Sunday, May 01, 2011

The reluctant lords of discipline

“Don’t you dare,” my wife Kara said. “This is your warning.”

Our son Evan stared at her, not breaking eye contact as he slowly pushed his plastic Sesame Street guitar off the coffee table. It landed with a thud on the dog, who scrambled across the room to find an area less likely to play host to a toddler’s experiments with boundaries and gravity.

You have to feel for the dog that lives in a house before the baby comes along. Two years ago, nobody gouged Memphis’ eyes or bounced toys off her back, and I can’t recall ever using her fur as a handhold to pull myself up to a standing position.

“Ahhh, what a sweet gig,” the dog thinks, quietly chewing her Nylabone, blissfully unaware of the tail-pulling maelstrom to come.

Then again, two years ago, nobody dumped full bowls of macaroni on the floor, so from the dog’s point of view, this whole thing is probably a wash.

“Okay, you’re going to the Naughty Step,” Kara said, taking a newly penitent Evan by the hand and leading him to the Staircase of Discipline.

“I’m putting you on the Naughty Step because you didn’t listen to Mommy and you kept pushing your toys off the coffee table,” she said.

Evan looked at her with giant eyes as Kara walked away and gave me the signal to put one minute on the timer. To my amazement, Evan sat there on the step, tapping his feet against the riser to pass the time.

Viewers of the show Supernanny might recognize Kara’s techniques, since we lifted them directly from the eponymous British taker-of-no-guff. We thought it seemed like a good idea to try the Supernanny’s methods, mainly because she’s British, and everyone knows that British people are awesome at discipline, probably from all those years of forcing kids to eat British food.

So far, it seems to be working. Evan knows the routine, and threatening a timeout is all it takes to end the current game of whack-a-dog. Still, I can see why some parents are scared to discipline their kids. The first time I gave Evan a timeout, I felt reluctant, worried that someday he’d end up complaining to his therapist about his tyrant of a father who never let him smear toothpaste on the couch.

But then I remembered the pushover parents of some of my friends in high school. There always seemed to be an inverse relationship between the amount of discipline in a house and the likelihood of having an infestation of drunken teenagers in that house’s basement. I mean, until we came over and kicked out the bad kids so that we could play chess.

Before Supernanny, back when Kara and I didn’t have any canine or human minions but were toying with the idea of both, we’d watch Dog Whisperer to get ideas on handling pooches. I’m realizing now that a listing of our DVR queue over the past few years would serve as a comprehensive history of our anxieties.

But then Memphis turned out to be a well-adjusted dog with no obvious psychoses, so Dog Whisperer became less fun to watch. Plus, the Dog Whisperer’s methods didn’t translate well to parenthood. Making a “tsssst” sound and poking Evan in the chest never really turned him into a more submissive pack member.

When his minute was up, Kara knelt in front of Evan. “Can you say ‘sorry’ to Mommy for not listening to her?” she asked.

“Dawy,” Evan said, and they hugged. Then he was back to his toys, lesson learned and incident forgotten.

After Evan went to bed, we watched an episode of Jersey Shore, and I really hope we didn’t learn anything that might ever apply to real life.

You can put Mike Todd on the Naughty Step at


  1. Poor Memphis. We used to not be able to go to the bathroom without the pooch having to be right there with us (now it's a toddler). These days I forget we even have a dog because he would rather hide in his crate all day hoping Parker has forgotten that he exists.

    Maybe I should watch Supernanny. We haven't implemented the time outs yet. Frankly, I'm just too lazy when there's a 6 week old to care for.

  2. Sheleatha -- When there's a 6-week-old in the house, there's no such thing as lazy. Congratulations on your new baby!