Before I became a parent, I used to think any form of punishment is a strict no no, and I would never punish my child but reason with her and show her the right way. Yeah, I know, what a fool I am!!
I am not saying punishment is necessary, but I realized I lacked the patience of a saint, and I had to use punishments to draw limits, to keep my own sanity and equanimity. For sometime I told myself to never hit the child, but there are times when I just lost my temper and gave her a whack. Initially I used to feel really bad about it, but now I have learnt to handle this. I don’t mean to say hitting children is good, just that, if sometimes in the heat of the moment you do it, its ok, dont beat yourself too much about it. Try not to do it again, but just because you have done it does not make you a bad person.
But now I have come across a far more difficult problem. How does one punish a child who refuses to feel punished, who thinks every punishment is a joke. It is not that she does not understand cause and effect, she understands very well, but as far as she is concerned, the punishment is a logical effect of the cause, and that is not reason enough to stop the behavior which provoked the punishment in the first place.
Sample some of these interactions
I receive a complaint that she has hit another child in school.
Me. I am giving your ball to xyz because you hit her. She willl have it for a day and return it.
Migu : Cries and protests but has no choice.
Three weeks later
Migu : We can give this chalk and slate to xyz tomorrow.
Me (surprised and not making the connection) : Why
Migu : I will hit her tomorrow.
Migu refuses to eat and keeps spitting her food out.
Me : If you keep doing this, I am going to take this toy and give it away to ……. (a famous person who was imprisoned briefly, I will not name her, for fear of political backlash). She is in jail and needs this toy to play with.
Two days later,
Migu : After doing the same behavior again, haan, you can hand this chair over to ….. today.
After her father gave her a time out in the bathroom for biting me.
The next time she bit me, without any prompting, she walked into the bathroom and said, Ask appa to come inside, we will close the door for some time.
The most recent attempt after another hitting incident in school
I told her I would not talk to her and for half an hour did not respond to any of her questions. She really grew distressed and I thought finally I have found something to punish her with. Well, thought too soon I guess.
This is what happened two days later, on our way back from school.
Me : Were you good girl today.
Migu : Yes, you can talk to me today, I did not hit anybody.
Me : That is good, I am proud of you.
Migu : Dont talk to me tomorrow
Migu : I am going to push abc tomorrow.
At a very impersonal level, I find this ability awesome. She disarms you completely by refusing to feel punished by anything, and she has made me realize that there is no punishment in itself, and any act is a punishment only if the person chooses to look at it as such. There is probably a strength and emotional resilience in her, which will stand her in good stead in future. But at a very immediate level, how the hell am I ever going to discipline her.