I think one of those moments when parents earn their stripes is when they have to choose between punishing their child for a screw up or allowing the experience of the screw up serve as the punishment. Take, for example, my daughter in fifth grade who let a monthly book report assignment go until the night before it was due and then stayed up past 2 a.m. last night to finish it. Should she be punished for procrastinating or is going to school on five and a half hours of sleep punishment enough?
A few weeks ago, my eight year old got himself into a similar bind and I told him to go to bed and suffer the consequences of turning in unfinished homework. But last night when my daughter found herself in the exact same situation, I called my wife (who works nights) asked her not to say anything when she comes home and sees her daughter sitting in her room working way past bed time. I am playing a double-standard but I had my reasons:
I wanted to see how she would handle the pickle she put herself in; would she leave the assignment undone in order to get some sleep and take the worse grade, or would she stay up super-late, do good work and get the higher grade but go to school bleary-eyed and sleepy the next night? I wasn’t sure which way it would go. Neither my wife nor I yelled at her or said anything. We gave her the space to do whatever she was going to do without her parents input.
Here’s what happened: This morning I went into her room a few minutes early and examined the homework that was neatly stacked on her desk. I flipped through 24 pages of words, definitions and illustrations. Despite the time pressure and the late hour, I could tell that she remained meticulous and creative. I thought to myself, “She did a good job.” A few moments later, my older son woke up and I gave him the homework (he knew about the night-before cram session). He flipped through it as well and had the same reaction. “This is actually pretty good,” he said.
I then woke her up for school. She popped awake more quickly than she usually does and later told her brothers, “I don’t feel tired at all. I don’t know why.” She claimed to me that the whole thing was uncomfortable experience that she’s not keen to repeat (or perhaps she simply told me what I wanted to hear). I have to admit that I am proud of her for not letting the quality of her work slip despite the late hour.
My wife and I are still irked at her for procrastinating and mulling over an appropriate punishment. She wants to punish and I am torn.
What do you think?
EPILOGUE: My wife came up with the idea of having her read another book and write a similar report before a two-week deadline on top of her other school work, etc.