Alternatives to punishment:A nod to my mother, the queen of creative punishment.

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Week Three, Chapter Three


This week in #TheMJBookClub we merged from engaging cooperation to alternatives in punishment. This chapter gave really good examples of problem-solving, that were applicable to not only parents but anyone that finds themselves in a situation that requires reparation.


For example, a child that needs correction is often met with a nagging request of "Stop that!" or a slap to the hands. But, the good news is, we have choices guys. Real applicable choices.


The only example I couldn't get on board with, and found totally not relatable was the example of a 5 year old who got out his tape measure and hung up things up on the wall at exactly 48". That did not resonate with me one bit. I literally re-read it about 5 times to make sure it wasn't a farce. Of course its not real, they had to adapt for the book, right? But, this 5 year old with his tape measure, asking about medical terminology, made it's way past the editors and into the book. That one wasn't good for me. However, if you have a 5 year old genius, #1. Congrats and #2. Maybe you can relate. But, that is not who this mom is. And this is not what this mom has.

Moving on... Let's take a look at what the authors suggested "Alternatives to Punishment".


1. Point Out A Way to Be Helpful.

2. Express strong disapproval (without attacking character)

3. State your expectations

4. Show the child how to make amends.

5. Offer a choice

6. Take action

7. Allow the child to experience the consequences of his misbehavior.


This week I was actually able to apply one of the methods with my son.


With the start of a new school year, comes a new teacher. Right now my son and his teacher are still trying to figure one another out and settling into the vibe of what is tolerated and what is not. This week specifically, he has been getting reprimanded for talking in class.(Surprise!) When he got in the car after school, he was quick to want to talk about his day and his feelings of the day. (Hello, Chapter One, I see you!!) Our conversation went a little like this.


Son: "There might be a note in my folder today and its because when I work I tend to talk through the problem, but not in my head, I do it out loud."


Me: Okay, thanks for telling me.


I didn't make it a big deal or focus on how he got in trouble (again). Typically, I would have reacted right when he told me by seeming disappointed or taking away video games. Instead, we were able to sit down later in the evening, without his siblings, and have a conversation. I approached it like this.


Me: "I understand you were getting a reaction from your teacher when you were talking in class. I remember you saying that it was about you working through your problems, which is a really great thing to do. Mommy does that a lot with her writing".


We got to talking and I explained to him that lucky for us, we have experience with understanding how difficult it can be for people to concentrate and focus when there is noise involved. We relayed it back to his sister who has attention issues and how when she is focusing on homework or a task, we adapt our behavior for a period of time to accommodate her needs in order to help her succeed. (Ex: We go into a separate room and play quietly.) We then made a verbal list of what kids in his class must feel when he is talking and then discussed ways that he could change his behavior.


He mentioned things like: "I can remember that everyone has the right to learn.", "I can try writing it down and working out the problem that way". We listed off a few more and then I dropped it entirely.


The next morning before school, we talked about it again. However, my approach was different. Instead of saying "Don't talk in class today", I said, "What are some ways we can help other people learn today?" This was so much more effective than pointing out what he was doing to distract people. That was key in helping him understand that he isn't a problem, but that in class we need to be respectful of everyone's right to learn and more importantly he had the power within himself to change his behavior and impact the way his day went. (He came up with the ideas!) That was a really beautiful moment.


Full Disclosure: In my typical 'Beverly Goldberg S'mothering' way, I wrote him a note in his lunchbox that day simply saying "Respecting other people's right to learn is a beautiful thing".


After that, we dropped it. Not a single note has been written in his folder since.


I think this chapter really taught me that instead of making my children feel worse by unintentionally reacting, the better solution is to approach it from the standpoint of, how are we going to solve this together? If we are raising adults, which we should all be striving to do, they need to know that certain behaviors result in consequences and that they can control (in most cases) how that turns out. That was a really valuable take away for me. To be able to make lists and have them be a part of the solution is very much an attainable solution instead of just reacting.


I know in the book club, The Mommy Jane, talked about the 'Grocery Store Scenario'. What I took away that resonated for her, was that after a difficult trip to the grocery store with your child(ren), it's nice to have the skill of saying "NO" the next time you set out to leave for the grocery store. (#6. Taking action) In most cases, that will be followed up with "Why?"


