The right punishment is so hard to figure out

My current reference reading

There are some scenarios parenting books just can’t help you with.  Honestly, most of them seem pretty worthless when you’re in the thick of things.

Sure, I have read about how to discipline, and how to handle strong-willed children.  But I confess that a lot of the time, I am unsure how to handle my kids.  Zach is still in his screaming and tantrum phase, and Eliza hasn’t outgrown hers (while she continues to question everything you say), so we’re in an interesting vortex of pain and chaos.

In the moment, I often find myself acting calmly (trying very hard not to scream and yell like them), but the discipline that comes out still somehow leaves a bad parenting stench.  It’s like I don’t have enough time to think through what the consequences I’m doling out will actually mean for all of us.

This morning, I was upstairs when Eliza and Zach broke out fighting downstairs over what turned out to be my phone – something they didn’t have permission to be playing with in the first place.  After calling Eliza to me four times and her not responding by coming, but rather with, “Mommy, will you put on another TV show?”, I trudged downstairs, picked up Eliza, and as I walked her up the stairs, told her she would be going to her room for breakfast so she and Zach couldn’t fight over things.  She proceeded to throw a complete temper tantrum about wanting to eat at the table.  I didn’t budge, because I’m afraid of being a sucker who can be talked out of following through by a 3-year-old.  Of course, as Zach was fighting too, I thought it only fair to have him eat his breakfast in his room by himself as well.

The good news is that this is not going where you might think.  I DID have the sense to make something that wasn’t super messy.   (Thank God I put thought into what I served them, if nothing else!)  But as I listened to them scream and holler as I separated them to – what was my end game?  Oh yes, stop the screaming – I realized my plan hadn’t worked.  And there were crumbs all over Eliza’s bed to clean up.

In the end, Eliza and I talked about everything that went wrong, but still it didn’t feel like a victory.  In hindsight, I could have just taken the phone away from them and let that be punishment enough for fighting over it.  Sometimes I just need to remember to give myself time – maybe a count to ten moment when I put them in their rooms so they’re safe – while I come up with an appropriate reaction.  When I act swiftly and carry a big stick, I don’t necessarily get the hoped for outcome.  It’s just sometimes the big stick feels so right and justified in the moment.  Am I a bad parent, or am I being too hard on myself?

I could just bang them over their heads with one of the several parenting books on the shelf …

11 thoughts on “The right punishment is so hard to figure out


    Proverbs 13:24 ESV: Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

    Proverbs 23:13-15: Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad.

    Proverbs 22:15: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

    Proverbs 29:15: The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

    ….In other words- Start Spanking! Worked for me- now I almost never have to do it!

    1. Oh Irene, I definitely do spank. I just don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all punishment. It’s one tool in my toolbox, and I generally use it for disobedience that could cause physical harm (because spanking causes physical pain). It’s why I like using vinegar or hot sauce on their tongues for mouthing off, because it seems to make sense. Eliza definitely responds well to having rights taken away that she cares about, so I try to use that a lot with her. And if she and her brother can’t play together nicely, then, well, this morning I figured, they shouldn’t be allowed to play together at all (hence separating them in their rooms).

  2. I found that spanking often did hurt me more than the errant child… literally! I hurt my hand every time and I truly was not hitting with excessive force, I mean, I’m not that strong. I’ve seen you in action and I think you are the picture of calm and I am often impressed. I have a harder time maintaining composure and not “over-talking”… or talking over their understanding… or being inconsistent or contradicting Hans or myself… or… or…

    This is tough stuff. You’re doing a great job. If you are going to spank or use the book… use them on their behinds, not their heads. HEY!! THAT WOULD PROTECT YOUR HANDS!!

  3. Thanks, Laura! I appreciate the encouragement. I think, in the end, it’s so helpful to remember that none of us is perfect and we all mess up, and also that children are unpredictable!

    Those parenting books might be good for spanking … hmm …

    1. You took the words right out of my mouth, Kristi! Ultimately the best pennrtiag results in independent, mature adults. I have watched my daughter grow in leaps and bounds while in college (she is now a senior) and my son, though a little less steadily, finally seems to be getting it as a sophomore. Our jobs are never done, though, are they?

  4. i see the makings of a new neighborhood moms group……. “come on over for some wine and lets bash our heads against these damn parenting books!!!!!!” surely someone, somewhere, somehow has had the time and inclination to chronicle every confrontation we have had or will have with our kids… i mean, come on people, its not like its anything new under the sun (*ok, so maybe playing with a smart phone is indeed something new under our millennial sun, but other than that….) for the love, help us out here!!!!!!! 🙂 one of these days, ladies, we are going to be able to toast each other and say, “we made it. they made it. what a ride…..” by God’s grace alone… and of course, the happy hours along the way. 🙂

    1. So right-on, Chels. I think part of the parenting journey is figuring things out, and I also think for a lot of things, there’s no “wrong answer” because every child and every situation is different. I’m sure the legalese release on a parenting book that says, “Here’s what you do when your child does X, Y, or Z, ad nauseum” would be very long indeed. It’s just tough to struggle through some of the scenarios and wonder if you’re doing the right thing, or the best thing.
      I’m down for neighborhood “Whine and Wine” nights …

  5. We have not ventured down the spanking road yet….I feel like it’s very very near. I evaded it with so many other methods but Jacob is an intelligent, mouthy, willful child.
    Per my status on Facebook (which I updated last night):
    My most embarrassing part of today at the OB
    Jacob: (to the doctor) My dad spanks my mommy
    Let me add he does not know what spanking is. He has never seen it. He says we spank him and when we ask him what it is, its time-out. I had to explain this also to my doctor with my face burning hot. I wanted to die. In the end she said “that really made my day”

  6. So Jon puts you in “time-outs,” huh? 😉 I wish Greg would send me to time out for my own good. Sometimes I do put myself in time-out and go to the car to take 10 minutes of letting my brain do whatever it wants without interruption.

    When we really think about our inquisitive, curious, creative children, and think about the having them the other way around (quiet, shy and unquestioning), I am usually thankful that mine keep me on my toes. =)

    1. I hedge along with discipline because I personally do not like following through with something. I don’t know why. When I was a nanny I never hesitated and I feel like I loved those children too. The consequences of quick and consistent follow through made me a really awesome nanny – I have letters of reference and I was coveted by some agencies as excellent with toddlers/preschoolers. I don’t know what the heck happened. It isn’t the amount of time either, I used to work 60-90 hours/week. I have all those books too 🙂

      1. It’s very tough to give your own kids “tough love.” Sometimes, when you look at their faces and they are so sad about what you’re doing (out of love, mind you), it breaks you.

        With other people’s kids, I can be extraordinarily fierce. We all suffer with follow-through with our own munchkins.

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