At the breakfast table. Isaac is back from a weekend away. He is not integrating easily back into the way that we do things.
“Isaac, if you yell at Alexander and Keenie, what are the consequences?”
“I’ll be in trouble?” he asks.
“Isaac, that would be the punishment. That is not the consequence.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well.. What if I thought that you did something but you really didn’t? I could punish you anyway, right? You have been punished before for something that you said you didn’t do, right?”
“Well the consequence of the choice to punish you was that you missed recess unfairly, right?”
The cogs start turning in his head.
“Why did you get punished when you didn’t do what the teacher thought you did?”
“Because another kid said I did it.”
“So who did the wrong thing?”
“The other kid.”
“The teacher also accidentally did a wrong thing. She punished the wrong person.”
“Isaac, why did the teacher believe the other kid when he said that you did something?”
“Isaac, does that teacher trust you?”
“Isaac, if that teacher trusted you and didn’t believe that you were the type of person to do that thing.. What do you think would have happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think that the teacher would have punished you if she trusted you?”
“I don’t know.” He’s thinking.
“I don’t know, either.”
“So. Isaac, if you yell at Alexander and Keenie, what are the consequences?”
“You won’t trust me?”
“I will think that you yell before you try to talk.”
“But I do try to talk!”
“Did you just try to talk to them?” I don’t actually know either way, I just know that Alexander ran into the room upset and saying that Isaac had yelled at him.
“…No.” He tells me the truth reflexively. We’re not trying to figure out if he’s going to be punished. I’m trying to help him understand how things work.
“And what will Alexander and Keenie think about their relationship with you?”
“That I yell at them?”
“Right. That’s not good for your relationship with them.”
He doesn’t look like he likes that idea. He looks over at his brother and sister who are building with blocks in the other room. He’s quiet.
“Isaac, I want you to think about something today, okay?”
“I’m not punishing you for yelling at Alexander and Keenie this morning.”
He doesn’t look any happier than he did a minute ago. I’ve just told him that he’s not going to be punished for yelling, but he is knee deep in the consequences anyway.
“Can you think about the difference between consequences and punishment?”
“Okay.” he says.
“Can I give you a hug?” I ask.
“You’re a good kid.” I say. “I love you, and I hope you have a good day today.”
He runs back into the other room where his brother and sister are. He says something to them that I can’t hear, gives them a hug and comes back to wait by the door for his bus.
When children are fixated on the idea of punishments… They often forget about consequences.