Q: My kids, 4 and 3, are very loud. They yell and run inside the house. They bang toys, get into loud conflicts, and my son likes to scare his little sister by growling like a dinosaur. I know most of this stuff is normal, but I’ve got a new baby on the way, and I’m worried that the baby isn’t going to be able to get enough rest during the day. Should I punish or just lighten up?
A: I don’t know if you need to lighten up or not, but you most definitely have the right to protect yourself — and baby-on-the-way — from aural assault. It is not unreasonable to expect children to play quietly. Fun and quiet are not incompatible.
Your kids are old enough to understand the "Three Strike Rule." They start the day with no strikes. When they get too loud, for whatever reason, they both get a strike, no matter who was the louder one or who started it. Just walk in to where they are and say, “That’s strike one,” and walk out. They’ll get it in no time.
When they get to three strikes, they spend one hour in their respective rooms. Use a timer to avoid dealing with “Can we come out now?” The slate is then wiped clean and they start over. If they get to three strikes twice in the same day, they spend the rest of the day in their respective rooms and go to bed early.
That’s a very systematic, yet simple way of dealing with this sort of problem. Done with dispassion and consistency, that strategy should have you saying “There is no place like home!” within a few weeks.
Q: My son just turned 3. When I punish him by taking something away from him (a particular toy or book taken for a day), he immediately follows with "But maybe tomorrow?" like it doesn’t phase him at all as long as he has an end in sight. I have been reticent to do a big bombshell takeaway like you advocate in some of your books, only because his infractions, taken individually, are minor. The worst things are occasionally not listening and an occasional lie (he told me recently that his daddy said he could do something … I found out later his daddy said no such thing). Is it okay to do a dramatic consequence (e.g., no trains for a week) for those sorts of things at this age?
A: To set the record straight, I rarely advocate “big bombshell” consequences with children under the age of 4, and then only for persistent misbehavior that either is or has the potential of becoming serious. You’re not describing anything more than typical “flack.” If you overreact to flack, you are very likely to end up in a major power struggle. Yes, I do advocate nipping misbehavior in the proverbial bud, but you can send the “I won’t tolerate that” message without pulling out a weapon of mass destruction. When it comes to consequences, overkill can create more problems than it solves.
Your son is asking if he can have his toy or privilege back “tomorrow” because tomorrow is about as far into the future as a 3-year-old can envision. In addition, “tomorrow” to a 3-year-old is anything in the future. His question is simply an attempt to make sure that whatever you’ve taken away isn’t gone forever. It merits no concern whatsoever.
When he doesn’t listen right away, take something away until “tomorrow.” When you think he might be lying, just say, “I don’t think so” and walk away. At this age, the occasional lie about small stuff is to be expected. The less a “big deal” you make of these little deviations, the more quickly they will die a natural death.
All told, it sounds like you’re doing fine. Stay the course! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to laugh.