Unanticipated Consequence of Punishment

Posted by: | Posted on: November 25, 2013

Children often obey us simply because they are little, and we are giants, and they are smart enough to figure out that they will not win. As in this case….

Hitting Below the Belt

She had kneed her brother in the you-know-where…again… and I was so exasperated that I became the angry Giant.

“YOU DO NOT HIT YOUR BROTHER. Do you understand me?” Giving the AngryMamaGiant eyes of fire and the manufactured DEEP VOICE OF AUTHORITY, I said,

The Punishment

“Every time you hit your brother, I will hit you TWICE as hard AND you WILL not go with me to Starbucks on Sunday”

On Sundays I have taken to taking her with me on appointments, and the then we bond a little, talking, about her recent assignments or any other trouble while we have coffee. It was a time to reconnect, and a time away from her younger brothers…

The Reflection

So during that time of AngryMamaGiant I had forgotten all that. I was probably frustrated that the baby had been on me the whole day, and with my own introverted tendencies this attachment wears on me. Maybe it was because I identify with Missile and his own antagonistic tendencies. Maybe it was because he was a little boy, and being hit in his manhood is something Yeah! Could never understand. Either way, my reaction was gutteral, instant, and completely not thought out. It’s something I read or heard some parent do…I was reacting out of some past experience…some limiting belief…It was as Yeah said…distinctly not ME (or at least, not what I had become). I should have reached for a book, a magazine, and read a little bit. Calmed myself down. But in the course of change, sometimes old patterns rear their ugly head. But I didn’t. I scolded and threatened.

Then I promptly forgot about it.

Until today. Today Yeah! Was sunken and mad at the world. Stomping around, giving eyes of fire. We all wondered what could be wrong? Even Dad. She walked around with a bathrobe and a skirt, saying, “I don’t need to get ready anyway…I’m not going anywhere”. We told her to put on a shirt, and she put it on backwards, repeating “I don’t need to get ready anyway…I’m not going anywhere”. We ignore it.

Then as I’m getting ready, aren’t you coming to Starbucks with me?
Why not?
“Because you said so…this week. Because I hit my brother”

Oh! But she was being honest about it. I wanted to reward her.

Rewards do not work

I asked her if she thought she should go. She told me that if she finished putting away all her clothes, finishes her schoolwork, and gets ready for the day by the time I get back, she should go. I asked dad, and he asked a great a great question.

“Do you think you learned your lesson?”


“What was it?”

“That I shouldn’t hit my brother, or the punishment will be bad”

Oh no! Parenting FAIL! No sweetie. Thats not why. What else?

“Because you’ll hit me harder?”

Ok. No that’s not it. You can come with me if you write down why it’s not a good idea not hit your brother.

“But I don’t KNOW why I shouldn’t hit my brother”

Blind Obedience vs Thoughtful Love

And this my dear friends is the point. If the reason that they stop a behavior is because they are afraid of their (insert source of authority here), then they are progressing towards being an obedient servant….not a loving adult. With lightening quick mindset transformation… I realized that her so-called-punishment was not only not going to achieve anything, but was also going to self-destruct my week.

Our Starbucks date was not a reward. It was not associated with doing things. It was a connection. Because I had so easily taken it away, I inadvertently made Yeah! believe that she had to do things to “earn” time with mom. Not having this time with mom would have put a damper on my deep need to connect with my oldest daughter. I was punishing myself by taking away one of the few opportunities I had to do so. All parenting has its imperfections.

So she did come to Starbucks. And she was my daughter again. And we talked about why she thought hitting was bad, and she explained that when she wants them to “stop” she doesn’t know what to do (because we DON’T tattle in our house)…and I became her partner…asking her to come to me to help me help her talking to them. I apologized. I had made a mistake. We role played. We worked on not only her anxiety, but our relationship. We just hung out. And if play is defined by losing track of time doing something we enjoy, we “played”.

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