Seeking Alternative Discipline Methods?

guest column
by Nanny Deb
I have a few things I’ve tried over the years that succeeded nicely when I was at my wits end and didn’t have spanking as an option. Of course, the following may or may not work on the kids you care for, so try these at your own risk…

Young M., aged 4, had serious issues when it came to staying out of the street in front of her house. She would dash into the street, risking life and limb, when a ball rolled into the road, or when she saw someone to talk to across the street, or when she felt like investigating the “sparklies” she saw in the blacktop. Her parents were frustrated, and had told me any thoughts I had would be terrific.

Simple explanations of danger didn’t stop her. Strict voices and “nanny eyes” didn’t stop her. Yelling seemed to make her run faster, and keeping her on a long leash was kind of impractical overall. So what to do to keep my darling heedless charge from being flattened like a pancake by the teens who sped through the suburb going 45 mph or more in a 25 mph zone?

One day, after 3 darts into the road and 1 near miss, I took a few deep breaths, made sure my voice was calm, and told her to get one of her favorite toys from the house and bring it to me. When she returned with a large plastic horse, I told her she was going to get to see what happened when a car ran over something smaller than the car.

I strapped her and her older brother into their boosters, backed my car out of the driveway, and then got out and placed that plastic horse directly in the path of my right front tire. I got in, and said, “When I stop the car, you can get out and go get your horse. Remember, the horse will have been hit by my car…”

Vroom. CRUNCH. Coast and brake. Car off, M. and big brother hop out, and seek out the horse. M. sees her plastic horse, and she looks horrified for a moment before wailing, “It’s BROKEN!”

My response? “Yep. That’s what will happen to you if you keep running out in the street and a car hits you.”

There was a bit more wailing, some comforting hugs, and, best of all, a complete cure for the heedless dashes into potential death. The only downside was that big bother kept asking me to “kill” his toys for about a week.

My employers were a bit taken aback, but they said if crushing a toy kept their kid in one piece they were fine with my methods.

Next time, we’ll discuss the basic cure for pooping in underwear rather than a potty!

Nanny Deb
Professional Nanny and Postpartum Doula
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Rebecca said...

Awesome awesome awesome. Can't wait until next time!

AustTXNanny said...

I love it. We did something similar in my three year old room when I taught preschool. We worked out of an office building, so try as we might, there were some areas around the outside of the building that were out of our immediate control. One of these was a gate that we had double latched but that, once breached, led into an underground parking structure.
Kids will, of course, be kids, and one of the students ran under the arm of a parent entering the playground and out into the parking lot! Fortunately, our ratios were high and there was an adult right there to grab the child. Needless to say, once disaster was averted, we all took a moment to be horrified.
The next day, we took one of the plastic beach balls and called all the kids over to watch at the fence. One of our assistants got into the school's van and backed it up over the beach ball and, yep, same result. The kids stayed far away from the gate and always looked at their teacher for conformation before leaving.
As further evidence of this methods efficacy, we had a new student arrive a month later. One of our boys took him to the gate, pointed out between the slats, and said, "If you go out there your head gets squished like a ball."
Yes, we explained it in context so as not to completely terrify the newbie, but that phrase became a favored saying of ours behind closed doors!

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

Hey that is much better than spanking..I think it showed the child the whole cause and effect thing. I just hope she won't miss her little horsey too much. LOL.

unicornsparkleprincess said...

I feel like the only that was horrified by this! I mean I totally understand your point, but couldn't you use NOT her favorite toy? I would think that any toy would have demonstrated your point.

Nanny Eager to Work said...

I agree with you on this unicorn princess. As a child, my parents used to punish me by wrecking my favorite toys. It really emotionally unsettled me as it was very painful to become attached to a favorite toy, then have to lose it by seeing it be wrecked. My parents did this as opposed to hitting me. If I could go back in time, I prefer to be spanked. Physical pain hurts at the moment, then subsides...but emotional pain lingers longer. This was cruel and perhaps a spanking would have been less traumatic for the child involved here.

another nanny said...

