Prisons are full and getting fuller. Does this mean that punishment doesn’t work?
In his essay on tantrums, child psychotherapist Adam Phillips suggests that “we punish children when we don’t know what else to do with them.” I wrote this down. I put it on a card above my desk. And still I ran out of ideas.
About a month ago, Gus stopped trying very hard at school. When he did that, there were repercussions. His teachers asked for more, and this made him angry and defensive, so he started misbehaving. How else is a kid going to keep it interesting? When this came back to me, I was sympathetic. I understood, and I spoke in a calm tone of voice, but I announced some changes: more exercise, earlier bedtime, better food choices and no TV.
Things got worse. Gus fell asleep in the car on the way to school. When we got there, he wouldn’t get out of the car. He threw his backpack around. He frowned constantly. There were meetings. There was soul searching in the middle of the night. One night Jim said, let’s let him watch TV. Oh right, I thought, that’ll work.
I had made my ultimatum and there was nowhere I could go. The thing is, nothing scares a parent more than “regression” or “losing ground” – especially the parent of the learning disabled child. This fear was preventing me from remembering that this life of ours has highs and lows.
Fear of punishment is poor motivation. Nobody ever climbed Mount Everest to keep their Mom from getting mad.
The Program is like a foothill that turns into a mountain, that turns into a rock face. You can stroll up a hill quick enough. But what do you do when your legs start to give out?
You rest. You try to forget the mountain up ahead. TV is good for that. It’s a little blue light in the middle of a tunnel.
Gus’ teachers worked with him to create a goals – steps – that he could handle. If he made all his goals for the day, he could watch TV when he got home. If he made all his goals for the week, he could get crispy fried tofu at Lin’s on Friday night.
There was even some leftover for breakfast on Saturday.