#922: Self-awareness, Part 3: Crime and punishment

Haven’t we all at some point, in having to deal with the issue of discipline, said to our child(ren), “What do you think I should do? How would you choose your punishment?” We ask this because we hope that our children can come to the point of realisation—realisation of not only the seriousness of their actions, and how it needs to be handled, but also realisation of how hard it is for us as parents to mete out discipline. We want them to understand that we don’t relish handing out punishment just like that, but that sometimes it’s necessary.

There was a period, somewhere around the age of three to four (and still going on to a lesser extent now) when the Boy was always getting himself into some sort of scrape or another which demanded action from us, the disciplinarians. Discipline was usually in the form of “Go sit on the stairs and think about what you did, and come back and apologise when you’re feeling calmer, and truly sorry.” (Eventually, worse offenses demanded a “Go to your room—and no playing with your toys!” or a “No treats for a week”. But for the most part, sitting on the stairs was punishment enough for a four-year-old boy.) The Boy got so used to his own misbehaviour and resulting punishment that it got to the point where, whenever he commited an offense, he’d look at us and say, “Do I have to go sit on the stairs now?” We didn’t even need to ask him; he just knew.

During that period, I had the insane confidence and courage that I could take both kids on a month-long trip to B.C. to visit their grandparents whom they don’t see often. I knew going in that A) just because he was in a different house wouldn’t mean that his behaviour would improve, and B) grandparents are the biggest softies at heart. Sure enough, minor physical violence against his sister continued behind my back, and when I found out about it, the Boy’s new spot became the grandparents’ stairs.

It was always me putting him on the stairs, because my parents saw him as the wonderful grandson who could do no wrong. So one day, my mother came to me and said, “Why is the Boy sitting on the stairs? What did he do now?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I didn’t see or hear anything.” So I went to ask him what had happened, and he confessed his wrongdoing at that moment. He said that he felt he should sit on the stairs. Then he said the funniest, most heartwarming thing ever:

“I miss my stairs at home,” he said with a sad sigh. During punishment, there’s comfort in familiar surroundings.

I felt a mixture of emotions over his words: I was sad for him that he didn’t have that familiarity during a tough period. At the same time, I was proud that even in strange surroundings, he was still aware enough of his behaviour, to mete out some tough discipline and know where he needed to be.