Monday, January 05, 2015

Punishments: Making Rules Real

First time experiences are always remarkable.  People think of their first sleepover, first puppy, first crush, first kiss, first time driving their car, first beer. The list goes on.  Issuing punishment certainly falls in this category.  I think less of it now, but I do recall the very first time.

Paul was nearly 3. We had just learned about using rules versus negotiating with our boys.  And he had hurled a heavy toy against the wall with gusto.  Big laugh, and the prospect of a repeat performance.

So here we go, I thought…

I pulled him aside, "Paul, the rule is we don't throw things in the house.  These are 80 year old walls and that truck will put a boo boo in the wall.  So repeat after me, 'the rule is we don't throw things' ." He hesitated, looked at me long.  I was not sure what that meant.  "The rule is we don't throw things, daddy," he mumbled.

Then a big smile swelled over his face, he ambled over to the truck and wound up like an Olympic shot putter for another righteous release.  "Paulito, the rule is we don't throw things.  Do you understand what that means?"

He paused, the smile subsided.  For a moment.  Then, with teeth clenched, face screwed up seemingly to help concentrate very ounce of strength, he catapulted that unfortunate truck against the even more unfortunate walls.

I was annoyed, but more nervous as this was forcing my hand.  I was at a new frontier - -  of taking punitive action. 80% of me felt Paul was too cute to ever receive any manner of punishment.  But the idea of feckless rules ran in parallel and was overtaking his cuteness.  Sorry dude.

"Paulito, come here.  Okay let's repeat the rule…. Now if you do that again, you will get a timeout."

A VERY BIG laugh from him. For all I knew, perhaps "timeout" sounded as appealing as his favorite, a snack of cantaloupes. Damn, did it sound like a reward?  Again, that poor truck, and our even sorrier, ancient walls met again.

More than anything, it was a battle of perseverance.  I scooped him up, "Paul, you broke the rule of not throwing things in the house.  When we choose to break the rules, we get a punishment," and plopped him on a side chair.  “Now you need to sit here for 2 minutes because you are 2 years old.  One minute for each year."

My son delivered a long, unblinking stare. 

Hmmm, I am wondering, what did this mean?  Just then, he twisted on to his plump tummy, slid off and started walking away.  Nonchalantly at that.  I am incredulous.  WTF, little brother man!  No way, no how was it ending like this.  I was bigger, faster, more stubborn than him. I scooped him back up, back on the side chair.  I am thinking, you little butt head, but in as calm a voice as I can muster, I say, "Paul, when you break the rules you get a timeout.  You need to stay here." 

A shorter stare, then he slides off.  I plop him back on the chair.  This repeats another 6 times, but I see he is now visibly frustrated.

Then a long stare. He does not move.  He has recalculated and this avenue of action no longer seems worth it.  Kids are extremely pragmatic, in reality.

But he's thoroughly steamed.  I recalled how my Uncle Abe used to simultaneously hug and spank his son Peter, as if to say, "I love you, so I am spanking you."  I grabbed the Visual Dictionary, and plopped it in his lap.  My goal is NOT to be punitive really, but to clarify the concept of rules.

2 minutes later, I came back, "Paulito you can go now."  But he mumbled something about an elephant in the book and remains.  Fine by me.

That first time did nearly kill me.  I felt I was being mean to him. It was the first instance of taking an action that did not improve my child's near term disposition.  But as the months and years passed, it's made rules as apparent as concrete. More important and less obvious back then, I think it has helped from a young age to convey the value of making wise choices.

One afterthought - a former boss, Dennis Reilly, commented that younger siblings embrace good and bad habits.  To that end, Sidd, the younger bro, visited Paul on a number of timeouts before "earning his own".  But he was more aware, at a younger age, of the outcomes of rules.  A good thing.


Detention For One of the Boys, © 2005, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Teaching the Amazing Power of Rules

Before we left Boston, we had the good luck to take a community class on discipline.  It was a priceless hour as it simplified how we interacted with our two boys.  And I would say the entire family has also greatly benefited.

The instructors shared three messages. 

  1. People like rules as it simplifies life, removing unnecessary decision making.
  2. Most parents opt for negotiating, generally confusing matters due to the inconsistent actions for the same situation on different days.
  3. Kids generally out-negotiate their parents, and by a country mile.

As example from the adult world: You're caught going 72 mph in a 55 mph zone, & you want to ask the cop, "hey, can we just say the limit was 65 and you then give me a warning?"  The cop does not fall into this negotiating racket, does not yell, pout, or any such nonsense - - she or he just says, "you were 18 over the limit, I need your driver's license."  No confusion, no hysteria.  Implied: hey my hands are tied, it’s a hard and fast rule some other yutz created, I just enforce it, with a smile.

The upshot: instill a few rules, don't get mad when they are broken, just be clear on the implications, and deliver context & punishment if they don’t heed those rules. 

When an infraction occurs, inform the little one in a calm voice (this is perhaps the hardest part).   "Honey, the rule is we don't throw things.  Say it after me….  Okay, if you do it again, you will get a timeout."  Then, if repeated, take action.  Now it’s their choice as to how they proceed.

A "bad" but common example:  After weeks of prep the family is driving to the airport to fly to Disney World.  One of the kids throws a tantrum, and mom or dad weighs in, "if you don't stop yelling, we are turning this car around and going HOME ! !"  Unfortunately for the parents, the child has observed the planning, the packing, the time invested already… and calls their bluff, by continuing to yell.

A better alternative: Mom or dad calmly says, "Billy, repeat after me, the rule is we don't yell…. Now if you do this again, we will give [ insert the punishment here ]."  And the parents put all their effort into resuming their conversation so as to give enough rope for the little one to choose his own outcome.

A calm delivery of this message is extremely important to help them understand that the issue is a rule was broken, not that mom or dad is now massively pissed off, even if that is true.

Invariably, the little one probably will break the rule again in 5 mins.  Now you can say, "Honey the rule is we don't yell.  Let's repeat that and then we will go get a timeout."

We had a few rules to start off:

  • The rule is we don’t throw things in the house
  • The rule is we listen
  • The rule is we don't yell

The readout after 10 years of using this approach?  Within just 4 months, they could tell you their own transgression.  "Which rule did you just break?"  would be answered without hesitation with something like, "The rule is we listen."  In fact, they knew the entire code of the house.  Over time, they would get very annoyed at kids who had tantrums.  "That boy really doesn't understand the rules, and he's so crazy."  For the parents, it's been a lot less drama, of the painful kind.


Checking in on Older Bro’s Timeout, © 2005, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Polishing Diamonds - My Parenting Observations

Back in 2010, I explained to the boys that diamonds start as pretty unremarkable rocks, and only after an enormous amount of hard work, emerge as, well, diamonds.  The intent was to let them know that when they are pushed to do better, it is the act of polishing that's underway.  They may not like the parenting they receive, but they should love the outcomes.

But what makes parenting so interesting is that it's a great example of building and fixing the plane while its flying.  On many occasions I find it pretty frightening.  Few things have had my focus like it and I often think back to when things have gone well, or poorly for people I know.

And my dear friends Gary and Mithra Ballesteros gave a great reason to be mindful and active at this topic - it only gets more tricky as one's children get older. 

With that in mind, knowing I risk coming across like I am telling someone what to do, I will my observations in guiding the boys as they have grown up.  These are more a set of routines and habits we have landed upon thru the day.

They tap what I saw from my own parents, from other families, a parenting class and in chatting with friends. 

I would love to hear your lessons too.  (I will tag these as “Polishing Diamonds.”)


Driving Like Fred Flintstone, © 2005, Abe Pachikara (Click for larger images)