Book Review- Positive Discipline: The First Three Years

Tiny babies, though extremely challenging in many ways, are easy in one– there is no distinction between their needs and wants, so you don’t have to decide whether or not to give them something they’re asking for. If they are hungry, it’s a need. If they are sleepy, it’s a need. If they’re crying, it’s because they NEED something, even if that need is for some love and connection. Then, when they get bigger, it gets a little more complicated. You have to tell them no sometimes. They actually NEED nos sometimes. When? That’s a little tougher.

So when Jonas first started having wants that weren’t needs and I needed to learn how to say no sometimes, I was happy that Blogging For Books sent me Positive Discipline: The First Three Years to review.

I actually finished reading it several months ago and just haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet (I’m the parent of a toddler, remember!) but we can look on the bright side of that and see what has really stuck with me from it!

Avoid power struggles. If you are caught in a loop of “YES!” “NO!” “YES!” “NO!” with your 2 year old, stop it. Haha, this is easier said than done, but I like a lot of the tools this book provides. The most helpful for me was to “shut up and act.” Instead of sitting across the room yelling, “Get down. I said get down. You can’t be up there. You can’t climb. Get down. Did you here me?! Get DOWN!” walk across the room, say “I’m taking you down because it isn’t safe to climb on the back of the couch” and pick your toddler up and move him. It also helps you think about whether it is worth the effort at all– the book says some of the things we stress out about as parents like eating and potty training go more smoothly if we just relax a little bit.

Distraction is a legit method. I had an idea that distraction was kind of a “last ditch” method of discipline. It felt lazy– like I was avoiding actually teaching acceptable behavior and just thinking short term. This book says that at this age, distraction is ok. They’ll be able to learn more when they’re older. Sometimes distraction is exactly what is needed. Similarly:

Recognize what is age-appropriate behavior. The book explains that many of the things parents see as misbehaving at this age are really just developmentally appropriate behavior. A lot of stuff, little ones don’t even have the ability to understand is not desirable behavior, or if they do, their developmental need to explore stimuli overpowers their ability to not do it. I like the distinction this book makes between developmentally appropriate and situationally appropriate as well. A toddler might not be trying to misbehave by throwing his food but that doesn’t mean he can do it at a restaurant. The book has good advice for teaching that this kind of stuff isn’t appropriate without turning it into a punishment.

My only complaint about this book is related to this. Most of the claims about developmental appropriateness seemed evidence-backed. Some, however, like the age that children should wean and sleep independently, weren’t cited at all and seemed to just be the authors’ opinions and are actually different from real research I’ve read on the topics. The whole book is tied to RIE parenting methods, I believe, which has a lot of great theories but some silly applications. While most of the book was great, these unbacked claims just seemed like the silly parts of what I know about RIE.

Connection before correction. This is one of the most important lessons in the book. Discipline isn’t about punishment or shaming, it’s about teaching. If your kid is acting out, recognize the emotional stress they are in and address it instead of adding more to it. Don’t make it about who the kid IS (like saying “You’re being so bad! Why are you so naughty?!”), but instead about what the correct behavior should be.

Competency Experiences. Also tied to RIE, but presented in a way that seemed reasonable and made a lot of sense. The book talks about giving toddlers the chance to experience what they CAN do. Don’t be afraid of cleaning up flour. Let your kiddo help you mix the cookies. It is a good reminder to not get so caught up in just getting stuff done and to let toddlers learn how capable they are and through these experiences become more capable.

Although much of the book seemed like common sense, the book really reinforced my parenting instincts and also gave me some concrete tools to use.

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