A while back, I wrote a three-part guide to disciplining your children. In the first part, Understanding your toddler, I explained a child’s understanding of the world. In the second, The Fundamentals, I explained the theories underpinning different forms of discipline. And in the third, The Naughty Step; or, How smug am I?, I explained why I’m the king of infant behaviour modification.
Actually, not quite. I wrote the first two thinking I was doing really well at this parenting thing and I could share these techniques with other people. And then life happened, and the nice, obedient little girl I was looking after turned into a massive arsehole that I was incapable of controlling, and I didn’t really feel like finishing a series that would make me a fraud.
The Naughty Step has remained my principal means of disciplining my kids, however, and I stand by it’s utility, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it’s working.
The theory is pretty simple – the best form of discipline is a combination of love withdrawal (punishment) and induction (guilt), and the Naughty Step fulfils both criteria. You first get down on their level, get their attention, and warn them that if a particular behaviour continues, you’ll put them on the Naughty Step. If they then do the behaviour, for example hitting their sister, you put them on the Naughty Step and say, ‘I am putting you on the Naughty Step for X-number of minutes [equal to their age] because you hit your sister.’ Then you turn around and walk away.
You ignore all the crying, shouting and screaming. Every time they get off the Naughty Step, you put them back on it without a word or eye-contact, and restart the timer. This is very difficult at first – when I started it with my eldest, I had to put her back more than sixty times. After a few days, she no longer got off that step.
After the allotted time has elapsed, you get back down to their level and repeat the reason they’re there: ‘I put you on the Naughty Step because you hit your sister. We don’t hit people. Okay?’
Then you get them to say sorry, hug and kiss, draw a line under the incident and move on. No lingering nastiness, no lasting discomfort – crime, punishment, atonement, forgiveness, restoration, all in the space of a few minutes. It’s a remarkably effective tool and just the threat of the Naughty Step is normally enough to prevent behaviour escalating to inappropriate levels.
At least, it was an effective tool, until today, when my children broke it.
‘You really need to go and tidy your playroom,’ I said.
‘Girls, I’ve asked you three times already to tidy your playroom.’
‘Right. If you don’t tidy your playroom, you’ll both go on the Naughty Step.’
With lots of sighs and moody hand gestures, they turned and left the room.
After a few minutes I thought it was suspiciously quiet, so I went to see what they were doing and found them both sitting on the Naughty Step.
‘Why aren’t you tidying your room?’ I asked.
‘We’ve decided we’d rather sit on the Naughty Step,’ said my four-year-old.
‘Oh,’ I replied. ‘Well, go and tidy your room.’
‘No, we’ll just stay on the Naughty Step.’
‘Go and tidy your room or I’ll, I’ll -‘
‘You’ll put us on the Naughty Step?’
Bugger, I thought, they’ve outsmarted me!
What do you do when your kids aren’t afraid of the Naughty Step anymore!?