Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Go To Your Room!" PD or Not?

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

I've been meaning to address this question from Amy (in the comments of this blog post) for quite a while, but life has a way of interrupting my blogging. Which is good, because I really am trying to have a Life here.

This thread has long since died down, and I think people have had their say for the most part. I'm not trying to open up the whole thread again (especially because Amy has asked that more philosophical parenting discussions stay off of her blog, and I'd like to respect that request).

But this minor exchange in the comments was interesting to me, and I hope to explain this a little better, to clarify my position on this.

First I said this (added emphasis):

Secondly, we send our kids to their rooms–that is a technique that can be handled positively. When people are spitting or hitting or screeching until my eardrums bleed, they are given some choices. They can control their body. They can let me help them control their body. Or they can leave and go somewhere else and do that annoying thing. When they are ready to control their body–and DEMONSTRATE this control by their behavior–THEY get to decide when to leave their rooms. Sometimes, especially with more than one child, it’s not feasible for me to leave room, and you’re right, it’s not always in my self-interest to be the one doing the leaving. Plus it’s not fair.

We use the “go somewhere else” method not as a punishment, but as a true alternative, a choice for the child to make. Often, they don’t want to be separated from the rest of us (we’re too fun!), so they make the choice to control their own body. Sometimes they do and we’re spared the inappropriate behavior/being used as a punching bag. Sometimes the “elsewhere” choice is their room; sometimes it’s going outside; sometimes it’s going into the bathroom to use the sink to spit.

And then Amy said this:

But I am surprised that you, Jenn, send your kids to their rooms. My recollection of Jane Nelsen’s book (or maybe it’s just stuff I’ve read on the Yahoo group or Kelly’s blog) is that that is punishment and not ok.

I can see how this might be confusing. On one hand, I have repeatedly said that we don't punish our kids for bad behavior. On the other, I said that we send them to their rooms as a discipline method.

I think I mis-wrote (that's the bloggy equivalent of misspoke, yes?) when I wrote that we "send" our kids to their rooms. Here are two examples, showing what we do, and what we don't do. Let's take the scenario that a child is hitting others and can't seem to control himself. This would be a child who is old enough to understand the rules and exhibit some impulse control--say, around 4 and up. We handle hitting issues much differently with Sean, who is 20 months old.

What we don't do:

"You're hitting! You can't be around others just now, so go to your room and stay there until I tell you that you can come out."

This is how room-going was handled when I was a kid. You did something wrong and made mom mad. She sent you to your room until she told you that you could come out. Sometimes this happened after lots of chances to change your behavior; sometimes this happened right away--no second chance--particularly for serious transgressions like hitting others.

What we do instead:

"You're hitting! There's no hitting in our house. What can you do instead? [Help kid come up with options: ask a grownup for help, use words, etc.]

Okay, that's right. You need to control your body and use words. Is that something you can do right now, or do you need me to help you? Do you think you might want to apologize to your brother for hurting him?

. . .

You're hitting again, after you agreed to control your body and use words. The rest of us need to be safe from hitting, because hitting hurts. Can you go into another room until you are able to control your body? Then we can problem-solve.

. . .

[If the kid refuses to leave the area where others are, and his body control is still non-existent, then: ]

Okay, you've shown me that you are not in control of your body and you will not leave this area. So I will help you go up to your room. [Firmly but kindly take the kid up to his room or other area apart from others.] You can come back and be with the rest of us when you can show me that you are in control of your body.

The essential difference (besides the wordiness, heh) is that the child really has quite a bit of choice in what will happen to him (even if he doesn't quite appreciate this fact!). At every subsequent step along the way, he has a choice.

If he can pull himself together and control his body, then we will not make him go upstairs. If he wants to go to another place in the house, or outside, that is also up to him. When to come back and rejoin the family is also completely under his control. There is no fixed time set by me to remain in the room as punishment, no timer. If he decides to come back downstairs but is still not in control of his body, then he will be asked to leave (and/or escorted from) the room again. We will do this as many times as it takes until the child is back in control and is not hitting people. (And lest you worry unnecessarily, these sorts of hitting events are very rare in our household!)

So, that is how we "send" people to their rooms. It is not punishment in the sense of : If you do X, then I'll do Y to you, so that you will learn a lesson or feel bad about the way you behaved.

What we do instead gives the child a lot of control and chances to make up his own mind about how (and whether) he will respect the rights of others.

It may look like a traditional punishment from the outside-looking-in, if you didn't hear the conversation leading up to the room-going. If you saw one of my kids hitting and then me escorting him up to his room, you might think that I am not adhering to my "no punishment" principle.

Much of PD, and indeed, discipline in the larger sense, has to do with parental intent. Is it my intent to make the child feel bad about hitting by sending him away? No. Would I like him to feel badly when he hurts others? Well, yes, but that's not the reason I am sending him out of the room. I am sending him out of the room in this case in order to protect the rights of others not to be hit. I am also giving the offender a chance to exercise some inner-discipline, and to honor his efforts if/when he is truly able to do so.

Parental intent is crucial. Even though what I might do (escort the kid up to his room) may be the very same action a non-PD parent would take, we are acting for different reasons, and probably after different types of interactions leading up to the limit-setting journey to the room. (For another example of this, see this post I wrote last summer.)

So many times in my own childhood, I got to the point where I was able to control myself, but was punished anyway, since my parents felt that a good old-fashioned punishment would drive home their (probably worthy) point. But what does additional punishment say to the child who realizes he's done wrong and IS able to (or attempting to) exercise that inner discipline that we all want our kids to have? I think it sends a message to the child that inner discipline is less important than feeling bad about the transgression, or that Mommy has to "win" this battle (might makes right). That's certainly how I recall feeling. Is it more important for Mommy to win than to have the child demonstrate that he is in control of his body and is able to respect the rights of others?

How might a child who is still unable to control himself interpret the additional punishment? How about: "Well, I have to do the time, so I might as well do the crime?" That would be a very Brendan-y interpretation, I think. (Correct me if I'm wrong about that, Brendan!)

Occasionally I get caught up in that feeling of wanting to win over my kids: I'll show you! You think you can hit me or a sibling and get away with it?

When I feel that way, I have to consciously remind myself of my parenting principles--that my goal here is to help them and give them chances to develop inner self-discipline. If someone who has just popped his baby brother over his head is truly remorseful and able to control himself, then I will not give him a punishment designed to make him feel worse, or to drive home my point.

Mind you, I feel completely free to express MY emotions about what happened: "Well, I'm glad you can control yourself now, but it makes me very angry when Sean gets hurt!!! It makes me feel like I need to watch over you guys really carefully for a little while, just to make sure. What can you tell me about what happened to reassure me that this won't happen again?"

No, they don't get extra punishment, but they do get to experience the results of their poor choices/lack of self-control. I think that's okay--when they are adults, they will experience similar results. I think this experience is more effective in helping them learn to understand about the rights of others or the effects their actions have upon others, than any "go sit up in your room" sort of punishment. If they are only ever sent up to their rooms, they will miss the opportunity to see how hitting makes a baby brother or a Mommy feel. They will be mad about what was done to them, but will they see what it was they did to someone else?

So anyway, a way overdue response to that question! I hope this has clarified my thoughts . . . if indeed anyone was still wondering! :o)

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