Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Waterboarding and other common punishments

I really hate it when I am interrupted during an interrogation.
The other day, for example, I was alone with my suspect. I had confronted him. I had presented irrefutable evidence. Despite his attempts at creating reasonable doubt and offering up other suspects, I had him softened almost to the breaking point, about to confess. I had crushed his alibi. I had presented compelling evidence as to why the other suspects were innocent... and then "good cop" had to come in and ruin everything.
All he did was stick his head in the door and ask what was going on. I described the nature of the crime. The suspect turned to him with a sad, pleading face. Good cop crumbled. He offered the same excuses as the suspect! Offered the same alternative suspects even! What he did, in short, was to destroy my entire case. I glared at him.
"Never mind," I sighed.
I grudgingly dismissed the suspect with a small chore as punishment and good cop came into the room, closing the door behind him.
"I almost had him, you know." I huffed.
"Do you want me to get you your own little room with a table and a bright light?"
Yes, as a matter of fact, I would like that very much. Especially if there was a panel of 2-way glass, and a lock on the door so that 'good cop' couldn't come bursting in and take the side of the suspect!

As a general rule, I tend to be pretty lenient with my kids and their punishments. But there are times when something they do pushes my buttons and I am forced to react with aggressive punishments.

When my oldest daughter was 6, she decided that sleeves were uncomfortable. She took a pair of scissors (not her first incident with that particular weapon... she was forever hacking off part of her hair with unpleasing results) to her closet and proceeded to remove the sleeves from every shirt she owned. When she had finished destroying the shirts, she moved right on to removing the legs from all of the pants. She was on her fourth pair when I found her, sitting on the floor of her room, surrounded by mangled sleeves and pant legs, looking up at me innocently.
Without saying a word (very rare for me in situations of high stress), I removed the surviving clothes from her drawer and closet and put them in protective custody. (Locked in my room)
I returned and confiscated the weapon and proceeded to explain, very calmly, that clothes cost money, and cannot be destroyed on a whim.
She was well acquainted with the value of money, having run a successful embezzlement scheme the previous fall. I would give her lunch money every morning. She would get to school and tell the teacher that she wanted to buy her lunch, but that she had lost her money or left it at home. The teacher would tell the lunch lady, who would then allow my daughter to 'charge' her lunch expenses to an account. At the end of the first week, she had made a nice $10 profit. She simply took the "money owed" notice and threw it in the trash. She repeated the scam the following week, resulting in another $10 profit. This time, she forgot to throw away the notice, however, and when I went through her school papers I discovered that she owed over $15 in the cafeteria. I sent her to school the next Monday with a home made lunch and called her teacher, asking to see a detail of the report so I could find out how she owed so much money. When the report failed to ring any bells about days I may have forgotten to give her money, I called her teacher. We were finally able to put two and two together and realize that we were being scammed by a kindergartner. The money was already gone, of course. She spent it on pencils and stickers and a random folder or two from the school store. But I digress.

Knowing that my daughter understood the value of money, I was able to exact an appropriate punishment for the mutillation of her wardrobe. I gave her one outfit that had been unharmed by the violent cutting rampage. I gave her a list of extra jobs that she could perform at the pay rate of 50 cents per job, and told her that additional outfits could be purchased for $1 each.

Initially, she rebelled. She didn't like that the punishment fit the crime, and she refused to do any additional jobs. That was fine with me. She went to school in the same clothes for three days straight before she finally crumbled (probably due to peer pressure), and started slowly earning back her unharmed clothes. There wasn't much left, but she eventually earned back the rest of her clothes. The replacement clothes were a little more expensive, $2 per outfit (which was still a steal for her), but she did eventually earn enough to look respectable at school again.

I also believe in dual punishment. When the oldest two kids butted heads a little too often and pushed me to the edge of my patience, I tied their legs together (3-legged-race style) and sent them into the back yard to do some chores. I told them they could come in when the work was done. If they had immediately gotten to it, the job would have taken them about 30 minutes. Which, admittedly, is a long time to have your leg tied to someone else's. As it was, however, they fought and bickered and refused to get along, and an hour later were begging to be released. I came out and explained to them that they had to work together and get along and that if they didn't, I was going to leave them tied together overnight and they would have to sleep outside on the trampoline. Thirty minutes later the job was done.

I have endless stories of forcing a child to complete a sibling's chores, or mine, when they have damaged property or made unkind comments. And, much to the chagrin of children everywhere, I have instituted the practice of assigning them a job (without extra pay) whenever they complain of being bored. Other mothers I know have picked up the same practice, thus the chagrin.

I don't really do water boarding, but I do believe in the practice of putting screaming kids in a cold shower, fully clothed, to quell their tantrums (special thanks to my sister).

What? It works! Trust me, try it. The next time your toddler is throwing a temper tantrum and refuses to calm down, put them in the shower and offer one last chance before you turn the water on. If they insist on continuing their detestable boo-hooing, turn on the cold water until they stop making noise. After that, all it will take is a threat. Just be prepared to follow through. They will test the fences on this one.
It's a good punishment for three reasons. One: it doesn't hurt the child. Two: it's unpleasant for them, therefore, they will not want to repeat the behavior. Three: It's unexpected the first time you do it, so it's likely to leave an impression on them. If only the grocery store had a shower. Actually, at that age, you can tell them the grocery store has a shower and they won't know the difference. Just kidding, you should never mislead your kids that way. Eventually they will call you on it.

Childhood is really just a series of boundary testing. It goes like this: They test the boundary, you set a limit. As long as you stick to your guns, they will eventually stop trying to test that particular fence. They will get comfortable for awhile, and then they will test something else. The real melt downs only happen when you give in "just this once" or are inconsistent with your punishments.

And that's about all I have learned in my 15 years of being a parent. Now if I could just figure out an appropriate punishment for a three-year-old who threw a rock through my sister's van window...

But that's a blog for another time.


  1. When my girls fight... they have to do a chore... TOGETHER. If they fight still, they get another chore. It goes on & on & on until they learn! and my house gets clean!