Crime and Punishment.

This morning we discovered my normally sensible 9 year old had cut a sizable chunk out of her little sister’s hair. I was furious, but completely clueless to what a suitable punishment for this stunt should be. When asked why she did it, she first denied all knowledge, then insisted her 4 year old sibling had wanted her do it. I wouldn’t accept this as an excuse from my 4 year old so I’m not taking it from a much older child.

I find dealing with bad behaviour one of the hardest things about being a parent. How do you measure whether a punishment is successful or not? There are so many different methods out there and we’ve tried a fair number of them over the years.

Smacking has occurred in our household on occasion but we try not to get physical with the kids. Physical force is never pretty but it gets really ugly as they get older, and it’s hard to have a ‘no hitting’ rule when you are guilty of it yourself. I do yell a lot but it’s not effective and doesn’t feel good- It’s a kind of mummy-tantrum for me and I do it when I have no idea what to do next. Most of the time they all ignore it.

Time out seems to work much better for other people’s kids. Mine usually refuse to go to the time out area and if you try to escort them to the spot, they manage to give themselves a chinese burn from trying to twist out of our grip. If they can see I am about to go nuclear, they sometimes do take themselves to their rooms for 10 mins to allow me some time to cool down. This wasn’t an option with DD1 this morning as we were heading out to school when I noticed the haircut.

Removing access to something desirable ( computer/wii/DS/later bedtime) does have some effect  but you have to survive a ghastly tantrums, heart-rending pleading and promises of  never-ending good behaviour first. And the next time ( and there is always a next time) removing the same object from the same child doesn’t work quite as well. That’s what is so good about Christmas; the provision of new confiscation  opportunities.

We’ve had some success with reward charts and marble jars but after a while, we find we have children who ask ‘what do I get if I do?’ or ‘What’s going to happen if I don’t?’ every time they are asked to do something.

So what did I do with DD1, I hear you ask? Well a friend of mine suggested if she did something that infantile, then she should lose her ‘oldest child’ privileges such as going to bed later. So she’ll be tucked up for beddy byes at the same time as her younger siblings for the next week or so.  And I recruited the right of embarrassment that mothers have over daughters the world over, and enlisted a few of my school mummy ( and one daddy) friends. I asked them to come over to us in the playground and exclaim over DD3’s butchered barnet. At which point I told the whole story in excruciating detail while DD1 writhed beside me, and my friends made comments like  ‘Oh dear, that’s going to take ages to grow back’ and ‘Goodness, you won’t do that again will you?’. The wannabe hairdresser declined to answer them but from the blushing that was going on, I’m guessing this punishment will prove successful.