Until recently, my husband worked nights, so I was on my own for the girls’ bedtimes. What I worked out was this: Penny watches about a half hour of TV while I put Abby down, then Penny and I lay down and read and she falls asleep. Judge me not, ye women of only kids: you, too, will pray to the demon-god television when you’ve got two toddlers.
Anyway, the other day, Penny was really acting up. I knew she was just kind of worn out and frazzled after a too-active day, but Abby was very, very tired and having trouble falling asleep. I needed her room silent and dark, just for a quick 10 minutes.
Usually, this is not a problem. Tonight, it was. Penny was jumping on the slide, leaping across the bed, throwing pajamas around like a little overstimulated windmill. I counted, I had her take “yoga breaths,” I threatened. “If you do that again, you will get no TV,” I snapped, without thinking. She did it again. I had to follow through.
I was screwed.
Penny is 3, and going through a frightened phase. The other night it took her forever to calm down from a terrible nightmare, as she screamed, “I want to stay with my parents! I want to stay with my parents! I want Shrek to stop looking at me!” As near as I could tell, although she liked the original Shrek book and requested it at bedtime, the thought of Shrek’s parents kicking him out of the swamp had kicked off some serious worries she was working through. Being alone in the nighttime while I put Abby down, without the distraction of Angelina Ballerina, was really scary.
I left her sobbing in the living room as I tried, unsuccessfully, to put Abby down. Abby is the kind of sister who, when her sister is put in time-out, plants herself outside the door to wait for her, unwilling to budge–even when the time-out is for pushing her. There was no way she was going to go to sleep with Penny so upset.
And I felt like a Shrek-level ogre myself. What was wrong with me? Why had I made such a thoughtless threat? What would happen if I went back on it now? I saw the disapproving faces of my childless friends, of parenting coaches, of grandparents: “You’ll just be telling her she can wiggle out of punishments if she acts upset enough.”
But I knew she was really upset. And I knew she had gotten her consequence.
To be sure, I posted to that bastion of expert advice, Facebook. (From my phone, while rocking Abby in the bedroom. Gotta love modern technology.) One old friend, whose kid is now a successful, terrific high schooler, remembered giving her similar-aged son the option to “earn back” privileges when she’d gone too far down the consequence road.
Bingo. I had my out.
I nipped back out to the living room (this time leaving Abby wailing, poor mite), and told Penny she could earn back TV if she could… uh… promise that she wouldn’t jump anymore. She gladly acquiesced, and was immediately both soothed and occupied for the 10 minutes it took me to introduce Abby to Mr. Sandman.
You know what? Sometimes the consequences inconvenience us. I get that, and yes, I am willing to be inconvenienced in the short run if it means my child is better-adjusted in the long run. But sometimes, it can’t be helped, and it’s more meaningful to admit to a child that the whole megilla was too much to deal with, and half the megilla is enough of a lesson.
So far, she doesn’t seem to have been horribly spoiled by either the punishment or its resolution. But time will tell, right?
Have you had to adjust a punishment because it was too big, or too inconvenient? Did you hear your internal bubbe clucking at you, or was it okay?