I have sent my children to their rooms. It's awesome. I don't know how long I will make them stay there. They are up there pondering and pondering the unfairness of my actions, and I am loving it.
For Joey, Time Out is nothing more than a breather. We've actually reached the point where we can say, "Put yourself in Time Out" and he will do it, reflecting on his actions and coming to conclusions all on his own, until he calls out, "I know what I've done and I'm sorry." It's not just a line either. He will--somewhat grudgingly--recount his actions and explain why they were wrong. Lovely.
But if he can do that, it's not really punishment. That makes sense, though, because many parenting experts say that Time Out isn't meant to be a punishment, or jail. This came up at my last visit to the pediatrician with Noah. "He walks right out of Time Out," I'd said, my voice taking on a bit of a desperate tone as I feared my own failures as a mother coming out in the open so that this man now knew about them.
He'd only smiled gently and said, "That's okay. The point of Time Out isn't to force them to stay. It's to send the message, 'I love you but I don't like you.' You are the most important thing to the world to him, and he leaves Time Out because he recognizes that you don't want him around. That, in itself, is enough."
I think that what follows is important, too. That I sit down with Noah just as I do with Joey (even though he's three years older and wiser, I don't think that matters) and communicate about what made me put him in Time Out in the first place. Noah hates this--this really might be torture for him, to have to reflect on his wrong doings--but I know he hears me and processes the information.
But sometimes that's just not enough.
For about the millionth time this week, my kids started fighting when I left the room. They get along well for the most part, I think, but they are boys and they are brothers and they are HUMAN, so they do get into it. What I can't stand is the yelling and the indignant retaliating. "He hit me!" "Well I HAD to because he DID THIS OTHER THING THAT WAS EQUALLY BAD!" I break it up, we talk about it, we say what we SHOULD do as better conflict resolution, everyone agrees, and then it repeats itself. I'm not an idiot, I know this is just standard family living and learning as children grow. But as my mother always said, Enough is Enough. So today I said, "Both of you, go to your own rooms and close the doors. I mean it!"
Dutifully, they marched up the stairs. Noah went at more of a stomp, but I ignored it. He could stomp all he wanted, I wasn't changing my mind. I waited until I heard their doors close, and then I went about my business.
At this point, they know what they've done wrong. They know how I feel about it. This IS jail.
It occurred to me as I set about collecting laundry, changing the dishes out of the dishwasher, and tidying up (all in lovely peace, I might add), that sometimes punishments should feel unfair to my growing children. It should feel...unpleasant. Not in a physical way, of course. But more than a Time Out. Enough for them to realize that there are negative consequences--worse than a heartfelt chat and a few minutes of removal from playtime--to negative actions. Isn't that the way it is in the real world? You can't do whatever you want in the moment and then be real sorry later, and that's just okay. No.
Noah has apologized twice now. I appreciate that very much, and I believe that he is sorry. Mostly, I think he is sorry that he got in trouble, but it's a start. And Joey, who rarely gets in much trouble because he loves rules as much as I do, is upstairs muttering, "I've said I'm sorry. Why am I still up here?" And that's exactly what I want him to think. So that next time, he will remember that maybe it's not worth it to win Hungry, Hungry Hippos according to HIS rules. And I hope Noah will remember this if he feels like letting out a screech like the Headless Horseman is upon him and striking out at his brother for being a know-it-all.
I know that I'm taking the time to write this because I feel both justified and guilty at once...I don't think I'm alone in wondering at every step, "Am I doing the right thing?" But I do know that they are, in a safe and reasonable way, feeling uncomfortably aware that their actions were unacceptable, and that they will NOT want this to happen again. It will, of course, but hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.