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 …