ENFORCING THE RULES – STEP 3: Punishment
Obviously, punishment is the final stage of rule enforcement. There are only 3 possible ways to punish anyone no matter how old they are. You can take something away from them (either material or privileges); you can exclude or isolate them from your group; or you can inflict pain. All of these measures can be effective if used properly and at the right time.
In the adult criminal justice system, these three ways
translate into fines, jail, or corporal punishment.
For a child they transfer into restricting privileges,
time out, and spanking.
SPANKING is controversial and unpopular among professionals and large segments of the American public today. Many of the arguments about spanking center around philosophical, moral, and even theological issues which are really beyond the province of a physician or psychologist. What we do know is that spanking can be at times a very effective means of punishment IF it is done right – which means without anger. If a spanking is delivered in a cool, calm and collected manner,it is probably fine.
Similar to the way it was portrayed on certain 1950’s
TV shows, “Bend over my knee son. . . “,
“this hurts me more than it hurts you. . . “,
“now run off and play. . .”…
The problem is really that it’s a very unusual parent who is actually able to do it that way. Spanking your child is an emotional experience and it is very difficult to do at all unless you are angry, but if you are angry you should not be doing it. For these simple reasons,most parents should not spank.
If you are angry and spanking you then are employing violence
in an out of control state, a potentially dangerous thing to do.
If you spank when angry you are putting yourself in danger
of sliding down a “slippery slope” in the direction of child abuse.
“TIME OUT” is the most effective and reliable means of punishment for serious misbehaviors available to most parents. Time out means that the child is placed in an area where there is nothing to do, there is no entertainment, they are isolated from family and peers and no one pays any attention to them for a period of time which is long enough to be unpleasant, but not so long that they forget why they are there.
This can be a chair in a corner, the bottom of a stairwell or
an out of the way hallway – really anyplace. It is wise not to
choose a place for time out which also has another important
function such as sleeping, feeding or going to the bathroom.
For instance, using the crib as the time out place can lead to
difficulties going to sleep, using the bathroom can lead to
difficulties toilet training – your time out place should be used
for that purpose and that purpose only.
When a child is in time out, nobody should speak to them. This is not the time for scolding, lecturing, or explaining – that was earlier. The child in time out should be left alone to think about his offense. When his time there is done, he should be considered to have “paid his debt to society” and the matter should be dropped by all. A good rule of thumb for how long a child should be “sentenced” to time out is 1 minute for every year of age up until puberty at which point the length of a sentence can start to be varied according to the crime.
The reason the latter is not true in a younger child is because
they are more apt to forget why they are there. Thus, a one year
old can spend one minute in time out, a five year old 5 minutes,
and a ten year old 10 minutes, etc. . . .
This might be modified somewhat based on the child’s
attention span. A child with a particularly short attention span
might do better with only half a minute per year of age,
while a child with a particularly long attention span
might do fine with longer sentences.
Some children, when they are just being introduced to the idea of time out will refuse the stay in the spot as they are told. As with any “jail break”, the prisoner must be apprehended and returned to a more “secure” facility. This can mean in a room with either a closed or even locked door (make sure it can be opened from the outside) or more often, it is appropriate for the parent to be the “bars of the jail” by physically holding the child, gently but firmly, in the time out place.
If this is done, the parent should do it without emotion and without
much talking or interaction with the child. Even if the child struggles
while the parent is holding them in place, when the sentence is over,
the parent should let go. Once this method is employed consistently
several times in a row, the child should soon learn time out
“means business” and the need for being held in place will no longer be there.
You do not get sent to jail for a speeding ticket
and a child should not be placed in time out for minor infractions either.
Time out should be reserved for the felonies. More often, an appropriate punishment for misdemeanors is a “fine” – taking something away or restricting some privilege. This is very flexible, it is easy to make the punishment fit the crime.
Thus, if a child cannot play appropriately with his friend this
afternoon, the punishment might be going home. If the child can’t
stop throwing water out of the bathtub, bath time
may have to be over. If he cannot stop throwing that toy,
you may have to take it away.
The most common error which is made with this kind of punishment is that it seems so “little” to the parents that they forget that it is indeed a punishment and they thus forget to go through Stage 1 and Stage 2prior to getting to Stage 3 in enforcing the rules.
Even if the punishment is only going to be taking a toy away,
it is important to first identify the problem and offer an alternative,
warn if that does not work, and only then administer the punishment.