ended up choosing and to her room she would go and I would shut the door behind her. She quickly learned that she could immediately get up and open the door to make sure we heard her displeasure and since her door didn't have a lock, it forced me to stand and hold the knob from turning. It was very hard at first standing there listening to your daughter cry and scream but it got easier. I don't mean that I became insensitive to 'locking' my daughter in her room but rather it took a lot less time for her to calm down or better yet, she began choosing to not have a tantrum in the first place.

This works great at home but the first downfall I see among other parents is what happens on the road. The child is smart and knows that parents are hesitant to discipline their children in public and thus knows he can get away with misbehavior. I see parents resorting to idle threats of when we get back home but from the look and behavior of the child, everyone can tell they are idle threats. My daughter tried this several times when she was younger but she found out she had the same two choices, stop or go to the car, stand outside our of earshot from everyone else, or some suitable place where she wouldn't disturb the peace of everyone else. That meant that by necessity I was in for some real head pounding moments listening to her scream in the back of a car while I sat up front waiting for her to give in but it drove home the point that no matter where we were, at home or on the road, tantrums were not acceptable.

Like tantrums, getting your child to do something you request, can be challenging. Children are smarter than we give them credit for and are constantly pressing the boundaries to see what they can get away with. A coworker of mine had a son whom I have had the displeasure of meeting more than once outside of work. Every time, the evening is filled with the parents repeatedly asking their son to do or not do some action followed by him disobeying. I have solved that problem by only giving my daughter one chance before disciplinarian actions are taken. Initially I started the backwards count from three after letting her know exactly what the disciplinarian action I would be taking if I reached one. She let me get down to one several times to check that boundary only to see me carry through with the action. It didn't take but a handful of times before I only had to say the word three and she would jump into action. Eventually she progressed to the point where now all I have to do is ask and she obeys. I love being in a group of parents and children where the parents are constantly yelling at their kids it is time to go only to repeat it again minutes later when their child still has not come. I just have to tell my daughter it is time to go and she comes immediately. She can voice her displeasure and does so but she comes without me repeating myself. Occasionally though she still chooses to be stubborn and forces me to start counting and lately will even wait until the last possible moment. I have solved that by shaking things up a bit and not giving her the three second count down. I ask her to do something and then disciplinarian actions occur immediately if action hasn't occurred.

Before I come across sounding like an authoritarian always disciplining my child, let me explain a concept in which I sincerely believe in. I choose my battles. For example, when she was younger and still to this day, she is not allowed to go closer than the crack in the driveway to the road. This of course is for her safety and the peace of mind of drivers going by and seeing a child running down the driveway towards the road. She is not allowed to violate this space or playtime is over and we are going inside. This is a battle that I will always fight because it is for her safety. However, if she requests that I adjust the temperature of her bath water for the tenth time so that it is precisely the temperature she wants, I generally give in. I could draw the line and pour the water luke warm water over her head to wash her hair while she screams that it is too hot or too cold but at the end of the day, I just would rather give her a bath while she is happy. I know that if I get her riled up about the water temperature, she will stay riled up for the next three things and drag this ordeal out for the next hour because she is stubborn and can. It just isn't worth the battle. I let her win a few battles and I win a few battles and we both stay happy. I just won't tell her that I win all the battles that are important.

Another big tool in my arsenal is to use positive discipline and the most effective one right now in an ever changing tool kit is to race. Our conversation will generally go like this:

Me: Put on your shoes it is time to go.

Daughter: I don't want to go.

Me: I'll race you! (in my most positive upbeat attitude)

At that point she will race to get her shoes on faster than me and I always deliberately let her win. (Again, I'm choosing my battles.) I carry on this in almost every aspect of life from combing hair to picking up toys. I'll clean the dishes while you pick up your toys and we will see who gets done first. It is positive and it works. If I were to simply demand that she put her shoes on and then go to harsher tactics, I'm creating a bluff that she may call is she gets smart to it. If she doesn't get her shoes on, what am I going to tell her? She can't come with me? She has to go without shoes? Both aren't options the majority of the time so  rather get myself in a situation where I have to backtrack on my disciplinary action, I choose to  use the positive route. Other positive 'carrots' to dangle in front of them is a favorite treat, playing their favorite game, or numerous others that I come across in our daily lives and make a mental note of to use to my advantage later.

