J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

Time Out

Child discipline is one of those topics that are deeply divisive amongst most people, like de-clawing cats and whether you should or shouldn’t put ketchup on your eggs, and I’ve often strangely found that the loudest and most vehement arguments extend from those without any offspring of their own. But then, one day they find themselves the proud owner of a squalling newborn who grows into a squalling, demanding toddler and suddenly they have to rethink their self-image as the Perfect Disciplinarian. It’s so easy when you’re childless to sit around shooting the breeze with your childless friends about what you would do in any given situation, but once you’re actually confronted with a savagely misbehaving child and faced with that surge of adrenaline and your fight or flight instinct, you find that all your theories and earnest promises to yourself go right out the window, along with your child’s favorite toy and possibly a few locks of your own hair.

My husband and I established early on, way before we’d even brought our son home, that ours would be a non-spanking home. And we’ve stuck to that, though my husband has had his moments when he’s reconsidered, wondering whether it might be just the thing to turn around a child who clearly already thinks corporal punishment is a-okay considering his history of biting, pinching, kicking and hitting. The thing is that you can prepare yourself as much as possible, reading every book available about the best way to discipline a child, but once you actually have the child in front of you, all bets are off. Not to mention that the authors of those books tend to wildly disagree with each other, and occasionally even themselves, sometimes within the same book.

Since we brought home a child of two years of age who had already been unbelievably spoiled by his foster parents and had essentially never received any form of punishment, we had to try several methods before finding the right one to suit his needs, personality, and understanding – particularly as he spoke no English at all to start with. Sadly, brainwashing, while effective, is one of those techniques that will get you a little visit from Child Protective Services, so we had to stick with other options like time-outs, rescinding privileges, removing toys, and spending large swathes of time alone in his room. Unfortunately, this last one is hardly a punishment considering what most kids’ rooms look like these days, filled with toys, computers, televisions, and stereos. What every home really needs is an extra room with no windows, padding on the walls so the child can’t hurt himself when he flings himself at it repeatedly in an attempt to garner your sympathy and attention, and possibly some sort of protective wear to keep him from hurting himself, like, say, a straight jacket.

Not that I’m saying all children are insane and should be locked up, but… well, maybe that is what I’m saying. Certainly children can go through phases of behavior that seem like utter madness to adults.

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of allowing the punishment to fit the crime, which can sometimes be wickedly effective. Although there are some instances, for instance your child attempting to ride your basset hound without a saddle, that don’t resolve well into related punishments, unless you really want to saddle up your kid and let the dog drive him around the house for a bit. Though this may involve much duct tape (to keep the dog on board, of course) and may possibly end badly. One of the most genius moments that I remember of my childhood was the “candy diet” my parents put me on. If I remember correctly, it was after Halloween and I was whining and complaining about not being able to eat all my candy at once so that I’d be up all night barfing it right back up (but damn it, that was my right, having done all that begging to earn it.)

So my parents introduced the “candy diet”, under which rules I was only allowed to eat candy. Nothing else. If it wasn’t sugary or chocotastic, it wasn’t on the menu. I believe I lasted about three days before begging for a plain old sandwich, possibly of the tuna variety. And I still believe that that “diet” is the reason behind my lack of love for chocolate and sweets. You have to admit, it’s pretty genius.

The problem with these kind of punishments, is that the kid has to be old enough to really understand them. Now that my son is five, I think it’s time. If he says something insulting to me, I’ll be walking him to kindergarten in a house-coat and gold lamé leggings, possibly wearing fringed cowboy boots and curlers in my hair. And I can’t wait to make some really thrilling public service announcement-type plays and puppet shows using his favorite characters. No sense waiting until he’s an adult and allowing Hollywood to ruin his childhood heroes, right?

And one day, maybe he’ll even have enough fodder to write a book about his childhood -before he passes these same penal codes down to his own children.

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