I’ve got a problem: how to reprimand a wayward 6 year-old, in a manner that isn’t in reality a punishment for me?
I’ve got this little one, I’ve mentioned him before, who is hell bent on asserting his dominance over the household. That’s all fine and good, except that his main objective is to throw a wrench into whatever plans the rest of us have. In the “…four out of five dentists…” scenario, he is the fifth, quarrelsome dentist. He also is the hardest to discipline. Each of his siblings have things that they love, which can be easily taken away (television, phone privileges, computer time…) but also secondary, less enjoyable interests which they can then sulkily pursue. So, tell the eldest, teen daughter that she is grounded off the phone and you will get a “FINE!” and then there is a loud stomping up the stairs to her room where she will write letters to one of her many pen pals about what an odious ogre her mom is. Fine with me. She’s out of my hair and increasing her literary acumen at the same time. Wonderful. Or tell our second born that he may NOT play computer and he will mutter a disdainful “Whatever.” and skulk away to his room to read or draw massively violent cartoons about warring robots from the future. Brilliant!
Our youngest is a different animal, however. He doesn’t want to read. He doesn’t play with toys. He doesn’t draw, play computer, or really want to watch television. What he wants to do is follow you around, poke his nose in your business and ask questions until your ears bleed. That’s it. There is nothing that you can take away from him, because there is nothing tangible that he enjoys. Except one thing; his bike. So it seems simple; take away his bike. But think about his other interest– his bike is the one thing which gets him OUT of the house and gives me a moments peace…which is a big component of discipline in this house. Whatever punishment the kids get, is also designed to provide the parents with brief and precious respite.
I’ve been a big believer in early bedtimes. The way I figure it, it’s extra quiet time I need to recover from the ravages of unruly children. Ditto extra chores. If you are impeding my ability to be efficient with the staggering amount of work required to keep this particular ship afloat, you might as well grab a mop and help.
Then there are the punishments designed simply to amuse me. I caught one of the twins tormenting her younger brother. She had to write an essay stating his good points and apologizing for her wicked, wicked behavior. She was then required to read this essay in front of the entire family. Hee. Hee. (I always mentally dedicate this category of punishments to my Grandmother’s sister-in-law who would make her children sit in the corner, holding hands, if they fought.)
No matter what strategy I employ, four out of five of my children will ultimately comply, however loudly they protest. But that little one…. Send him to his room, and he will trash it. Send him to bed and he will scream at the top of his lungs until well past his normal bedtime…often little treatises he has made up, largely entitled “I hate mom. And so does everybody else.” Give him extra jobs and they just do not get done. Take away his bike…and he’s just pissed and bored and now has the time to follow me around and make his displeasure clear. It is exhausting. None of this helps me, which I could deal with, if only it made some sort of impact on his behavior.
I think he can sense how very, very tired his father and I are. He’s the baby of the family, and frankly, we’re pooped. Youngest children have that advantage. Although if he were smarter about it, he’d just quietly go about his business. There is a lot I could forgive, if it were done quietly. I think that this is fairly common. I remember being home from college, years ago. My mom and I were watching a movie and I heard my sister, the youngest, pound down the stairs, slam the kitchen door and then drive away. I turned to my mom and asked, “Where is Nellie going?”
“I don’t know.”
“When is she coming back?”
She just shrugged.
“Do you know that she took your car?!!”
From an eldest’s standpoint, this was just incredible. What, exactly, had changed since I was sixteen years old? Because, believe you me, that is NOT how weekends went down when I lived at home. Nowadays, I understand completely. We simply wore our parents down. Stopping the youngest child from doing anything, required at the minimum, a speed and agility unavailable after years and years of systematic resistance on the part of their offspring. I am caught in the same spiral and seemly unable to stem the tide. But really, what’s the worst that could happen?
Stop. Don’t answer that.