Friday, June 15, 2007

Trading punishments

Yesterday, the 6 year old came back from swimming and his mother could not find his swimmers in his bag. Not only that his spare swimmers were missing too. This was not the first time this had happened but previously this had been worked out before everyone arrived home so the swimmers could be rescued.

Forgetfulness is not something we want to encourage and so he received a punishment. On Friday nights the family sits down to watch Survivor. This week he would miss out. He was upset and keep on claiming that he didn't know how this had happened. Those protests of innocence fell on deaf ears.

Today, his mother found the swimmers -- both pairs -- in his bag exactly where they should have been. Oops. Indeed, this was the second such incident in as many weeks. Last week, he had been accused of misplacing his school pants at home; something that seemed to me a hard thing to do. Turns out someone had mistakenly put his pants away in his sister's closet. Oops.

Each time the lynching accuser was his mother. So what to do about this. Now sometimes we have falsely punished but to maintain our reputation we had stuck with it as the child, at least, had no direct evidence of their innocence. They were younger too and it was plausible to them they had done something wrong. Yes, I know, this isn't fair but there is a bigger picture of the system here and it doesn't happen that often. After all, think of all the things they should be punished for but we are missing. The system balances out on average.

This time around the evidence was irrefutable. What to do? First, up was to restore the unfair punishment. I offered him a 'free pass.' The next time he did something that was due a punishment, he would get off with just a warning. As that was likely to be in the near future, he was happy with the deal.

But what to do with the false accusation which had (a) had not been a once-off (b) did not involve me? I suggested that the 6 year old be able to think of a punishment for his mother. That created amusement all round; well, except for one person. But it was accepted.

He struggled with what type of punishment to give. He toyed with going to bed early but quickly realised that that wasn't a punishment at all; and if he hadn't realised it, I would have pointed it out. Then he naturally gravitated towards the 'eye for an eye' philosophy. "Next time on Survivor, you won't be watching, Mummy."

He started to speculate on whether that was enough and perhaps she should be forced to sit through The Wiggles while we all watched. I love his sense of irony but pointed out that that bit was really just for his amusement and that perhaps he didn't want us to start thinking that we could add things we would find amusing to punishments too. So he left it at reciprocity.

All in all a satisfying outcome and no doubt his mother will think twice before accusing him of crimes in the future. Of course, I suspect it is only a matter of time before his older sister, who is very risk averse, hits on the idea of pre-punishment: you know, can you punish me now so that if the next one falls at a time that might be inconvenient or uncertain, she would have one in the bank. It is an interesting idea but one suspects that there is a reason one cannot pay for parking tickets in advance. You want the punishment cost to be immediate and linked to the activity rather than sunk. It will be interesting to see if my son's next crime is committed in haste.