Crime, Punishment and Resolution

Celebrations and festivities can be stressful for young families, what with traveling and lots of people and presents and candy. Adults can get tired and young children can be easily excited and overwhelmed and get into doing things we don’t want them to do.

Recently, I entered a room with 2 toddlers who were holding on to dress-up helmets by their elastic and swinging them around and banging them against each other. I softly walk up to one of them and kneel and ask for his helmet. He doesn’t give it to me but he stops. I wait a while and ask again and he laughs and drop the helmet. I pick it up using one hand and then the other and finally with both hands. The other toddler is watching too. I put the helmet on my head and then I put it back on the ground at his feet. The 2 began to put on and remove the helmets and had a great laugh.

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When young children act in an unhelpful manner, I am often asked by parents or adults observing why I don’t punish them and that they need to know that certain things are wrong, that they must be kind and not mean. In response, I explain that when necessary, I might keep a child with me or sit with him on chairs while we observe other people carry on with their activities. ‘Like a time- out?’ Not like a time- out. Because the aim is not punitive but supportive. Unlike us, when children get excited and begin a series of ‘mischief’, it is much harder for them to slow down again or stop. We can assist them by calmly helping them leave the situation and sitting with them. While you sit, you could either be quiet or if you feel a need, you could help with any soothing strategies, you always employ, such as counting or singing, before returning them to the community.

It need not be so enjoyable that they seek you out to sit with all the time but neither need it be a humiliating experience. Human beings have a strong need and tendency for community and being around other people. The child knows exclusion by any other word or way. The most effective method I have found is to help the child get through the situation and move on to the next.

Words like ‘kind’ and ‘mean’ are extremely abstract concepts. It is much easier to hep the child understand there are certain places and time for things and events and that’s all to it. If direct moral education is important to your family and you, educating your child about it can be done separately rather than at moments of crisis or high levels of emotions.

So goodluck this last celebration of the year and have a happy new year!

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