Punishment genie

"LLW Aladdin genie" by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United Kingdom - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LLW_Aladdin_genie.jpg#/media/File:LLW_Aladdin_genie.jpg

“LLW Aladdin genie” by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United Kingdom – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There’s this idea in society that the punishment should fit the crime. It’s at least as old as Dante’s inferno, though I would guess that it goes back much further than that. This idea frequently shows up in parenting. It feels to me like parents are generally expected to come up with suitable punishments for the things that their kids do. Suitable meaning that the punishement has some relationship to the thing they did wrong. Supposedly this type of punishment helps kids in some way? I can’t remember ever reading anything on the subject, but I feel like it’s the sort of wisdom that lots of people just believe.

I think it works to a point. If a child isn’t playing nice with the other kids, then they get a time out so they can’t play for a bit. Or if a child refuses to pick up their toys, then the gunny sack comes and takes their toys away.

Here’s the problem. What do you do when your child behaves badly in a weird or unexpected way? For example, sometimes my kids get out a bunch of food and mix it all together (when I’ve told them not to do that many times), wasting a lot of food and making a big mess? What’s the punishment that fits the crime for that? I can’t deny them food for an extended period of time. I can’t make them pay for the waste with their own money because they don’t have any. I can’t make them cook dinner for the family for the next few days because they’re too young. So I make them clean up and then I put them in time out. What does that have to do with making a mess and wasting food? Nothing. But it’s easier, simpler, and more immediate.

Trying to come up with creative punishments that fit the crimes makes me feel a little like one of those jerk-face genies who grant wishes but always in stupid ways. Like you say “I wish money would always come to me” and you spend the rest of your life being pelted with small change. It like you have to ask yourself “how can I twist what they have done to make the punishment something related but really unpleasant?”

Another example. My kids turned on the hose (strike one) left it running and wandered off (strike two) and had the end sticking into the garage (strike three). I luckily got there and turned it off before there was much damage done, but there are definitely things in the garage that shouldn’t be sitting in water. So what’s the punishment for that? This is complicated by the fact that they were trying to clean the car to surprise me. Good intentions have to count for something, right?

So the solution that I, as the sadistic punishment genie, have come up with is that they have to clean up the whole family room (which is quite a mess). I’m typing this as they’re (more or less) working on that. The rationale is that they did something destructive to the house, so they now have to do something constructive to the house. Thus the cosmic scale will be balanced. I have no idea if this is a good punishment or not, but at least we’ll get a clean family room out of the deal. So there’s always that. Take the small victories where you can get them I guess. If anyone else has a better way of handling these things, I’d love to hear it. In the meantime I’ll just head back to my lamp.

Provoke Not Your Children to Wrath

Bonnie took this picture of R looking a little concerned. I wanted one of them crying, but I couldn't find any.

Bonnie took this picture of R looking a little concerned. I wanted one of them crying, but I couldn’t find any.

In the last month or so, our lives have been turned upside down. We packed up our house (with a lot of help from the ward). We slept in a dozen different beds and sleeping arrangements. We drove across the whole country. We had one family reunion (with another coming up this week). It’s just been a lot of craziness for Bonnie and me and the kids.

With all of that going on, there have been a few more tantrums than normal (though to be fair the kids have been absolute champs). Some of the tantrums have reminded me of this site, but I think others could have been avoided if Bonnie and I had done a better job at parenting.

Several of the tantrums came on days where we kept the kids up way too late. Specifically, at the recent family reunion, we’d be doing something fun and either decide to let the kids keep participating, or just get distracted and not get bed time going at the right time. Inevitably when we did that, the kids would lose their minds and be screaming for hours. Similarly, if we didn’t get them food at nice, regular times then we’d have problems.

This is where the title comes in. The wording always used to make me think of a parent tormenting their kid, which seemed strange to me. I have lately come to think of it as more about setting your kids up to be successful and happy, rather than simply not bothering them. When my kids are upset, I keep thinking about what I could have done to prevent the situation:

  • Have I been ignoring them so they’re bored? Maybe I should have set them up with some activities before getting on the computer.
  • Are they hungry? Maybe I should have started preparing lunch earlier, or picked something quicker to make.
  • If we’re having problems at bedtime it’s almost always because we started it too late.

Even when they get in to things they shouldn’t, I still feel like I have some responsibility because I could have put things away somewhere else. Maybe up higher, maybe behind a child lock, etc.

As I’ve thought about this concept, I find that it has a much broader application than simply parenting young children. Most people will end up being in charge of something at some point in their life. The people for whom you have some responsibility need and depend on you to make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. Here is a blog post from one of my favorite bloggers. He’s talking about this as it pertains to businesses and preventing theft. It’s long, so I’ll grab a few excerpts:

“human nature being what it [is], employee theft [is] inevitable so it [is] the moral responsibility of the owner to protect both the shareholders and the employees from their own worst nature.”

“By accepting a fact that I still find emotionally unpleasant, I’ve saved us a lot of potentially expensive lessons.  And that itself is a lesson – never refuse to act because you have a hard time believing something you’d rather not believe.”

Beyond businesses and parenting, it’s essential in our personal lives. I would bet that if you pick your favorite sin, you can probably find some common factors that influence you in that behavior. Just like an alcoholic probably shouldn’t hang out in a bar, you can make a conscious effort to avoid and prevent situations in which you know your will isn’t as strong as you’d like. Consciously setting yourself and those around you up for success instead of failure is a powerful tool. I’m still working out more ways that it can be put in place in my life, but small changes can make a huge difference in the results that you get.