Ground Hog Day Parenting (The Trial and Error Approach to Disciplining Children)

When I was young there was a popular movie called Ground Hog Day in 1993, starring Bill Murray ( the actor who was in the original Ghostbusters movie in 1984). It was playing on HBO channel when I was a kid ( I was a TV couch potato back then when we had Astro) and the gist of the movie is that the main character Mr Phil kept waking up everyday to the same day again and again, repeating it daily and he gets to re-do his reactions to the same scenarios that happens on that one day to get the outcome he desires from each scenario, be it wooing the girl he likes, robbing the bank for money, not stepping into the pothole filled with mucky water, etc). 

Sometimes parenting young children is like that, in principal. It is quite a learning curve to understand our kid’s psychology and why they act that way, or why I myself react in a certain way in response to those events and daily situations involving them. We sometimes feel powerless to dictate our own moods and the out come that ensues from our said reaction to them.

My internal monologue usually goes something like this when faced with a tantrum. “Stay calm Becca, he/she’s only 5/3 years old …’ ,   next thing I know I’ve lost my cool have exploded and Bam! (Not to be confused with the musical Wham!) , the kid’s feel bad, tears were shed, I feel hot, then I myself later feel bad too. Insert drama and cue in back ground music from Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise song with the chorus that goes ” Been spendin’ most their lives livin’ in the gangsta’s paradise..”, dee … dee… dee… dee. .. dee..dee.. dee.. dee.”

Anyway, back to the main point of this article, apart from reading up parenting guidelines on different discipline approaches to kids, I realized I had to apply the approach of the trial and error method in reacting to their actions and learn from the outcome of how I reacted to them, and then try again in future episodes using another approach if the initial outcome was not good.

For example, refer below scenario:

Asking my 3 year old daughter to pick her legos from the floor after she’s done playing, and the mess is akin to a warzone in my house at this point (many legos strewn everywhere). Which approach would you choose:

A. “Girl, please keep the legos back in their box, else later mummy or daddy could step on it and fall down ( I then start to demonstrate stepping on a stray lego and falling down awkwardly.., trying to get her to empathize.)
Outcome: 3 year old looks back at me with a slight smile and sings a tune and very very slowly picks only one lego up and purposely walks super slow to the storage box keep it.

B. “Girl,  please keep the legos, else there will be no ice cream after lunch today, I mean it you know ( looks sternly at her).
Outcome: 3 year old whines “I want ice creammme … mummy !”
Mummy: “Then you have to keep your legos! Quick.”
3 year old: Starts keeping the legos ( faster than option A , it is from my past experiences with her that I’ve learned my daughter is very much motivated by her tummy. Some kids want TV time, books, toys etc, well my girl wants her food).

C: “Girl! Keep the legos now, why all over the house, even in the kitchen, KEEP NOW! Else I will tell daddy” (Spoken words are angry and loud, in a threatening demeanor)
Outcome: 3 year old: Looks worried, starts keeping out of fear, but being stubborn, and still keeping slowly ..
Mummy: “Faster girl, else later you sit at the time out corner if you still purposely slow to clean up your toys.”
3 year old: “I don’t wannnnt mummy!” , she upset but still being stubborn, usually this will end in a punishment if mummy and daddy are also in a bad mood.

D: “Girl, can help keep the legos, kor kor (big brother in chinese) you too, help your sister. Once the floor is clean we can eat lunch then have ice cream after that yeah.” (Mental note to keep voice matter of fact, not angry, not sweet, tone of voice is important, it’s needed to sound serious and not jovial in these situations.)
Outcome: 3 year old starts keeping, but seeing her brother keep some motivates her to keep her toys faster, the job gets done, floor is clean, both get ice cream after lunch as promised by mummy.

So, which works on your kid? Each kid is different and my second child is a very stubborn and also, very playful and charming young lady ( she knows how to twist people around her little finger I tell you and she gets away with it, be warned ). So this approach will not be used for my older more logical and accommodating boy. Partly also, its due to age where she is only 3 years old. One way on how to know which approach is best, by by reliving and analyzing each past scenario and also knowing your kids well.

Other forms of Punishment
Of course, in most Asian homes, there is Mr Rotan (aka the cane) also but we have very much limited the use of /sparingly use the cane unless it is of the most severe act of disobedience and when all the other methods do not work. We do not abolish it, but I am aware that most the parenting discipline guide lines do not condone it due to the potential long term psychological impact.

Other methods include to take away something they like when they misbehave, or reward them with something good when they do behave or do unexpected good things, or to punish by sending them to sit at the time out corner till they calm down, and the list goes on. Do check out also the positive parenting methods online, though I do follow only partial or their methods on our kids, and the rest is a mix of other methods that we’ve learned through the years.

However one key thing is to not threaten and don’t follow through with the threats, as the kids will then figure out that we do not mean what we say.  So we try to be careful with what we choose to remove from them when they misbehave, and know that its something we can follow through with ( example we won’t threaten that we will not see their uncle that night when we know for sure we will be going out to visit their Pak Pak and Pak Mei in the evening).

Let Them Feel their Emotions
One very important thing in reacting to them or after disciplining them, I learned though, is to allow your kids to be frustrated and angry and let them feel all the emotions inside and process through it. They will eventually need to learn how to manage their emotions when they are older.

So, validate their feelings, and talk them through it if you have the time, we try not to downplay their feelings or shut them up, unless situation does not permit it. After that, tell them you love them although you are sad about what they did, and talk to them to make sure they understand what happened and why they are being punished.  Also, ask them to say sorry if it was their fault, especially if it was a fight between their siblings, or to the family member they have grieved.

So, I am still analyzing the kids based on their indviduality, and figuring out what works for each kid. Most importantly, your spouse has to be on board with your methods and we work as a team, as parenting is one hard journey (especially with a 5, 3 and 1 year old living under the same roof), and you really need your partner as backup.

Pick Your Battles and final thoughts

Of course, all the above is easier said than done, and sometimes we fail (myself included) by exploding out at them and losing control of how we react. Other times, if the act itself is not too big of  a deal, we may let it slide and lose some battles, or a better way to put it is to ‘pick your battles‘, as not every battle the parent will win, and this is okay.

Happy parenting and good night.

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