WHY WE DIDN’T HAVE A “NAUGHTY STEP”…
It is, of course, very common practice nowadays to send an errant child to sit somewhere in your home, (or someone else’s home) called The Naughty Step. This is a place where the child is meant to think about their wrongdoing, have some time out and calm down.
I am sure that this practice works for many families. Let me explain why it isn’t something we used for long. When our 4 children were younger they did plenty of things that warranted time on such a step! Trust me on that one. However, I read a book which totally changed the way we parented and disciplined our kids. It was called “Loving our kids on purpose” by Danny Silk. I read it. It blew my mind. If you haven’t got it, or seen it or heard of it, please get it. Then get it for all your friends.
Like most people, we used to punish our children when they did something wrong. I had been punished as a child – sometimes in quite serious ways, so I just thought it was normal. I had sanctions for the kids and I acted them out. I remember one of the twins biting the other so hard that I resorted to putting mustard in his mouth. He was nearly very sick. I remember another of my children receiving a cold shower as punishment for something awful they had done (although I can’t now recall what.)
I noticed that my children were totally terrified of punishment and terrified of me when I punished them. Their eyes showed raw fear. Fear is not good. Fear is the opposite of love. The Bible tells us that where we have perfect love, fear goes running. If your kids are afraid of you or your partner, something could be very wrong in your home.
You might well argue that you were disciplined as a child and it hasn’t done you much harm -has it? Well actually I think it could have been damaging for you, as it was for me. I remember as a child telling a lie to my parents and being banished to my room. I was locked in and given nothing but dry Ryvita and water for an entire day. It was AWFUL. I felt like a criminal. I was ashamed, afraid, lonely and lost. I still shudder about that NOW nearly 30 years later. There were other punishments that my (VERY LOVING and CHRISTIAN) parents gave me and my brothers too, many around the idea of separation. “Go to your room!” kind of commands happened often in our noisy home. And I don’t blame my parents at all. They just practiced what they had experienced or seen themselves.
After I read the Danny Silk book (which I believe should be on every parent’s wish list) I TOTALLY changed the entire way I thought about discipline.
I suddenly realised that when children misbehave the LAST thing they need is to be alone. They need to be loved and helped to remember who they are. They need to be cuddled and stroked and reminded that they belong. Not as a reward for their poor behaviour, of course, but as a reminder that they don’t need to act like that to get our attention. They won’t learn that they are valued and precious in isolation. They will begin to think that they were unworthy, unlovable or a disgrace. This is one of the ugly roots of shame.
I also realised that God doesn’t choose to punish me. He loves me. He might discipline me in some way but it is not in his nature to condemn me or meet out any kind of sanction against me. When I don’t pray, he doesn’t send a lightning bolt to wake me up, does he?! He shows me grace and love and teaches me to pray by encouraging me with answers to prayer. God is not a punisher this side of the cross. In Jesus, we are freed.
So I started to think about all those naughty steps and sanctions that so many of my friends and I were tripping over. I started to wonder what Jon and I needed instead. We decided to have a ‘thinking spot.’ We would take the child who had done something unsociable, unkind or wrong there, but we would not leave the child alone (unless they requested that – some kids like time to think by themselves.) Our job as parents was to help our child to consider their behaviour as being “Not like their true self.”
We would say things like “This is not like you. You are not that kind of person.”
I didn’t want my kids to sit on a naughty step and begin to label themselves as ‘naughty.’
I wanted them to think, with me, or Jon, about what they could have done differently and then go and do it. I didn’t want to do their thinking for them. I didn’t want to holler over them “ Say sorry!” if they didn’t feel sorry yet. That is not loves’ way.
The problem with the justice system in our schools and in our country generally is that we send people who offend us off to be alone and think about just how flipping’ bad they are. They spend time with other people who feel isolated and upset and put all of those thoughts on dangerous levels of repeat.
Guess what happens to most of them when they are freed? They come out and reoffend. Why? I believe it is because they have associated themselves with their crime. Rather than being a person, they now call themselves a ‘criminal.’ We do this in our society all the time. We call someone a “murderer,” often talking about one unlawful, awful act they have committed. But this murderer is still a person. Whether we can handle it or not, he or she is made in the image of God and still has the capacity to be loved and saved and made whole. This person probably still loves their Mum or sends presents to their niece. They are not (ever) wholly evil. There is always SOMETHING in the person that still mimics God – even if it is buried or broken.
Going back to our children, do I think our role as mums and dads is to help them know right from wrong? Yes definitely. But we have to navigate that journey with them, not FOR them.
I don’t want my children to be punished and afraid of me or scared of anyone in our home.
I don’t want them to grow up thinking and associating themselves with negative images and stereotypes. They might do something naughty but that doesn’t mean they ARE naughty.
I want my kids to be reminded that they are loved and forgiven and in community as part of our family unit. Especially when they do something wrong.
I remember hearing a mum in the playground shouting to her child who had just committed a heinous act at school, “ I don’t want to see you again for the rest of the day!” and bullying him home and upstairs.
I never want my kids to feel that I don’t want to see them. Ever.
Even if my child were to become someone society banished to a box in box in a box, he would still be my child. I would still want to demonstrate love and forgiveness.
Because God does not have a naughty step for me. Nor does He have a list of my sins. Nor does he keep a long record of my wrongs. I am forgiven in Jesus. This is perfect love.
So, my friends, I challenge you today to think about whether or not your child needs a step of a different kind. Maybe your home needs a “You are wonderful” step, a “kindness” step, a “we love you” step. Please think twice before sitting them on one marked “Naughty.”