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Punishment or Consequences??

As a seven-year old in boarding school, I once cheated in a spelling test, looking over at my neighbour’s work. That night I couldn’t sleep, and the next morning, I confessed to my teacher, who commended me for my honesty while she solemnly tore up my test paper.

My fear of God was re-ignited every time I saw the framed words large in the hall at school: ‘Thou God seest me’, emphasised by the sermons on Sunday and the homilies of our teachers. The terrifying spectre of a God Being whose anger and vengeance against those who defy him or do not follow his rules haunts me still.

Punishment for sins, when I became a Muslim, remained a core belief, very like that I had held as a Christian. There was much evidence of a vengeful God, in the Quran passages about Hell, as there is in the Bible. It was just something I did not feel I needed to question, that is, -

- until I recently came to understand something very amazing about the Quran and the Arabic word that is so usually translated as ‘Punishment’! The original Arabic word, I came to realise through a wonderful teacher of Quran, called Randa Hamwi, who looks at Arabic as it was used in our Prophet’s time, really means ‘Consequences’. Nowhere in Quran is the word ‘punishment’ used!

How interesting! And revolutionary for me – it opens a whole new way of thinking, about our relationship with our Creator, as Rahim: ‘Merciful’, and Rahman: ‘Forgiving’, and how our actions, good and bad, result in ‘consequences’.

It makes a huge difference to the way I look now at discipline of our children, and generally view ‘punishments’ in schools. And I think it is very possible that the original word in the original languages of the Bible is probably closer to ‘consequence’ than to ‘punishment’.

It got me thinking about the sorts of ‘punishments’ I meted out to my children when they were young. Were they ‘punishments’ or was I helping my children recognise the ‘consequences’ of their behaviour or actions?

How did I deal with bad behaviour, when my child got upset, angry, hit out, reacted with obstinate refusal? One of the most effective ways I found to deal with such episodes was

time-out: removal from the situation, in a place where they could calm down and think, then giving the opportunity to make amends and repair.

I guess this may have been a less penal form of the ancient ‘Dunce’ chair, or a ‘naughty corner’, or banishment to under-stair cupboard as per Harry Potter, though it may still have been perceived by my children as punishment.

However, it did usually deliver the result of allowing a cool-off time, for both parent and child, and the opportunity to discuss the misdemeanour calmly with the child afterwards, and possible ways to make amends, which I guess could be regarded as dealing with the ‘consequences’ – though that partly depended upon how the child handled it all.

I have learned how to modify this principle of time-out to meet the very different personalities and approaches of my children.

When one of my sons behaved badly, I would need to physically put him into his room, with the door closed but not locked, and I needed to stay close by to monitor that he stayed until calmness took over. Although I would say to him as I did to the others, ‘When you are calm, you can come and say sorry’, he would quickly forget about why he had been banished to his room, and would start playing, so I would usually need to go into the room before that, and sit down with him ‘eye-ball to eye-ball’ and get him to recognise why I was cross with him. He would rarely admit he was wrong, but would come to the point of apology and agreement.

My youngest son would get stubbornly angry when I insisted on time out, and I would keep him in the same room still, because he would become distressed if I made him go into his room and shut the door. So I would get him to turn to the corner to think, while he crossed his arms and stood wide-legged and fuming. When he was small, he would even stand there saying, ‘I’m foss! (crossI)’. He would not apologise or leave that corner till I went to him and talked through what had happened. But he showed insight into what he had done that was wrong, and would apologise.

My daughter, on the other hand, would not need to be told – she sometimes took herself off to her room if she felt upset, or something was going wrong. And she would stay until she herself felt ready to come and apologise. And then, she would herself tell me what she thought she had done or not done, and what she wanted to do about it.

My older daughter, with whom I did not use the ‘time-out’ method so specifically, would immediately want to argue, and talk through why I was cross, and what she had done, and she often took time to accept that she had behaved wrongly, but when she understood, apologised sincerely. Perhaps that was because she needed that ‘time-out’ specific quiet time to think and calm down, before trying to verbalise it all.

Another son needed to be physically held, till calm, and then held quietly for a while before he could listen and respond to talking through what had gone wrong.

Apologies always included hugs and reassurances of love for each of them.

I also found that this method of dealing with problem behaviour evolved as they became teenagers, and it was no longer the best way to handle explosions for my sons, though for my daughter, it was her own go-to way of handling difficult situations.

Looking back, I think this time-out method may be one of the best ways of getting children to think and deal with the consequences of what they do.

I would love to hear what you find works for you and your children – and how you modify what you do according to your different children.

Enjoy these challenges and cherish the memories!


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