Toddler Discipline: The Parenting Doctor (Ann Corwin) On Why Super Nanny Doesn't Help Parents and What You Can Do Instead

Suzanne Murray

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The Child Connection DVD; Amazon
Disciplining a toddler can be tough, but closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears and pretending your kid isn't misbehaving isn't really an option (at least not an effective one). Today, Ann Corwin Ph.D, M.Ed, a.k.a The Parenting Doctor, shares her philosophy. See what she has to say -- maybe it will help you and your "little angel."

You're not a big fan of the Super Nanny, why not?

Not everything the Super Nanny advocates is bad. But, she gives enough information that is inaccurate to make me want to inform parents to watch that show with a discerning eye. My biggest complainant is that the show depicts her as the professional ‘fixer' of these terribly inept parents. That goes against my core belief that all parents want to be good parents, and it's not the job of professionals to fix families -- it's our job to support them, give them tools, and help them feel good about changing their own families themselves. By rolling her eyes and saying she needs to go back to the family to save the day, it tells all parents they don't know enough to be good parents. That, to me, is a slap in the face of parents everywhere.


At what age should parents start disciplining a child? 

You can begin elementary discipline at about six months, but rather than depending on exact chronological ages, look for the signs that your child is ready. When she crawls over to light sockets and you say, "No, no" and she looks back at you -- that is when discipline begins. Discipline means to teach so your child can follow, so as soon as your child can follow your directions it is time to help direct them.

How would you describe the parenting approach you advocate?

My parenting approach is based on the simple cycle of life; which I formulated after 15 years of experience as a childbirth and postpartum educator. The easiest explanation is learning the following three things:

  • Attachment happens in pregnancy, as a child literally cannot survive without being attached to a maternal cord.
  • A child then has to separate at birth or they will not survive. 
  • If a child does not re-attach after birth they will not thrive in order to sustain life. 

If a parent knows that whenever they are teaching their children expected and respected behaviors they have to attach-separate-reattach and exactly when and how to do this it builds a terrific self-confidence in parents to manage their own family in their own way.  So this is a form of discipline, but more importantly it is a way of looking at the patterns of behavior in yourself and your kids for optimal connections between everyone in the family. Understanding how kids connect with their parents and how to specifically optimize that is key to my parenting approach.


What role do rewards play in discipline?

Basically our whole world is based on rewards. If you go to work, you are rewarded with a paycheck. If you volunteer, you are rewarded with a smile and a thank you hug. Since reciprocal relationships with others are crucial for survival, as we are not isolationists by nature, we all watch for how others relate to us when we give of ourselves to them. We wait for a reward in everything we do! But there still are two problems I see with rewards for children and the first one is parents wait way too long to give rewards to kids. For example, wanting a young child to have ‘20' marbles in a jar and parents take them out and put them in all week depending on how the child behaves. This is like your boss telling you you'll get a bonus after you've been working for him for 9 years and if you mess up along the way you may never get it.  Crazy making in my opinion! 

Secondly, parents forget the most powerful reward for a child is time and attentio. It is not giving or taking away ‘things' that change behave in children, it is understanding what makes my parents (or anyone for that matter) want to be with me.  Rewards are tricky things and if not interrupted accurately can be misused, but if used logically can be tremendous incentives.


Are consequences effective?

Once a child can use reason and logic, parents have to use consequences otherwise it won't make sense to their kids. It is just like as adults we know exactly "why" we have to stop at a red light. We may be late for work or to pick up our kids and so we get mad if we have to stop, but we do it anyway, because we know the consequences. No one needs to tell you that if you run that red light you may kill yourself, someone else, have to go to traffic school all day on the Saturday or your insurance will go up. So, you stop yourself by talking to yourself about these consequences in one split second before that light turns red.

This is exactly what kids don't know how to do and parents need to teach them. Kids cannot regulate or stop very well (regulation of behavior is not functioning at it's highest level until about the age of 25) and the best way is to teach them is by associating for them what will happen if they don't stop. Threatening is not giving consequences, as all that does is stress a child out. Healthy consequences are telling your child beforehand what is expected, not connecting with them ‘during' the misbehavior and giving a consequence based on your child's own motivation to do something with you their parent (that's when you say no) or with their peers as they get older.


What are some examples of the kinds of consequences that are appropriate for  toddlers?

The natural and logical consequences for children come from how close they feel to their parents when they communicate appropriately and how they feel further away from their relationship with their parents when they bahave inappropriately. In other words, parents, if your toddler hits their brother, you should pick them up from behind, don't talk to them or look at them in the heat of this moment, so your child doesn't feel a connection with you when they hit and hurt their sibling. Then logically give consequences when your toddler gently kisses their sibling by talking, looking at and touching them right after they've given loving attention to their sibling.


If you'd like to learn more from about discipline from Dr. Corwin, check our her site The Parenting Doctor.

How do you discipline your toddler?










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