A reader in Buffalo resonated with a recent column in which I opined that a punishment is worthless unless it establishes a permanent memory.
When said reader’s son began kindergarten, he would work himself into a tantrum every morning. His “problem with transitions” caused him to miss the bus, so Mom ended up driving him to school.
To her credit, Mom did not allow emotion to drive her response to the problem. Realizing that her son’s morning meltdowns needed to be nipped in the proverbial bud, she considered her options and came up with a game plan. She sat her son down and calmly told him that he was free to throw morning tantrums, but for no longer than fifteen minutes. When a tantrum started, she was going to set a timer. When it rang, he had to stop, compose himself, and proceed cooperatively to the bus stop.
If a morning meltdown lasted past the bell, Mom was going to confine him to his room after school and put him to bed immediately after dinner. If he missed his bus because of a tantrum, he would spend a week in his room, during which time he could join the family for meals, family outings and school.
Mom writes: “The next day he threw a tantrum and missed the bus. I drove him to school, came home, and cleaned his room of anything and everything entertaining, including books. He spent the full seven days in there. He never missed his bus again, and he never threw another tantrum.”
Notwithstanding that the boy in question experienced no physical pain, mental torture, or discomfort other than prolonged boredom, this sort of discipline horrifies some people. I suppose they identify with the child and share in his seven days of unease. I suggest that the more rational response is to share in the boy’s success. He stopped throwing tantrums!
Who, pray tell, was the primary beneficiary of the boy’s confinement? Why, the boy! Misbehavior of any sort is a burden to the person misbehaving. That applies to humans of all ages. Chronic misbehavior prevents a child from growing up. Adults who chronically misbehave have not grown up.
As such, parents have an obligation to do all they can to help their children release themselves from the bondage of misbehavior. It is nothing short of narcissistic for a parent to become angry at a child for misbehaving, as if the person most inconvenienced is the parent. In this story, the mother was determined, not angry.
Who, pray tell, was the happier little boy — the tantrum-throwing one or the tantrum-free one? Why, the latter! Relieved of his burden, the little fellow was able to take a giant step toward maturity. That always feels good, at any age.
Would any amount of talk and understanding have resolved this problem? I doubt it. In fact, my experience leads me to believe that talk and understanding would have made the problem worse, not better. Intent aside, that approach might well have conveyed to the boy that he had a valid reason for throwing tantrums.
When this little boy is older, he will no doubt remember his seven days. Will he be grateful or resentful? That’s a no-brainer.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his web site at www.rosemond.com.