Don’t Stress Mama: Good Behavior Progress is a Spiral


When working on obedience with your child, progress is a spiral. Good behavior comes in stages. Positive results from discipline happens incrementally.

Spiral staircase

As you walk up a spiral stair case, you might at times feel like you are moving further from your goal than closer to it.

Working toward getting your child to obey and implementing discipline strategies can be much the same way.

“…acquisition of new skills never proceeds in a straight line. Progress is more like movements along a spiral, which sometimes advances toward and sometimes recedes from the goal while oscillating upward until mastery is achieved…both [success and failure] are a part of the upward progression leading to mastery”.

On Becoming Pottywise page 86

Children are constantly testing their boundaries. One of my best friends also follows Babywise and has a son 9 months younger than Brayden. We were very interested to see that as our boys got older, they would be little angels, then start really testing boundaries and pushing the limits.

It is normal to have days (or stretches of days) where things just seem to have fallen apart. It happens over and over again in parenting, with everything from sleeping to discipline. You just have to be consistent and plug through. As you are consistent and show your child exactly where the boundaries are, your child will go back to his normal, happy self.

Why Children Disobey

There are a few reasons for this behavior.

  • You are allowing too many freedoms (click to read more on that) or too many choices (click to learn how many is too many). As I have said many times, misbehavior in your children is often really your fault. You are at the root of the problem. I know that sounds harsh, but as parents, we have to step back and recognize that. Once you change yourself, your child will follow suit. I think it happens because our child is being so good that we start to either relax our rules or offer more freedoms than our child is ready for. So first evaluate yourself.
  • Disobedience is often in conjunction with your child learning a new skill. Some skills bring with them a whole new world of options. Take crawling or walking. Your child has new mobility and can reach new heights. There are things neither of you have had to address yet because they have been non-issues. So you need to address them. Other skills can bring a degree of danger. Take climbing stairs. Boundaries need to be set for when your child may and may not climb the stairs. Your child wants to work on these new skills. You just need to take some time and effort setting the new boundaries.
  • It is just the way it is. People push the limit. For example, let’s examine the behavior of an adult driving. You want to get from A to Z as fast as possible. You start out driving the posted speed limit. After some time, you start going 5 mph over. Then you start to go 7. Then you push it up to 10. Then you might even get so you don’t even really have a regard for the posted speed limit. Then you get pulled over and pay a hefty fine. So you go back down to the posted speed limit. Many adults will find themselves soon pushing that limit again. It is in our nature as humans to push limits. That doesn’t mean it is what we should do or that we should accept the behavior from our kids, but it is what it is. It doesn’t mean your child is as terrible person or that you are an incompetent parent, it just means that is going to happen sometimes. Read here to know what to do when your child pushes limits

As those limits get pushed, it feels like our child is regressing in their discipline. In reality, it goes back to progress being a spiral (see Progress is a Spiral). It seems like you are moving away from your goal, but you are still moving up and toward it. Your child pushes the limits. You evaluate your behavior and the behavior of your child. You correct and get everyone back on the right track. You have moved up a step through this limit pushing. Learning has happened on the part of all parties and you are a little closer to your child being able to govern herself. So when your previously perfect angel child starts throwing fits or telling you no, remain calm and press forward. You will get past it and all will be stronger for it.

Do you need help implementing a discipline strategy? Read my post on Discipline: Step-By-Step Process. You can read all about my discipline methods in How I Discipline Without Spanking.

I am currently reading The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. To my surprise, progress is a spiral was mentioned by the character Clifford. I thought I would share:

“You are aware, my dear sir,–you must have observed it in your own experience,–that all human progress is in a circle; or, to use a more accurate and beautiful figure, in an ascending spiral curve. While we fancy ourselves going straight forward, and attaining, at every step, an entirely new position of affairs, we do actually return to something long ago tried and abandoned, but which we now find etherealized, refined, and perfected to its ideal.” (page 270)

When working on obedience with your child, progress is a spiral. Good behavior comes in stages. Positive results from discipline happens incrementally.

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