“Mikey, no!” My face burned red as I stared in horror at my son. My darling rosy cheeked boy stood in the middle of the bedroom, scissors in hand, cloth and stuffing all around him. The beautiful rainforest bedspread had been hacked into ragged chunks.
“I am so sorry.” I looked at Cheri. She was just as shocked as I was, her hand over her mouth.
“That was a present from his aunt Liza,” Cheri said. She sank against the door. “She’s been in Brazil for the past three years.”
Time seemed to stop in that awful moment. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, perhaps my experience can help. Destructive behavior of all types if frustrating, humiliating, and infuriating, but when it spills out to other homes and friends, it just increased by a factor of 10.
Every parent has a different perspective on what punishment is best for a child. But I am a firm believer that individual parents need to determine what works for their children. However, one point that I think most of us agree upon is that the behavior must be targeted.
Targeting the behavior means that the child understands he is not a bad person. He has done something bad, but that is not what defines him. The behavior is what must be changed. Who he is as a person, however, is not the issue.
Take a Deep Breath
Punishment should never be dealt when enraged. At that particular moment, my head was swimming, and I was more humiliated than I had ever been. Mikey has found other ways to make sure that this event no longer holds that honor. Even though I do not believe in spanking or other similar punishments, I was not in a good frame of mind to do anything except tell him to apologize and promise that we would deal with it later.
Punishment is not about vengeance. Our children must never think that it is. They need to understand that it is a warning and a boundary sign designed to show them what they should and should not do. As such, the most effective punishments cannot generally be determined while the steam of humiliation and anger are rushing. And punishment, to be effective, must be targeted to the child in a way that is fair and reasonable.
Find a Punishment that Gets Through
Some parents swear by time outs. Others insist that depriving the child of privileges is the way to go. As I said earlier, I believe that all of this comes down to individual parents and their knowing their children. In my case, I knew that neither time outs nor privilege removal would make my son realize the error of his ways.
However, by this point, I knew that he responded best to punishments which made him correct the damage he had done. An unfortunate experiment with nails and superglue in the doorway which had to be cleaned up alone helped me realize that experience is Mikey’s best teacher.
Follow Up With Affirmation
After the punishment, and in some cases, even throughout, it is essential to remind the child that he is loved. In most cases, punishments create sensations of shame, and children may think that they have failed miserable. In the short span of their lives, these errors in judgment seem much bigger to them.
What this does not mean though is telling them that their behavior does not matter or that it is not a big deal. If it is not a big deal, then the punishment should match it. The words and the punishment, however, must match up. So while the child is punished, he must be reminded that this is out of love and that he is still deeply loved and cared for.
The Rest of Our Story
Fortunately for us, we learned where Aunt Liza had purchased the comforter. It was from a custom bedding store called Vision Bedding. I was so grateful to learn they still had that bedspread!
When I found out that Vision Bedding had the bedspread, I brought Mikey into the room. “Come here,” I said. “You’re going to replace Anna’s bedspread.” I pulled a chair up alongside the desk and patted it. “Now type in www.visionbedding.com into this browser.”
“I don’t know how to spell it,” he whined.
“You spell it like this.” I said. We exchanged some more arguments, but I held out. When he obeyed, I nodded in affirmation. “Now, click on ‘bedspread.’” He did that too. Since I had already been there, I directed him to the right subpage. Internet Explorer slowly loaded the pictures.
Mikey kicked his legs back and forth. “This is boring.”
“You’re going to do it all,” I said firmly. “Now I want you to find the rainforest page.” When he obeyed, I pointed to the long line of stock photos. “Now, find the one that matches Anna’s bedspread.”
Mikey protested at first. The rainforest bedding selection covered more than two pages. But I kept him steady. “Keep looking. You’ll find it,” I reassured him.
Finally, after more than half an hour of stalling and wriggling, Mikey obeyed. It was a matter of waiting him out. But when he saw that beautiful rainforest in all its shades of green with vibrant parrots and vines, his face lit up. “There it is!”
We both enjoyed that moment. Then I showed him how to add the comforter to the shopping basket and how to pay for it. He sighed heavily when he saw how much the comforter cost. That was the second part of the punishment. He was going to have to pay for that comforter himself with extra chores.
The comforter soon arrived in the mail. By that time, Mikey had prepared a card of apology and started his preparations for paying us back. On the plus side, however, it also convinced him at the tender age of six that he did not ever want to be in debt again. “It sucks,” he said.
Thus far, he has not cut up another comforter. We still don’t understand why he did it, but the fact that he has not done it again is at least a small victory. And heaven knows we all need as many of them as possible.
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