Another thing that I use in my tool kit to discipline my child is loss of privileges or items she holds dear. If she doesn't carry through with a request, I tell her I will take a item she holds dear and keep it. This is an ever changing list of things as she grows in and out favor of various objects. Right now her favorite object if the board game Chutes & Ladders which you know from my previous post is no favorite of mine and thus a win-win situation should she lose it. She has lost the game only twice since I've starting using it as the discipline and in both cases, it has required very good behavior, quite a bit of time usually on the order of a day or two, and an apology to get it back. Sometimes I have to add a couple more items to it if she is on a stubborn streak and it takes upwards of a week to get them all back.

Looking back at the past four and a half years, I think I have started off well. My daughter is well behaved among other children and after the initial trying the boundaries phases, won't make me repeat myself or count down very often. But that doesn't mean that disciplining has stopped altogether because it hasn't. My daughter is smart and like a game of chess, she is always trying to find ways to outsmart her old man. Right now her favorite tactic is to push the boundaries when my wife is home. Since my wife isn't here everyday at least for the next seventeen months, my daughter will often try to get away with things. Battles that I let my daughter win such as the temperature of her bath water are ones that my wife doesn't. As a result, my daughter often gets into tantrums only when my wife is at home. I for the most part try to stay removed because at the end of the day, my daughter needs to respect all adults, not just me, and especially her mother. She has to learn that no two people are alike. It is also a learning experience for my wife because she was disciplined in a completely different manner as a child than myself or how I have disciplined our daughter. She too needs to learn the concept of choosing her own battles lest every thing becomes a battle.

So those are my tips on being a Tiger Dad to my daughter. It may not be the best way but it is the best way I've found and when I compare the results against other kids and myself when I was a kid, I know my daughter is on the right track. She is absolutely no questions asked a daddy's girl so I know that I'm not too strict and when other parents ask me my secret to parenting when seeing my well behaved daughter among their unruly brood, I just smile and tell them that I just be a parent to my daughter. It is the toughest job I have ever had and yet the most gratifying. I wouldn't change it for any other job in the world.


geri said...

Awesome post Ed! Spanking doesn't work for my son as well, so is yelling. I remember your tip about racing and still works to this day =) Evan also acts up when his father is around and demands more attention from him.

sage said...

Good post... I too never did spankings with one exception... when my daughter was about 18 months old, she was challenging me by trying to stick a toy in an electrical outlet. After telling her no, she did it again and I picked her up and popped her butt and she was more shocked than frightened (I too was shocked) but she stop a very dangerous activity.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

Sounds like you are off to apretty good start. I confess to being less tolerant sometimes and my kids felt the occasional swat, but what you're doing seems effective, keep it up (and follow up after some more months to see if what works now will work then-- my kids were ingenious about finding ways around discipline.)

Ron said...

I often marvel at some peoples' notions of how to parent. Not in the sense that I think there is a definite right or wrong way to do it, but there are some practices that are clearly ineffective.

People! If you aren't going to follow through on those threats, then please stop yelling!

I think you've got the right idea... it's the approach I take too.


TC said...

I don't see any problem with spanking myself.

My parents spanked me less than a dozen times. They didn't need to. It wasn't about fearing them, it was about feeling like I disappointed them. I knew what I was and wasn't supposed to do, and when I pushed the boundaries, I knew that, too.

I don't care so much which manner of parenting people choose, so long as they don't make the idle threats. If you say you're going to spank, spank. If you say you're going to have a timeout, have a timeout. If you say you're going to have to go to the car, go to the car. Etc., etc., etc. The idle threats not only don't work that time, but they damage future discipline.

Thomas Matlack said...

Some great thoughts here: Daddy Up ( and/or Daughter Knows Best ( and Raising Boys: A dad’s parenting advice for moms"