However, with your new-found skill, you can calmly say: "You tell me why."(#7. Allow the child to experience the consequences of his misbehavior. ) And that allows the child to have the epiphany of "Ah-ha!, the way I acted last time wasn't acceptable behavior for the grocery store" thus allowing him/her to put it into the context of "If I act this way, I won't get to go. If I want to be able to go, I need to act in a different way."


For me, the 'Grocery Store Scenario' I related to, was the concept of letting the child help with the list, or to be the one to grab the items and put them in the cart. In fact, when working through the exercises in the book, those were my natural responses before even venturing into the rest of the chapter.


I always hear parents say they don't like going to the grocery store with their kids. Of course, it's always ideal to go by yourself, but I've never really dreaded it as others have. In fact, I found it entertaining that my natural instinct was to have them help. That's always been something I've done naturally. One because, let's face it, they overrule me 3-to-1 and I need them. But the real insight was that it came naturally to me because I was taught that way by my own mother.


It makes me laugh when I think about it. Like, WOW! This woman should write a book on the art of creative problem-solving. She did it for her kids growing up, her grandkids now and also multi-million dollar companies. Engaging cooperation and creative solutions is a part of her legacy! It's neat for me to unravel that part of our relationship and I guess I never really saw it that way until this book broke it down for me.


The story that I think will really help sum it up for the reader is this:


In 1988-ish, my brother and I were playing outside with our Cabbage Patch dolls. We were four and six. My parents were getting ready to head out for the evening, meaning we would have a babysitter. My mom mentioned to us before heading out that we needed to bring our dolls in because it was going to rain. "Yeah, yeah okay mom."


Cut to the next morning. We wake up, we are eating breakfast as usual and I remember my mom saying "You know, we had a situation last night". So, of course, my brother and I being curious start to ask: "Oh my gosh, what happened?! Is everyone okay?" To which she replied; "Your dolls were left outside and they got really sick because it rained."


Looking at my brother, we knew we messed up and immediately began asking where they were. She told us to finish our breakfast and promised to show us when we were done. Plagued with the crippling unknown of what happened to our sacred Cabbage Patch kids, we ate through our breakfast as quickly as possible.


After breakfast, our mom leads us down to the basement where we see our dolls in doll beds against the wall. Next to the beds were chairs with blankets and books. The basement had been turned into a hospital!


She had us sit down and began asking us about what happens when you get sick?


Of course, we reply with "You have to take medicine".


"And where does medicine come from?"


"The Doctor", we replied.


And with that, she agreed and said: "Yeah, in order to go to the doctor, what do you need?"


Obviously we had no idea. We were just thinking of a car. That's how you get to the doctor. But, for anyone who knows my mom, she can turn anything into a teachable moment.


That day, in a very elementary way, a four-year-old and a six-year-old learned about insurance. (That was her industry, so it just proves that what comes naturally to you, is what you apply.) We also learned that in order for our dolls to get out of the 'hospital' we would have to pay our "copay" of 5 cents per day and that babies in the hospital needed extra attention in order to recover. We could give them attention by rocking them in our chairs and reading to them.


It took my brother and me a full week and 25 cents to earn our babies back. Talk about an action having a consequence.


I think that's why as an I adult, I find it so amusing that my natural response is very similar to that of my mother. (WE DO WHAT WE ARE TAUGHT AS CHILDREN!) As a mother, I find immense satisfaction in teaching my kids through moments like the one I experienced as a child. I also see the added value of having your kids be a part of the solution.


If you are constantly having to problem solve on your own and find yourself repeatedly met with resistance from your child, NEWS FLASH: you are not being effective and it is time to change your approach.


What an experience parenting is. It's beautiful and it is trying and from it comes the extraordinary- and that is our kids and seeing them grow and growing right along with them.




Calla is a writer, mother of three, and host of Have The Conversation Podcast.  Her blog, art, and conversations are here for you as living proof that mistakes and the lessons they provide are all part of a bigger picture   Reach out! - She'd love to get to know you.

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