Everyone has a slightly different concept of child discipline. Maybe your child's preschool uses time-outs, while your idea of child discipline is positive parenting and gentle redirection. Or the nanny tolerates your toddler throwing food from the high chair, which you utterly forbid.
No matter what your care situation is, at some point your ideas of discipline will differ from your child's caregiver, at least a little. It's clear you need to have an uncomfortable conversation. But how?
Discuss Child Discipline Up-Front
Think back to when you first hired the babysitter or put your child into daycare. Did you talk about appropriate discipline and your expectations for handling misbehavior? I hope the answer is yes, because that will form the basis for resolving differing styles later on.
Ideally, you have child discipline guidelines in writing. Look at your nanny contract or the materials your daycare center or preschool provides to new parents. They should cover age-appropriate ways to set boundaries for children, such as redirecting and distracting a toddler, or offering choices and positive reinforcement to a three- or four-year-old. Youâ€™ll also want to address how to handle biting, pushing, hitting, running in the street, and other dangerous behavior.
Still, you can only anticipate so much about the techniques that will be needed as your child grows. When our middle daughter was in the throes of the terrible twos, counting to three was our lifeline for enforcing rules. But as she grew, we decided we were more comfortable letting her experience the consequences of her behavior, rather than imposing a punishment upon her. After arriving at daycare in her pajamas a couple of times, she dressed at lightning speed in the morning.
Give the Benefit of the Doubt
When you first notice a discipline issue, give your child's caregiver the benefit of the doubt. Is she trying to keep order in a classroom, with little time to coddle a recalcitrant child? Or is she anxious to maintain a loving bond with your child, and reluctant to punish her too harshly?
Make sure you're not holding your babysitter to a higher standard than you follow yourself. We all have days when we lose our patience and put the kid in a time-out just so we can regain our cool.
Are you asking your child's teacher to jump through hoops to avoid disciplining your child? Or, are you expecting her to lay down penalties that you yourself would have trouble enforcing on a crying toddler?
Work Together on Discipline as Your Child Grows
It's important to keep lines of communication open, so you can jointly address changes in your child's development. Sometimes the dos and don'ts you laid out in a babysitter's contract no longer apply or aren't effective in your child's latest phase.
Show respect for the opinion of your child's caregiver. She observes your child all day long and has insight into what works or doesn't. She also, I hope, has experience with other children that may be relevant.
While you are paying for the care, you're not in charge day to day. Ultimately, the caregiver will be the one to implement any discipline while you're at work.
Approach the issue as a joint project, with phrases like, "I wanted your input on how we can keep Stevie from climbing on the grand piano," or "What have you found works when Grace wants three desserts before nap?"
Be on the Same Page, Within Reason
Ideally, you and your child's caregiver would have exactly the same discipline philosophies, and would carry them out identically. But I'm guessing you're not even in that close harmony with your kid's dad, when it comes to parenting approaches.
Explore a range of different discipline styles. Maybe you and the caregiver could read different books and recommend techniques to each other. Some ideas include:
- Redirecting attention from unwanted activities
- Positive reinforcement for desired behavior
- Offering acceptable choices, such as which stuffed animal to sleep with at nap time
- Setting a kitchen timer to enforce the end of an activity
- Sticker charters to encourage rule following
- Time-outs, typically one minute for every year of age
- Losing privileges for bad behavior
- Reasoning and explaining consequences
The goal is to agree on rough parameters for discipline that you both feel are useful and fair. What can you live with?
It's helpful to have consistency between home and care but kids are smart. They figure out exactly how far they can push each adult in their sphere. They'll know what behavior the nanny will let slide that would've bothered you, and vice versa.
Know Your Non-Negotiables
All the compromise and good listening in the world can't bridge some gaps. You may realize that your child's caregiver disagrees with a fundamental principle you hold dear. Maybe it's spanking, or rewarding good behavior with food, or yelling. At that point, you need to draw the line.
Unfortunately, you can't expect your child's teacher or nanny to change. If you make a dramatic stand to lay down the law, the most likely reaction is that she'll agree. And then do her own thing when you're not watching. Which, remember, is all day long. It may not be defiance, but simply slipping into patterns and language that are comfortable.
That's when you must be strong and find someone who's a better fit.