Send Junior to His Room? Oh, the Horrors!


I've heard many people say, “Don'd send children to their rooms for punishment. It only pairs something negative with someplace that should be positive. It will do more harm than good.” Is there anything to this claim?

Wow. I must be messed up and don'd realize it. I was sent to my room countless times growing up. Whatever bad room feelings I might have developed were either repressed — at least until I uncover them on some upcoming visit to a mid-day TV talk show — or else overcome by all the good feelings created by sleep, privacy, reading and naps. I have never personally met any adult traumatized, or even residually distressed, over spending involuntary room time as a kid. You'd think with all the folks I encounter in clinical practice, I'd bump into a few with leftover room angst as at least a small part of their adult troubles.

What you've heard I will label Childrearing Cliché No. 27. It is part of a larger “enlightened” assault on traditional forms of discipline: Spanking breeds aggression. Corners are humiliating. Time out is isolating. Writing essays fosters distaste for English. Fining a child money breaks trust, as it “takes back” a promised allowance.

All of these I've encountered from “experts.” Is anything left that is psychologically okay to use? How about taking away privileges or possessions? Well, that depends, goes the argument. Are they gifts from another person? Did Macey pay for them herself? Are they related to the crime? How long will they be taken? Was Forbes sufficiently warned?

Most anything that can serve as a discipline consequence also has other uses. I like chairs — a lot. I'm sitting in one now. Do I want to sit facing a corner? No. That's boring. I'm writing at this moment, and making money doing it. Do I want to be forced to write something about my misbehavior on my own time — for free? Nope. I use rulers to measure things. They're invaluable for household repairs. Was a ruler used to measure my behind a few times as a kid? Yep. Am I afraid of rulers now? Not at all — unless they're career politicians.

Most places or things can be good or bad, helpful or hurtful, depending upon the context in which they are used. Further, except in the most extreme cases, contexts don'd overlap. One doesn'd color the other. Involuntary room time doesn'd spoil voluntary room time.

Much of what makes discipline effective is the factor of choice. If Nielson just so happens to be too busy to watch TV for two days, he doesn'd feel deprived. It was his decision. If you punish him by suspending TV for two days, he does feel the effect. If Knap retreats to his bed for a two-hour snooze, he's content. If you send him there two hours early for bed, he's discontent. Time, place and freedom of will make all the difference in seeing something as reward or punishment.

To drive the point home further, try this exercise. Next time one of your kids acts up, offer a choice: He can either wash the car or go to his room for an hour. See which he chooses. See if he's pleased to be given the option. And see if, by comparison, the room isn'd the more desirable place to be.

It's all in the timing.

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