Creativity advocates are everywhere. From the workplace to government and to our kids learning. On the last point, if you have missed it you'll want to watch this talk by Sir Ken Robinson (the most watched TED talk of all time).
But what about parenting? We hear all the time about parenting styles. There is tiger parenting, a French-style of parenting, free-range parenting and more recently, a more laid back approach advocated by the likes of Bryan Caplan and Tom Hodgkinson. But where is the creative parent?
I'm a professor in strategic management and to me there are two core managerial tasks in parenting. The first is managing logistics: how to you get all of the stuff done that you need to get done without losing a child? But the second is something requiring more: how do you stay ahead of the game? Your kids are moving targets both literally and also in their development. Just as you find you have got some behavior down right, another problem emerges. Kids are like evolving viruses building up immunity to past tactics.
As it is Friday afternoon, and as this blog is economically-focussed, let me focus on one particular aspect of creative parenting: how we punish our children for 'bad' behavior? This, it turns out, is a very difficult issue. Many parents have a time out corner. We did this and it worked well with our first born for all manner of indiscretions. Our second born son, however, was exiled to the corner but didn't take it in the way we hoped. What we want is despair and outrage. What we got in his case was no reaction. He would go to the corner. Sometimes we would hear him singing, "I'm in the corner, I'm in the corner." It was a merry ditty but it often triggered discussions as to whether the whole corner thing was working. It turned out that it was. The behavior was usually not repeated.
But corners are your stock standard, generic punishment. To be sure, they have symbolic value. But they don't really stick in the mind. We became a bit more creative when it came to punishments over the "failure to share a toy" statute. In that case, we not only confiscated the toy in question, we also put it out of reach but on display for the child to be reminded of its existence. The best thing about this one was that the punishment was associate with a specific transgression. A potential non-sharing child need only cast their glance to the confiscation shelf to think twice.
The real punishment for the creative parent is, of course, the ironic punishment. I once forced my son to take a Disney Princesses lunch box to school because he kept on losing his normal lunch box. The idea was that the 'pink' would remind him to bring it home and to look for past lost ones. It worked very quickly. That said, when I tried the same idea for lost clothing he tried to argue his way out of it saying it would be unfair on the other kids at school. Why? Because they would tease him and then they would get in trouble! I appreciated the effort there but was unrelenting.
In an extremely creative and ironic punishment, Vincent Janoski (a GeekDad) punished his child who had overplayed computer games but setting him a puzzle to free himself from what appeared to be jail. And for older kids, I'm not sure this has been tried, you could use strategies like this one suggest in the comic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.
To be sure, being creative in punishments takes some effort but when you get it right it can be quite pleasurable (albiet in a somewhat sadistic way). Moreover, if it has an upside you are more likely to follow through on it which helps you in setting and keeping to boundaries.
Nonetheless, if all that is too taxing, one strategy I have been able to get away with -- especially when behavior needs a quick correction (such as loud noise, slow dressing or sibling disputes) is to close my eyes and shout out "I'm thinking of a punishment and if you don't ____ I will enact it." The beauty of this is that it taps your children's own creativity in thinking what I might be thinking. And let's face it, they have a far better imagination than I have. In that way, I both outsource punishment management as well as encourage creativity. A win-win.