Of naughty corners and sparkly stars

‘Naughty corner, now!’

‘Nooooo! Sorry. I’ll never bite bhai again.’


That’s how the conversation usually went about seven years ago when the younger one was three. I don’t exactly remember where I discovered the magical disciplining techniques along with a few other downright unscrupulous tricks, but I vividly remember how I got to the point.

It had been a blur. Whoever painted the rosy picture of tiny toddlers bundling around with endless strains of faint giggles that mix with the gentle breeze flowing in, was either severely delusional, had an entourage of aayahs at her beck and call or was plain and simple a sociopath – you know, the variety who lure you to the well, teeming with rotting corpses, and then with one firm shove, push you into the rut. Sounds exaggerated? Think again. Remember the time when the nights were an endless series of diaper changes and bawling children and days were spent figuring things around sleep schedule of the little devils? Basic stuff like running a comb through your hair seemed like a luxury. Yeah, I remember forgetting how that felt for a long time – an untangled mop of hair, tied neatly. Baths were hurried and meals even more so. Now compound that with the fact that the difference in age between the two is 2 years.

So by the time the younger was two, I sank into delirium. The whole day, all they did was fight, kick, cry, bite, and repeat the cycle over and over. I was required to be the referee or a shoulder to cry on depending on the severity of the bite. Gradually, things got out of hand and I found myself screaming at them very frequently. It was effective for a while – if not in solving the problem at hand at least shoving it under the carpet and aiding me in letting the steam off. Thankfully, realization hit one day. It couldn’t go on like that. I couldn’t be shouting my vocal cords hoarse for the rest of my life and that’s when the apple dropped on my head. It was not short of an epiphany.

When a child makes a mistake, we shout or in some cases whack the living daylight out of them, but actually, we are doing the following: –

1. Looking for a quick fix. A child won’t dare to mess with this towering adult who is shaking while he/she shouts or worse delivers a slap leaving thin red lines on the cheek. Hence, we arrive at the quickest possible solution – scare them, shut them- at least for that moment.

2. Providing them with faulty problem solving mechanism. ‘Shouting and hitting works for mum and dad, so it bloody well work for me.’ There – you just created a bully and possibly worse – an adult with skewed ideas of relationship management. When in fight, shout and scare.

3. Squishing their self-concept: Self-concept is more fragile than a delicate spider’s web especially for the little ones. At the stage when they are still struggling to form a basic sense of self, if they keep getting subjected to physical or emotional violence – they stand to risk a healthy development of self-concept. So, the fine threads that hold everything together snap and the web ends in a messy tangle.

4. Living in denial: ‘Me? I never hit my children! See, sometimes a whack or two happens but then what can you do? Karna padta hai.’ Sound familiar? Most of us live in denial. We deny that we are overly strict, we deny that the slap that the child got had more to do with our own anger rather than his fault, and we deny that things might be out of our control.

5. Justifying our weakness: ‘I get blinded with rage and can’t help hitting the little bugger! She just does not listen!’ Well, you were unable to control your rage so it is your problem not your child’s. It is harder to take a step back, control the tentacular anger and then deal with the situation calmly. The easier, of course is to yell and slap.

6. Falling into the vicious cycle: Get angry, hit/shout, mumble, justify and wait for the blunder to happen again and lash out again. Before you know it, you would have set a pattern – Count would be lost of the times you yelled or hit and the poor child has either gone into a shell or worse – stopped caring.

So what do we do about it? We could continue to live in denial and presume that none of the things above point a sly finger towards us, strengthen the belief that only a rod works, or outrightly ridicule the idea that displaced aggression could have found a foothold in our lives. Or we could actually do something about it.

Once I realised that, I had to look for alternatives. Hence, I made my list of do’s and don’ts to add to the millions already out there. The only difference – this one is based solely on experience and desperate surfing for information over the years and has absolutely nothing to do with the sleepy lectures on Developmental Psychology that I attended a few decades back. So here goes!

