After everything I’ve done to avoid repeating the legacy of physical abuse that runs in my family, my eight-year-old son has just informed me that he would greatly prefer it if I could hit him, please, rather than using penalties (loss of playdates, etc.) as punishment.
“Why??” I ask.
“Because I like getting hit,” he says, “it’s fun.”
“But I don’t like hitting you,” I protest, greatly puzzled as to how getting hit could possibly be fun, “and you know I really don’t want to hit you in case I lose it and end up really hurting you.”
“But words don’t do anything, Mama” he says, “when I’ve got that bugger-energy, words mean nothing. You can give me whatever penalty you want and I don’t care. I can’t stop it. But if you hit me, then the energy from your hand drives the bugger-energy out of my body.”
“Then,” he continues, “you have to immediately start talking about something else. Don’t talk about what I was doing wrong, talk about something completely different – like getting a dog. Because if you keep going on about it – you know, like Daddy does – then the bugger-energy just comes back. Or it skips to someone else, like Zara or Hugo. But if you, right away, start talking about something else, then I can be loving and get back to normal and the bugger-energy stays away.”
I clarify, “Oh, so you mean you want me to take your mind off it right away by talking about something interesting.”
“Yes,” he says, “or fun; like what are we going to do today.”
I think on this rather startling information for a bit, then I say, “But I really don’t like hitting you, because it hurts my hand.”
“Well you don’t have to hit me hard,” he replies, “you know, you should really learn from Nana, she hits us three times, but none of them are hard – maybe all three add up to one of yours.”
I’m still having a really hard time getting my head round all this.
“But Oscar,” I say, “for me to get to the point where I’m going to hit you, I’m really angry, my rage is breaking out and I just wallop you. But if you hadn’t pushed me past what I can take, then I wouldn’t hit you in the first place.”
“I know,” says Oscar, “you should do what Mrs. Strong [his teacher] does. You get three warnings and then you have to go sit alone outside the class. So you could give me three warnings and then one hit. Before you get angry.”
“Oh, so you don’t need anger with the hit?”
“No,” he says, “and the anger makes it worse, because then I get angry too.”
“Okay, so three warnings, then one hit – not hard and no anger – then don’t talk about it, but immediately change the subject to something fun or happy. Is that it?”
“Yes,” he says, “And you can tell Daddy to do that too. But, oh man…Daddy is way too….you know, he just gives us chance after chance and then he still doesn’t hit us, he just raises his hand and shouts and then we run away. So that doesn’t work at all. He’s got to become… you know, more like you.”
“You mean more strict?” I ask.
“Yes, he’s got to say it and then right away do it. You have to do the actions. And if you ever don’t do the actions, then that’s it, we won’t listen to you after that.”
This parenting advice from my eight-year-old son, has really turned me on my head. Talk about torching pretty inviolate principles I’ve held since I was a child, when I vowed I would never hit my own children. And yet, he’s not requesting that I beat him in anger; resulting in fear, rage and humiliation. He’s not even asking me to physically hurt him.
But somehow, or for some reason (perhaps on the energetic plane) he’s telling me that the only way he can break free of the “bugger-energy” is if I spank him. And then I need to keep the bugger-energy from resettling on him or his siblings, by immediately directing his mind and energy to something fun, loving, happy, etc.
When Oscar talks about “bugger-energy” he’s referring to this horrible space or persona he gets into where he literally torments the members of our family. It is truly torturous and absolutely relentless in its intensity. I don’t know if other children do this to their parents or siblings – I know our other two don’t. Oh sure, they can be very naughty and difficult from time to time, but nowhere near the scale or intensity of Oscar’s behaviour.
To date, the only way to get him out of this space has been to lock him in his room – where he goes into a rage – and then when you feel the shift in his energy, ask him, “Are you ready to come out now and behave decently?”
When he’s ready to apologize and come out, he is the sweetest, gentlest, most helpful, loving, adorable boy on the planet. It’s like something builds up in him and he needs a catharsis. Then, once he’s had his catharsis and it’s cleared from his system, he simply oozes love and caring for the rest of the day. And all is pretty much fine (for days, weeks, or months) – until the next time.
I wonder too if this is a boy thing? Our daughter doesn’t do this, and our other son is only two and a half. Oscar didn’t start tormenting until he was four and it was at its worst in the year he was five. My younger brother (nine years younger than me) used to do this too. He would follow me around the house just bugging the crap out of me. Finally I would go and lock myself in my room to get away from him. And he would stay right outside my door harassing me for two hours (the longest I ever lasted) until I would finally come out and wallop him.
I asked my brother when he was in his twenties why he used to do this to me. His answer: “Oh, it was great fun, I liked to see how far I could push you before you would blow.”
I said, “You mean, if I would have blown a lot sooner, then that would have been fine, you would have just gone away?”
This ‘spanking’ request from Oscar is also very interesting from the perspective of a parenting movement called Non-Violent Communication. Their premise is essentially that you don’t get a child to behave decently (caringly, lovingly, compassionately) via threat or execution of punishment. But rather, compliance is achieved through extensive dialoguing with the child, seeking to discern their need, desire, motivation, etc. And then explaining to them with compassion why their behaviour (hogging the slide at the playground, for example) is not a good idea. You’re supposed to persist in this manner until the child shifts their behaviour accordingly.
This method is very much in line with my principles (be the compassion you want to see in the world) and works well for most of our children, a lot of the time. The rest of the time, penalties (the small person’s equivalent of a speeding ticket) work well – and the children usually devise their own penalties and shoulder their responsibility willingly.
Then there’s Oscar: ‘Aw for heaven’s sake Mum, just wallop me would ya?’
Well, I’ll go ahead and try his ‘no-anger-spank-and-distract’ plan and let’s see if it works!
Personally, from what I’m learning from each of my kids and various methods of discipline is that the key is to teach, explore, discipline, etc. without anger. Anger turns a valid issue, or need, or violation of rights, into a power struggle. And then you all lose.
So for myself, my own self-discipline involves remembering and implementing these strategies before I start to get angry. And I will admit, I’m not there yet! Just last night I was incredibly tired and stressed (2 year-old Hugo had just run off and disappeared in the middle of town – we found him after a frantic search) and a conflict with Oscar was escalating.
It was actually Oscar who was the bigger person and stopped the conflagration cold by yelling, “Just hit me! Don’t you remember anything?? I need the hit!” So I grinned, said, “Doh!” delivered a smack to his leg (we were sitting down in a restaurant).
“Is that hard enough?” I asked.
“Yep.” he said. And we had a lovely cuddle and began talking about something else.
Update: It’s been one week and so far Oscar’s method is working like a charm. We’ve had three blowups averted thus far, quickly and painlessly (including the one outlined above), by using his method. As we’re on holiday (all together 24/7) this is actually the ideal time to test this. Let’s hope it continues for the long-term!