By Casey Grey
Have you ever thought about the act of "punishing" somebody?
It may not be something that comes up consciously with adults but it is something that often comes up with kids.
When kids do something "bad" parents feel they need to punish them. They give them a "timeout" or ground them or send them to their room.
When punishing a kid (or anybody for that matter), what is the goal?
The goal is likely to teach them a lesson. But what does that mean? What are you trying to teach them?
You're likely trying to teach them that they should not do that thing they just did which is considered "bad".
The first question that should be asked, however, is "did they know that what they were doing was bad?"
If they did not, then what is punishing them going to teach them?
Perhaps they won't want to tell you things in the future at risk of being punished. Perhaps they'll start hiding things from you. Or perhaps they start doing these things to get reactions out of you just to get your attention.
One thing is for sure, we are not born "bad". We do not come out thinking "I'm going to do bad things in life." We learn our behaviours.
On the other hand, If they did know it was bad, then why did they do it?
Yesterday, my son, Sullivan, was playing outside with a friend as I prepared dinner. They were playing with the hose which I said was okay for them to do.
When I came out into the garage to get Sullivan for dinner, the ceiling was dripping with water...
Needless to say, I was quite upset.
In the past, my temper would have got the best of me. This time, I feel I did pretty good. Yes, I slammed a stool down on the garage floor but after that I got a grip and all these questions started running through my head.
Sullivan had decided that he was going to turn the sprinkler on in the garage. Have I specifically told Sullivan not to put the sprinkler on in the garage? No. But I know he's smarter than this so I dug a little deeper.
Casey: "Sullivan, why did you think it would be a good idea to turn the sprinkler on in the garage?"
Sullivan: "I don't know."
Casey: "Did you think I would be happy about this?"
Casey: "What were you trying to do?"
Sullivan: "I don't know."
Casey: "Were you trying to make your friend laugh?"
Sullivan: "He did laugh."
I almost started to laugh at this response but I'm a parent in this situation and I had to keep my disappointed face on, right?
As we talked through what happened and I asked questions, I could tell that Sullivan was feeling bad about what he did. He said sorry as well as "Daddy, I want to do something for you but I'm not sure what."
So now we come to the punishment stage. Do I give him a timeout or ground him?
I did not do either. The punishment is done. He feels terrible about disappointing daddy.
After dinner, we went out to the garage and we dried everything up and started running fans. Then it was bathtime and there was no argument from Sullivan.
We ended the evening on a good note because going to bed in a shitty state is not good for anybody.
Not only was this a good lesson for Sullivan (ie. don't disrespect other people's property to make people laugh or look cool), it was a good lesson for me.
I felt terrible about making my son feel terrible.
Luckily, I have a very smart wife and she reminded me that it's not our job as parents to take away our kids pain, as much as we want to.
It's our job to teach them. To mold them into the best human beings we possibly can.
When you're a kid, disappointing your parents is a terrible feeling. And Sullivan knew I was disappointed in the decision he made. He learned his lesson.
On the flip side, knowing that your parents are proud of you is an even more powerful feeling. Yes, sometimes our kids "need a lesson".
But more often than not, they just need know their mommy and daddy our proud of them. And I'm definitely proud of my little guy.