We’re facing the age-old parenting dilemma – how do you effectively punish your children? How do you strike that balance between teaching them boundaries, respect and the difference between right and wrong, but at the same time, not make your home a no-fun zone where you are the dictator? Theoretically, we know what we’re supposed to do. You’ve got to be firm and consistent. Be loving and nurturing. We’ve been taught to count bad behavior – we’ve read 123 Magic – we’ve actually got the book and the DVD. But philosophical guidance does you no good when you are toe-to-toe with a three-year-old, and you are unwilling to let him win. It is the execution of these principles in the real world that is the hardest.
So the trend in our home is Brogan is pretty consistently disobedient. He is in trouble just about every night for one or more (or all) of the following: talking back, not listening, playing with his food, not getting ready for bath, splashing the bathwater, pushing his brother, taking his brother’s toys, crying, whining, screaming, not picking up his toys, not wanting to go to bed, and the list goes on. Typical three-year-old antics. So what do we do about it? We’ve tried counting to three leading to a time-out. The problem with this is that you can’t always do a time-out. If we’re in the car, it’s not feasible. If we’ve just gotten in the bath (and it’s just me and him and Beckett), it’s not feasible. If we just sat down for dinner, it’s not feasible (we’ve tried sending him to time-out during dinner, and this is a sure fire way to ensure he will not eat his dinner). So what are the other options? Taking things away! Brilliant! So we do this – we take his guitars, the stuffed animals on his bed, his tractor Youtube videos, doing fun things (park, pool) etc., etc. This bothers him more than time-out, so we feel like we’re making progress, except… the behavior doesn’t change. Ever. We keep going through the same routine, and he keeps misbehaving. He knows he’s doing it. He shows remorse. But it’s almost like he’s unable to stop the behavior pattern. And so here is my dilemma – are we setting him up for failure when we know he can’t behave? Is it wrong to say, “if you’re a good boy and pick up your toys, we can go to the pool” if, based on past behavior, I’m pretty certain he can’t complete the task at hand? Obviously there are those things that are never acceptable (hitting, for example), but are there some things that we need to let go of? Or do we ride him hard until one day (he may be 16), it just clicks and he listens? One of my biggest fears as a parent is contributing to the “wossification of America” by raising an entitled child who has been babied, has had excuses made for him and sheltered from natural consequences all his life. But I also don’t want to make all fun experiences contingent on him, at three, being obedient. How do you remain consistent without punishing for every indiscretion?
I know there is no right answer. It’s a shame you can’t just reason with them. Sit them down and say, “Hey, here’s the deal. If you do what I say and don’t throw a fit, don’t whine and don’t hit, you won’t have to go straight to bed. You can keep your stuffed animals and we’ll even go to the pool tomorrow!” and their response be “Thank you mommy for explaining it! That makes perfect sense! Of course I’ll be good!” Oh, if it were only that easy. But it’s not. So as parents, without a rulebook, or a handbook, or an instruction manual, we must figure out what in the heck will work for our kids – hoping that we find this magic potion before they’re grown and we’ve screwed them up. And the unfortunate fact is that we may never get it right. In the end, they are unique individuals with personalities; each with a different set of circumstances and needs. I guess all we can do is try our best to solve the riddle, to break the code, to guess the winning numbers. So I’m hopeful, yet realistic, about the prospect of getting this right. But I’m hoping the odds are in my favor.