Nanny Eager- that is a horrible form of punishment, and one that I do feel is worse than spanking. However, I wouldn't say it's quite the same as what OP did. That was a one-time thing in order to impart a very important (and memorable) lesson about safety, rather than an ongoing form of punishment

Someone's Nanny said...

I think running something over with the car is a great idea, but using the child's favorite toy seems cruel to me.

akpeach said...

I think this was perfect. The child needed it to be one of her favorite toys because it needed to be something she treasured. If she'd had not attatchment to the item then it wouldn't have had the same effect. Also, this child had been running in the street over and over and over, definitely deserving a punishment of some sort. And like the op said, better a favorite toy gone than this child's life gone. I'll keep this in mind in case I am ever in a similar situation.

Alex said...

that is a brilliant idea!! I never would have thought of that but it is a nice visual for a child to see what would happen if they ran out in the street!

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

I think the idea of showing the child what would exactly happen to her if she ran out in the street is an excellent idea since some people learn better from a visual. But I have to disagree that a favorite toy should be used. You can use another tangible object w/out traumatizing her w/seeing her favorite toy get smashed. For an adult, imagine watching your house on fire...burn to the ground while you hopelessly watched?? This is equal to what the child is going through. To a young child, a favorite toy represents comfort and stability.

Leah said...

I'm surprised that you listed that you are a member of the INA.. This doesn't seem like a discipline practice that the INA would endorse or approve of. I could be wrong, but it just seems odd to me.

Not buying it. said...

seems odd to me too.

I don't think this qualifies as a professional form of discipline/learning strategy.

If you had a form of a "crash test dummy" then maybe. Ruining a favorite toy is not ok in my book.

I'm not in agreement of this method. Seems lazy and uncreative. I'd HATE to see OP's potty training philosophy.

Just wondering.... said...

I am probably being dumb here...but what I INA?? On the website sittercity, I have noticed that many jobs require affiliation with this. Anyone?? Thanks so much.

Leah said...

INA is the International Nanny Association. You can become a member... I reccomend it. They are a great resource. They provide standards for both nannies and employers. Their website is

Phoenix said...

This is excellent! Very good lesson. I think you handled it very very well. That is the kind of stuff my parents would do to me. Good job!

Vanessa said...


I have to admit I get pretty graphic when I try to warn my charges about the dangers of climbing up on chairs or jumping from one table to the other, to doing outlandish tricks on their tricycles.

What always works is: "Do you know what's going to happen if you keep doing that? You will fall on your head, break it, get a big ugly boo boo with tons of blood, and you will cry a lot and go OUUCH OUCCCH OWWW a lot."

Usually works...

Vanessa said...

"I'm not in agreement of this method. Seems lazy and uncreative. I'd HATE to see OP's potty training philosophy."

Did it work? Yes? That's all that matters. I'd rather have a child wailing for 5 minutes over a toy that will be replaced eventually, than have the risk of her running out again and getting killed by a car.

Criticisms are useless here. The tactic worked and the child wasn't damaged at all. In fact now she understands losing something dear to her... and the damage cars can do resonates more.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

Thanks to all of you for the feedback. A few things I wanted to clarify, just for the record. Most of this was left out simply because I didn't want to interrupt the flow of the story with minor (IMO) details.

I'd been with M. and her family for nearly a year when this incident happened, and I stayed with them for 4+ years afterward. So I'd been waiting for M. to be smushed by a car (and racking my brain for a solution) for quite a while. :-)

As far as the toy horse was concerned, it wasn't her favorite toy in the universe by any means. Frankly, it was likely the first toy she saw when she entered the house that afternoon, and I wouldn't have ever made her go and get something she was in love with instead.

M. was (and likely still is 11 years later) a very reality-based child. She once completely stymied me by asking me what "imagination" was after I told her to use her imagination! Doing what I did made the danger real to M. in a way that nothing else would.

I also want to reassure those who fear that M. will be deeply traumatized by what I did! She seems to be doing quite well these days, enjoying high school, playing numerous sports, and posting random teen stuff on her facebook page. She was quite excited to get her braces off recently, and hasn't ever mentioned any lingering angst over her plastic toy horse.