Musing with Mary: Discipline Takes Different Forms
A picture of my great-niece’s daughter picking up sticks reminded me of my own little one doing the same. She, too, was a toddler when a windstorm deposited a branch on the sidewalk outside our back door. The kids had to go past or around it to do their pig chores. They had to go past or around it to get to the garage and the car. They had to go past or around it to go anywhere outdoors. And that is just what they did – they went past or around it.
Their dad saw them ignoring it and told me to leave the branch where it was. He wanted to see which of them would finally take it to the fire pile. The child who did it without being told would receive a monetary reward. Her brothers were playing baseball in the outer yard when their little sister opened the back door to go outside to play. I grabbed the camera when I saw Shelly toddle over to the branch and look it over. I was able to get a picture of her as she got a hold on it. She walked backward and had to struggle with it as she slowly and tediously drug it over to the pile of sticks and trash waiting to be burned. Needless to say, when Shelly was given her reward at supper in front of all her older siblings, there were some teenagers who felt they had been burned.
We always felt sending a child to his room was not much of a punishment. They didn’t have television sets or electronic games in their rooms, but they shared rooms and there were plenty of other distractions to keep them from dwelling on the reason they had been sent there to spend time alone. They had books, a collection of sport magazines, boxes of baseball cards and (something we didn’t know at the time) the box of Mom’s love letters sent by their dad while serving the army in Korea. That was plenty of reading material for passing the time and keeping them from being bored. Actually, just being given time to spend alone for a while when you live in a house with so many other people is almost a reward.
I admit to having a favorite punishment to inflict on any male rule-breakers who were old enough to handle a vacuum cleaner. I hated the job of vacuuming the carpeted steps leading up to their bedrooms. Since our boys had regular chores that included cleaning out hog barns, their house cleaning chores were ordinarily limited to their own bedrooms. But when I had a legitimate reason to pass the stair vacuuming job along to one of them, I was secretly pleased.
Some parents have their child stand in a corner for breaking rules. Others are told they must write fifty times what they have done and apologize: I pushed Susie and I am sorry. That serves two purposes as it is not only a punishment but also penmanship practice. I think I must have been punished in this way or how is it I know a regular lined tablet has twenty-five lines on each side and no matter what I am writing, I feel a sense of relief when I get to that last line?
My adult children depend on time-outs as a form of discipline. Our son sent us a picture of his Marykate with her favorite birthday gift. It was a huge stuffed bear, taller than the seven year old who received it. The picture showed her lying on the bed, sound asleep. Big Boy Bear’s tummy was her pillow and his long legs were spread-eagled alongside her making her look very tiny in comparison. We were there to visit a few weeks later. I asked Marykate if I could meet Big Boy Bear. She didn’t answer but looked at her dad with a please-can-I-do-it expression. He said, “You can bring him out of the closet to show him to Grandma, but then he has to go back in the closet until bedtime.”
“Please, Daddy,” she begged, “can he stay out for a while?”
“No, Marykate,” he said, the tone of his voice letting her know there would be no more arguing. I soon learned that when his daughter misbehaved, Big Boy Bear was taken away from her and put into a timeout. It was a much more effective punishment than making Marykate be the one taking a timeout. Missing her stuffed companion gave her plenty of time to remember why she was being punished.
The way each generation attempts to teach their children self-control and self-discipline varies. One thing stays the same: what works for one, may not faze another. Parents eventually learn that discipline must be tailored to the individual child. 795 words