I've heard the phrase, "You should never punish your child in anger," before, and it makes logical sense. However, how far does this extend? If a child, let's say a four-year-old, does something incredibly frustrating or angering, should you even avoid telling them to go away or go in the other room, if for no other reason than to allow you to calm down?
should you even avoid telling them to go away or go in the other room, if for no other reason to allow YOU to calm down?
No. In fact, I think that putting some time and distance between yourself and your child until everyone's cooled down is the smartest thing you can do. The only other option would be to remove yourself; see below for a few thoughts on that.
I often find myself ready to pronounce a really stupid disciplinary action that I would regret later on (like taking away privileges for much longer than I should) when I'm angry. If we all get some time to cool down before it comes to discussing disciplinary consequences, sometimes we can solve the problem without any disciplinary action at all, simply by talking about what happened, and why. I feel much better with such a resolution (unfortunately it's not always achievable).
So when my kids fight among each other, or there's a conflict with me that angers me, I've started separating the kids/us. The easiest way is sending them to their respective rooms for a while, where they have something to do, but I don't really care where I send them, as long as they're separated from the source of the conflict. When it's nice outside, I often send them to play outside for a while.
I don't view this as a punishment, even if my kids might disagree or say it's unfair.
As far as it being unfair: I guess I could just as well remove myself and let the child remain where it is, but usually what the child is doing can be done somewhere else, while what I'm doing requires my presence (e.g. playing with a toy vs cleaning up the kitchen), so it's the child that has to move.
Here's a bit of honesty, though: I'm having trouble with the idea of removing myself from conflict on principle (as opposed to now and then, when I'm so angry that if I don't leave immediately, violence might follow). Our home is not a tyranny, but it's also not a democracy; and while it might be fair to say that getting angry at my child is my problem, not the child's, and therefore I should remove myself instead of the child, I have a diffuse feeling that doing that would be a bad idea, especially if the child behaves in a clearly unacceptable way. I guess there are too many specifics to explain exactly why I have that feeling, but most of it is connected to being able to wield authority and enforce rules.
This is one of those "always" rules. Generally the bigger the issue, the longer you should take to consider your options.
That said: In my years working at a boy's boarding school, it was often valuable to pretend to be angry. One of the marks of a successful master was being able to throw a ratch that even convinced other staff.
Caveats: One headmaster said, "If you don't settle it by lights out, forget about it." Consider your reaction if a cop wrote you a running a stop sign ticket for a time several years ago. This is more important for small items.
Sometimes a serious item will come to your knowledge long after the event. Once you are calm, "I just found out about your adventure behind the curling rink last week. I want to hear your side of the story"
Sometimes dealing with it, was just, "What you did was unacceptable. But right now I'm pissed off and am not ready to deal with it. Come see me tomorrow morning after breakfast." This also leaves him in suspense as to the outcome which can be worse than what you really do.
Young people don't bind time like adults do. Indeed, one of the true but more odd definitions of adulthood is 'how far in the future do you plan?' Girls now often smoke to reduce hunger to be thin. The health risk 30 years from now of smoking is unimportant compared to need to be sexy today.
Young people are also less rational. 14 year old boys are immortal. Nothing physical can happen to them. One of the reasons they ahve the highest death rates downhill skiing. (still low, but much larger than older or younger groups)
I worked with junior and senior high school students. Generally 7's and 8's had real trouble with consequences that weren't "today" By Grade 9, "Do your homework to avoid flunking the weekly test" carried some weight. By Grade 12, "You need to do this to get a decent mark to go to University" had some weight.
Rules of thumb:
Consequences, particularly for pre-teens, should be as close to immediate as possible. "Scrub the toilet" now is much better than "weed the cornpatch" Saturday.
Ideally consequences should match the problem. One of my favs for kids who were chronically late for class, "Steve, you need practice getting places on time. Touch base with me at 4:10, 4:30, and 4:50 today." This meant that Steve had to pay attention to what time it was, and it destroyed one of the few blocks of free time he had. Running in the halls? "All of you, 3 laps around the school, NOW." "Sir, I can't find my shoes!" "Go barefoot" A kid who repeatedly talked in class was assigned a milk crate to stand in. For the remainder of hte period his desk was a clipboard. He was 10 feet from the nearest other student.
Nuisance consequences for nuisance transgressions help, as it drives home the idea that actions and consequences are related.
I tried to give out good consequences for good actions too. Could be as simple as "Nicely done" for well done homework, or a "I like that you stood up for Mike when those guys were giving him a bad time." Any time you show respect for a teen, you get that back. Bread cast on the waters and all that.
I had a bad temper when I started teaching. I then read that with every action there is a time, however brief where you can choose to do that action or not. I started to notice that second or split-second of deciding. Once I started to see it, I started to choose to not show anger, to not throw the black board eraser at the kid.