After three kids and 10 years of being a parent, I have finally found something that works for disciplining my preschooler. (At least it works for my current preschooler, that is.)
“You lost ‘mommy playtime.'”
This strategy came out of pure desperation. I have children who simply do not get along. My daughter, who is 7, and my son, who is 4, constantly argue. They will play together for five minutes at the most, and then it is a screaming match. My son has bitten her and physically hit her. It is so unpleasant and frustrating that I cannot leave them alone together in a room.
And unfortunately, my preschooler feels the need to be constantly entertained. I will tell him he needs to play by himself in the playroom, but he just whines and cries that no one will play with him. I am doing my best to mange it. I set timers, I put out new activities, I let him do screen time. It does not matter. Within minutes of being alone, he is at my feet asking for a snack or requesting help with a game or just pretending to be a puppy so I’ll start playing with him.
I am not against playing with my kids. I play with my kids often; however, I am not their playmate or their friend — I am their mother.
So now I am dealing with the difficult and common preschool behavior of “any attention is good attention.” Therefore, bad attention equals good attention in his little 4-year-old mind. This has resulted in a lot of negative behavior — like intentionally irritating his big sister so that mommy will intervene.
The first time I told him he had lost “mommy playtime,” he did not really understand what that would mean — until later that morning when he asked me to play dinosaurs with him. I gently told him, “Sorry, buddy, you lost ‘mommy playtime’ when you screamed at your sister. If you have good behavior for the rest of the day, Mommy can play dinosaurs after dinner.” He sadly walked away with his head hung low. I would be lying if I said I felt bad. No, I felt liberated.
Turns out, he is able to play independently longer than I thought! I am still using this disciplining technique often. The great thing is, if he is having a good day, I can reinforce the good behavior with “mommy playtime” when I am ready. That way, when I am playing with him, it is quality time. I am into the game and enjoy it more myself, because I am ready mentally and physically to play.
After trying so many different methods of discipline, this one worked for me. Give it a try yourself!