Question: My husband and I read your column on spanking. While we don't feel comfortable with the idea of spanking, we feel we need alternatives to timeouts, which is our current form of discipline.
We have two sons: Fletcher, 3 1/2, and Nicky, 2. Fletcher is very bright but is language delayed and is in a program for language delay that seems to be helping him.
Our principle method of discipline is timeouts in conjunction with frequent praise for desirable behavior. The timeouts do not seem to be working for Fletcher. He will often come out of the timeout and immediately repeat the offense for which he had been disciplined.
What alternative methods should we use? We have considered increasing the time of his timeouts, which is currently about 5 minutes. — M.J.B., Dallas, Texas
Dr. Brazelton: The best thing you can do is hold your son or isolate him briefly to stop the bad behavior. Follow that quickly with a hug and explain to him that "Every time you do this, I will have to stop you — until you can learn to stop yourself." I have never seen long timeouts help more than short ones. Fletcher may sense that you feel he is a "vulnerable child" because of the language delay and that you aren't completely certain about how to discipline him. When you are, he'll know it.
Question: My 3 1/2-year-old son still uses a pacifier and wears diapers. I have tried everything to get him to give these up, to no avail. He knows how to urinate in the toilet but only does so when he wants to.
He is very intelligent, so I know it is not because he does not understand.
I want him to get over these things because almost every person we come in contact with comments on how he should not have the pacifier in his mouth and should be a big boy, etc., which I really feel is doing damage to his self-confidence.
He is starting school in September and cannot go with a pacifier or diaper. My sister-in-law has suggested that he is reluctant to let go of his babyhood because of all the attention that is lavished on him. Do you have any suggestions? S.B., Kenner, La.
Question: It sounds as if your sister-in-law may be right: Your son doesn't really want to grow up. Maybe you don't quite want him to, either.
Pressure from you probably means to him that you are pushing him away. My advice is to completely forget the toilet training. You can even apologize to him and say, "I'm sorry I've been so concerned. It's your deal, and I won't mention it again."
If the school can't accept him in diapers, you may have to keep him home for a year or find another school. His self-image must come first.
Getting rid of the pacifier is easier. Find an agreed-upon "lovey" — such as a teddy bear or a doll — that your son can use as a crutch. Tie the pacifier to the lovey until he gets attached to the lovey. Then, try to persuade him to give up the pacifier except at nap time and nighttime. Let him use the other lovey during the day when he needs comfort.
Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, c/o The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168. © T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.