I remember vividly the first time I gave my daughter a spanking. I also remember the first time I put my son in a time-out. Like all things in parenting, we have to find the best approach that works for us and our families and our lives, and I think I’ve discovered that these modes of discipline just do not seem to fit with my parenting style.
It’s a matter of looking at how we treat our kids now versus how the world will treat them in the future. When they’re adults and working in an office somewhere and screw up a big project, their boss isn’t going to give them a swat on the butt and send them to their office to think about what they’ve done. (At least, I hope not. That would be a scary place to work.) Instead, they will be told how their actions affected the project, the company, their co-workers, their job, etc. They will be given real-world examples as to how their behavior caused a negative rift where they work. Their consequences will be natural consequences (getting passed up for a promotion, losing various opportunities, alienating peers, etc.).
That’s how the world works. And if that’s how the world works once they grow up, why shouldn’t the punishments they receive be the same when they’re children?
When it comes to disciplining my children, I have changed my ways. I’ve started thinking a bit more creatively about how best to discipline them in relation to what they do. Instead of having a one-size-fits-all punishment of a time-out, I’m doling out punishments in accordance with the action.
Let’s say my son takes a toy from his sister and runs away with it. In my home, that is cause for discipline. But does a spanking or a time-out really address what happened? I don’t think so. Instead, I think about the real world. If an adult takes something from someone else, that’s a crime. The punishment for that crime is going to jail — being taken away from all their own things.
So if my son takes something from someone else, he will get something of his taken away for a set amount of time. For now, it’s one minute per year of age.
This teaches him empathy — how it feels to be in his sister’s shoes when he took away her toy. It also teaches him that sometimes a consequence can last for a long time. Three minutes is a long time for a toddler.
Another common situation? Let’s say my daughter makes a huge mess. She gets into some toothpaste and spreads it all over the bathroom sink and mirror because, you know, it seems like a good idea. As adults, the natural consequence of making a mess is cleaning it up. So instead of spanking her, I tell her to get rag and start cleaning, no exiting the bathroom until the mess is gone.
This seems far more beneficial to her long-term development than swatting her butt.
I want the lessons I teach my kids — the easy lessons and the hard ones — to make sense in a real-world context appropriate for their age. I think that at 4 years old, a little girl should be able to put two and two together and realize that the reason why she has to spend 20 minutes cleaning up toothpaste is because she used it to make a mess on purpose.
Likewise, my son should understand that if you take something away from someone, something of yours will also be taken away.
I feel like these disciplinary techniques make more sense in the big picture. I also think they foster more trust and empathy by illustrating that real-world actions come with individual consequences. Not everything will be dismissed with a swat or forced isolation in the real world (thank god!).
In the end, all of our hard work should add up to raising kids who are kind to others, who are respectful of other people’s things, and who strive to make the right choices in difficult situations. I’m not asking them to be perfect, but I am asking them to be mindful, and this is a parenting decision that I feel completely confident in.