Friday, November 14, 2014

How Do You Discipline Your Kids- In Public?

Genmedmom here.

Last week, on my usual Thursday off, I was on kids' dropoff and pickup duty, and I had a very difficult time with pickup.

Both kids are in preschool: Babygirl, almost age 3, loves her Bright Horizons daycare/ preschool, and Babyboy, age 4, is becoming more fond of his public Special Ed preschool program, as his teacher has really connected with him. Getting them up/ fed/ dressed/ out the door is always a bit of a challenge, but manageable.

Pickups, however, are getting dangerous. And not just for me, but also for my mother, who is most often on pickup duty.

Given the timing of school dismissal, we need to pick up Babyboy first, and then swing by Babygirl's school. Since you can't leave a four-year-old in a car by themselves, he has to come in with us to retrieve his sister. For the past month or so, once inside, Babyboy finds something he wants to play with in her classroom, and won't leave. He gets obsessed with completing whatever project he's invented, like lining up the construction toys or building something with Legos. I get it, he's autistic, and tends to have these sort of OCD-like moments. If you try to stop him before he's done with whatever it is he's determined to do, he throws himself on the floor in a tantrum. A loud violent tantrum. Even when he doesn't engage in something in the classroom, when it's time to leave, he gets wild, and runs away down the hallways, laughing at me when I call to him.

Babygirl is also now commonly protesting leaving, and has thrown herself on the floor, or also run away, giggling.

All of this is totally disruptive. Not only for the kids in her classroom, but for everyone in the whole school, as my kids scream and shriek and wreak havoc. Heads pop out of doorways, teachers checking on us, kids asking what's going on. If I yell, I'm just contributing to the mayhem.

Last week was the worst for me. It was him running away, and her tantruming. We were in the hallway, me kneeling on the floor trying to dress Babygirl to go outside, as she rolled around screeching, fighting me. I gave up on forcing her into rain gear (it was pouring) and hoisted her up, flailing and screaming. Meanwhile, Babyboy was running up and down the hallways, throwing himself on the carpet and rolling around, laughing defiantly. I had to chase down my son, grab his arm, and struggle out of the building. This was while carrying Babygirl, her lunchbox, raincoat, and backback.

I lost the backpack somewhere (and didn't realize until we got home), probably when I opened the heavy door. I had to let go of Babyboy in order to open it, and as soon as I did, Babyboy bolted out, across the driveway, and into the parking lot. In the rain.

There were no cars coming at that moment, thank God. But I yelled and yelled: Get back here! You hold mommy's hand in the parking lot! It was a safety issue. I had to get him and us out of the driveway and the parking area, and into the car. I yelled, I threatened, but he would not cooperate. Then Babygirl hurled herself down and I had to wrestle her back up, while attempting to run after a defiantly giggling Babyboy. The more I yelled, the worse he got. I caught him, and fairly dragged him to the car.

Finally, I jammed Babygirl into her seat and buckled her in- safe at least! And threatened to do the same for Babyboy. He got in his seat.

I was fairly shaking by the time I got into my seat. My throat hurt from yelling so much. It was so embarassing... What do the teachers think? What do other parents think?

"You both were very bad today," I admonished. I wasn't sure what else to do. They're in the car, so can't do a time-out. I'm not sure a delayed time-out would be helpful. I think spanking solves nothing, and would look awful in public as well!

They've been much the same for my mother all this week. So me, my husband, and mother have talked about this. We're struck with the difference between the kids when they're together, and when they're apart. One-on-one, they're little angels. Barring hunger or naptime, when it's just one by themselves, they're model citizens.

And, occasionally, they're OK together. I've taken both kids to restaurants, just me and them, and they've been wonderful. Random elderly women have complimented us: "Good as gold!" "So nice to see such good behavior!"

We can't figure out why Babygirl's school pickup has become such a trigger for terrible behavior. Sibling rivalry, like, they're competing for attention? Normal toddler/ preschooler defiance, like,as their sense of self forms and they're establishing independence?

We have consulted with a child psychologist in the past, and we will again. But I know there's alot of experience out there. Anyone else sometimes struggle to control their kids in public? What sort of discipline tactics work?



  1. Sounds like you need some help coordinating the transition with the teachers or support staff. Maybe talk to them and see what has worked in the past for parents in your position (we always feel soo unique and alone in these cases, but I'm sure you're not the first nor the last) or just ask them what they recommend you do. A few of my ideas:

    1. Pick up/ drop off bag - have everything set in her pick up bag in the morning so that when you come in the afternoon, your kiddo and her pick up bag get hurried out of the door and you don't even have to enter her classroom.
    2. A bookbag with the string (it's like a leash, but I don't want to write that, LOL) for your 4 year old. Make it into a game. Like he's an astronaut and this is his antennae that connects him to you the Mother-base and he has a secret mission that can only be completed back at the car if he stays connected.

