Daycare problems have seen my 2 year old child come home with human bite marks, two that bruised and one that broke the skin. However, the worst was going in to my child’s daycare room and not being able to find him. He had been placed in another room because, as the staff stated, she “feared for his safety.” Another child had become angry, and smashed my child’s head off the concrete wall. The result was that I was now on concussion patrol. The same child, in a fit of rage, tried to claw and hit the staff’s face.
Let’s put aside the questions about where a 2 – 3 year old child learns that kind of aggressive behaviour, and talk about how it’s dealt with in a childcare environment. The events involving my child’s victimization (they advised me that he was being targeted), lead me into a series of discussions with various authorities in both the daycare and educational system. I learned:
- Use of the word “no” is banned. Pardon? This word is a very realistic word, and it is easy for children to understand, there is no confusion created. I’m not saying I want it yelled at the children, or nagged at them, but come on sometimes they need to hear it. No, is a word that they will hear at some point in their lives. I use the words, “no thank you” with my own children. It can even be coupled with a brief age appropriate explanation. For example, “no thank you, it is not nice to hit.” Redirection works for some behaviours, but not all behaviours, and certainly not with all children. Similarly, “gentle hands” sounds nice, but when my child just smacked your child across the face, I can see two problems with the response. First, are you happy with a mild reproach of “gentle hands” when your child is crying and has a red mark? Second, is the hitting child learning anything from the “gentle hands” comment? There are no consequences to the action. At the very least teach the child the importance of a sincere apology. My two year old will give a hug, or a kiss when he hurts someone; when it is an accident he knows to do it on his own, but when it is purposeful I usually need to intervene with a reprimand that includes instructions reminding to apologize. This brings me to the second thing I learned.
- No discipline allowed. For those of you who remember the ruler at school, and the wooden spoon at home, that’s not what I advocate. However, what is wrong with an age and action appropriate timeout? I asked my daycare provider to please time my child out if he misbehaves, and I was informed by the manager that they cannot do that. I find timeouts to be really effective, especially when friends or siblings are continuing on with whatever activity the other child is timed out from. It is a consequence, a punishment. I have two further points on discipline. First, there is a science to effective timeouts. I recommend 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2 – 12 by Thomas W. Phelan Ph.D. It works, and there is also a school/teacher version available. My second point is an example. We were on a park playdate, and my son repeatedly refused to behave, and after a three count he went up over my shoulder crying and kicking. I marched him all the way home like that (two blocks). We got some strange looks, and I missed out on my mom to mom time, but I only had to do it once. The point was made with my child, and it was clear that mom meant business. His friend also listened very well to me after that example was set. An alternative to punishment, leads me to the third thing I learned.
- Even good behaviour can’t be rewarded. I was advised that sticker charts can’t be used to reward good behaviour because of how it might effect a child that isn’t rewarded a sticker. I’m left wondering how these children are going to face the real world!
In summary, don’t say “no”, don’t discipline bad behaviour, and don’t reward good behaviour. What is left? Furthermore, when a child spends 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in the childcare environment how much harder does a parent have to work at home to align or re-align the child’s behaviour in the evenings, or on weekends? It hardly seems fair to the child. The child just spent the bulk of the week in an environment with no solid way to control or manage behaviour. Children are sponges. Child #1 hits child #2, and child #1 isn’t disciplined. Unfortunately, both children are learning that it is okay to hit because there was no consequence to the action, and on, and on it goes. Albert Bandura draws attention to learning through imitation. You can view the Bobo doll experiment at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmBqwWlJg8U
It is important to note that consequences in the form of punishments, and rewards are not a new idea. Most people are familiar with B.F. Skinner and his early learning theory of operant conditioning. It is a theory that involves a relationship between consequences and repetition of behaviour where pleasant consequences are reinforcing (behaviour will reoccur), and unpleasant consequences are not reinforcing (behaviour will not reoccur). Skinner used positive and negative reinforcement, as well as punishment. So, positive reinforcement is a reward (stickers) to encourage the reoccurrence of a behaviour. Negative reinforcement is also a reward, but it is a reward that encourages the reoccurrence of behaviour by removing something unpleasant (not having to set the dinner table, or cut the grass because homework has been completed). On the other hand, there is punishment. Punishment is a consequence (timeout) with a goal of decreasing the behaviour it is punishing.
I read the sections pertaining to verbal or physical degradation, physical punishment, and child discipline in the Alberta Child Care Licensing Handbook put out by Alberta Human Services. I did not find anything specific stating the word “no” can’t be used, nor did I find anything stating no rewards or disciple. The child discipline section stated, “The approach and methods used by a child care program to help children learn appropriate behaviours, develop self-control, and make good choices. Positive discipline gives children a sense of security, protection and creates positive, safe and appropriate environments for children. Any discipline used must be reasonable in the circumstances” (Alberta Human Services 2). This coupled with rules on verbal or physical degradation, and physical punishment still don’t explain why the word “no” is banned, or why timeouts can’t be used (a chair, or spot in the same room as everyone for 1 or 2 minutes), or why rewards like sticker charts can’t be used. Perhaps interpretation is the problem, or perhaps there are rules I don’t have access to. However, I am still left wondering.
Regardless, at home the word “no” is a reality sometimes, behaviour will be disciplined via timeouts in a quiet area, or timeouts from toys/activities. Good behaviour is rewarded. Equally important, life in the real world involves the word “no”, it involves positive and negative consequences, and it involves punishment. I believe that it is important to arm our children at a young age with the tools they need to be successful from the earliest possible age, and learning proper behaviour, and about consequences sets the stage for so much, if not all, of that future success an understanding.
By Shari Marshall – 2016