1. You are not God: Even Gods are known to behead their children (and fix an elephant head in its place) in a fit of rage so spare yourself the torture! We are human and we cannot be right all the time. The sooner we admit out shortcomings, the closer the solution gets. So stop telling yourself that you never lose it with them. We all lose it – the idea is to make sure we do not make a habit out of it.

2. When angry get out of the situation: After being conditioned to yelling and getting instant results, it gets difficult to resist. So when anger strikes, promptly strike back. A glass of water, deep breaths, pacing around – whatever works. Gather yourself before the danger siren goes off and you blow it. Give yourself a time out. Whatever the crisis, it is better dealt with after splashing your face with water and washing away the rage.

3. Research, read or create: Look for alternative methods of disciplining. I found the idea of a naughty corner on one of the desperately searched sites and it worked wonderfully well back then and does so even now in a more evolved form. A rough guide to the duration of time-out is that it should be equal to the age of the child. So say a three year old bites his older sibling, he sits in a chair facing the corner of the room for three minutes. The only key to make it work – persistent consistency with clarity. Explain in short and few sentences why he needs to sit it out. A long speech never does it. Even if it doesn’t seems to work at first, keep at it. Eventually it does.

4. Positive reinforcement goes a longer way than punishment: Now that we know naughty corner works, it doesn’t imply that we get the poor chaps to camp in the corner till eternity. It has to be a mix where the balance tips in favour of positive reinforcement. Reward specific behaviours. Saying, ‘you have been a good boy today’ is a generic statement. But to say, ‘It is great that you helped clean your toy bin today’ makes a greater impact. They ought to know exactly what they are being praised for.

5. Tokens are not bribes: Giving them tokens/coupons/stars for displaying specific behaviours which they could exchange at the end of the week for a book, or an activity, worked wonders for my boys. In fact the younger one took to reading out of greed for tokens that he could then exchange for extra time at park, or a scoop of ice cream.

6. Reward but don’t give the entire shop away: So we have established that rewards work and gets them to behave well and do some desirable stuff too. But question is what should be the exchange value of the tokens? Make a list of desirables. Start with the lowest value and gradually increase. If on the first instance you throw a feast, then the next one loses its sheen. Ultimately we are aiming to phase out these rewards and replace them with praise and applause and then finally, a drive from within the child to do it right.

7. Pick your battles: Just as we are humans, the seemingly devilish creatures are humans too. They will be flawed so give up the idea of an ideal child. That little person you have is ideal for you, complete with his/her faults. Accept them. Choose specific issues that urgently need to be dealt with. For example, I was okay with my younger one not eating pumpkin stew but nearly scratching the elder one’s eyes out was entirely unacceptable. When we try to fix everything all it ends up sounding as a nagging white noise. And we all know how we react to old nags – we ignore them.

8. Every fire can be fought: The child comes in with a C or let’s say an F on the paper – what do you do? We could tell him he is a disgrace and doesn’t work at all and go on to list how he will end up being a failure or we could just gather the fire fighting equipment required. When we show them that bad grades are irreversible or that their bad behaviour defines character forever, we are telling them that there is no hope. Instead, if we approach both successes and failures with equanimity and look at ‘what next?’ it might get easier for them to cope with both ecstasy of succeeding and the gloom of failures.

Having said all that lot, I have never claimed to be an authority at parenting but I do claim the sanity plea – It has been 12 years and I am still sane. The tokens still work though the stakes have changed. I get to hear all their secrets (Or so I make myself believe). We reason, argue and till now I do end up having my way without substantial damages and them suspecting a thing! Well, I didn’t claim to be an ideal, righteous parent, did I?

Best part- they don’t hide their blunders from me. After a little hesitation and a background speech, they confess. Sometimes, I still go and splash water on my face and at others only a full-bodied dunking works. From grades to fights, everything is discussed and dealt with – some with hugs and some with ‘time-out to think.’

Originally posted at :   Of naughty corners and sparkly stars


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