  2. I'm not any great expert on disciplined, but there are a few things I do to make pick up easier. First, I don't let myself be in a rush. The second you start to get anxious to leave, they start to get completely maddening. I know that's not easy but when I allow myself a little extra time and don't worry about racing home, pick up goes much smoother.

    The other thing I do is that I always keep a snack inside the car, something a little special, as incentive to get back to the car. Nothing too amazing, maybe some Jell-O or something.

  3. What about a special toy that baby boy gets only at school pickup time? He would play with that rather than get immersed in the toys at baby girl's school.
    Also, if they get the concept of time, you could set a timer before going into baby girl's school and make it a game to "beat the clock." If you get back to the car before the timer goes off, they get a special treat.

  4. Would there be any possible way of reversing the order of pick up? That might help mitigate the situation. Could you talk with your daughter's school to see if they can her dress and ready at the front door for pick up? Other possibilities would bring a something from home that is portable to keep you son occupied while getting your daughter, have a small reward in the car for both if one or both are good while being picked up. Punishment is more difficult since it really needs to be immediate especially at that age. However, no cartoons (we only let him watch half-an-hour when he gets home) works for my son, but it doesn't help the situation at the time usually.

  5. Can you have your mother pick up baby girl earlier, first? It may require more driving, but at age 3 years, she doesn't need to stay in school until the end of the day, and it may improve everyone's behavior. As you said, you can not leave them in the car, at their ages it really is dangerous. I would advise against the leash back pack (that someone else mentioned) for an autistic kid, as it may trigger a sensory meltdown and he could actually get hurt. Do either of them respond to reward charts/magnets/stickers? They could get a sticker for being ready to go on time and leaving each school without a fuss. I doubt discipline will help here, but a change in routine, or picking baby girl up without entering the classroom (having her teachers have her ready with her stuff and meeting you at the front door, instead of going inside), might help. Good luck!!! Let us know what helped in the end. You are doing a good job!

  6. Thanks all! These are all good suggestions. I so appreciate people helping us. Before this went up, a friend had suggested a reward system. At first I was resistant to this, as I don't want to make them think they need a reward for basic good behavior. But, I also didn't want to be chasing them down in the parking lot. Yesterday, my pickup day, I offered to take them both to Dunkin' Donuts if they were good, and, they were. They were also good at the donut shop. Of course, that was too big of an incentive, as we can't do that every day! I like the idea of a smaller "prize", like a special (not quite so unhealthy) treat in the car. Or new books. Or even, getting to go to the library to check out books (the library is across the street from her school... I just thought of that one.) I'm not sure that these things will work all the time, but if anything works even close to promising Munchkins, that would be great. (FYI to Cigal MD, would you believe that we have seen several parents leave their very small children strapped inside a RUNNING car parked outside the school, as they run inside to get their kids!)

  7. Only commiseration here. We have the same exact scenario play out every evening at my kids' daycare (3 & 4 1/2 year old boys). They are in the same place, different rooms, so when they are "unleashed" from their rooms they go nuts, trying to go into the infant room where the sleeping babies are, playing with toys, running away from me, taking off the winter gear I painstakingly put on, generally wreaking havoc all over the joint. No other parents have this. I felt like a failure the first time the daycare director had to come and help me get the kids into their coats, but from then on I realized I should welcome the help when available. We are working on the positive reinforcement---if you do good at pick-up you get something special on the way home or at home. And lots of praise for the good behavior days, even repeated to the other parent in front of them when we get home. Praise + sugar is the perfect motivation for 3-5 year olds!

  8. It's the end of the day. They are tired and they've used up their coping skills. I know that external incentives teach the wrong lesson. I also know that for safety and sanity, sometimes we have to do things for the short term, and this is one of those times. They're not old enough to have the conversation you might have with a six-year-old about how to handle this. Is there some food that you're comfortable giving them every day that you can offer as an incentive? Don't know how well the library would work - another space where they have to be quiet and well-behaved might be too much to expect of them at this point.

    Also agree with all the ideas about asking for help from your daughter's school. If the car is already warm and they're squirmy, you can skip all the cold-weather gear. They won't get hypothermia on the way to the parking lot.

  9. Car snacks are KEY. And the reason my car is disgusting.

  10. Lots of good suggestions here. Also, just to recommend it, there is a wonderful time-tested book: "How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk." I am finally getting into it and finding lots of good tips and lots of good ways to see things from my kids perspective. It has also turned me around about "punishment" in general. … It's in workbook format, so it looks longer than it is. I read it at night when I can't sleep and am almost all the way through it.


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