Heinous or Harmless – Discipline

I have written before about keeping promises and carrying out threats. I was tested on this on Friday night. For the longest time I have had a deal with my youngest son. That if he goes to shul (synagogue) with his brothers on Friday night and misbehaves, then he has to go to bed after kiddush and hamotzi (the ritual Friday night blessings). We started this in order to keep him focused on being quiet in shul, and not bothering his older brothers while they daven (pray). It’s the older boys that tell me about his behaviour and I require consensus from all three. For months he was well behaved enough to stay up for the meal. I know it’s hard for him and for his brothers. They are alone in shul, and have to keep themselves and their little brother in line. Hopefully soon it will be a thing of the past, and the KoD will keep a watchful eye on them.

Friday night they came home after shul and told me that the little one did not behave, did not maintain decorum fit for shul. I was saddened and disappointed. I called him to me, and asked him how he thought he behaved. After much hesitation he admitted he had been badly behaved. I held him in my arms, and told him that after we eat challah he has to go to bed, as that was our deal. He was so upset and it tore my heartstrings to shreds. It would have been so easy for me to tell him to behave better, and ok, you can join us for the meal. But I wanted him to learn the lesson and also to know that I carry out my threats when necessary.

We were both crying when I bensched him. He cried all through Shalom Aleichem and Eishet Chayil. He was crying almost too hard to drink the grapejuice. He managed to chomp his way through a piece of challah, softened with his hot tears. Before he left the table he came to curl up on my lap. I asked him if he understood why he was being punished. He knew why and promised to behave better next time. I reminded him how much I love him, but that he needed to go to his room.

He took some books so he could read in bed. He came out of bed a couple of times for an extended drink of water and another hug or two. I missed him at the table. I did.

Shabbat morning he crawled into bed with me and told me he felt so sad that we were all having fun without him, and the he knows if he would have behaved appropriately that he would have joined us for dinner. He promised that he would be the best boy in shul from now on, because it felt “bad” to be punished. He totally understood his punishment, he was aware that there would be consequences for his bad behaviour, but it hadn’t deterred him. He told me that next time he wanted to act up in shul he would remember how sad he felt to hear us having a fun meal and not be part of it. So I guess he learned the lesson. But why do I feel awful about the whole thing?

Was disciplining him this way heinous or harmless?

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18 responses to “Heinous or Harmless – Discipline

  1. The world would be much more pleasant for both parents and children if only positive reinforcement were needed; unfortunately a little negative reinforcement is sometimes needed with young children. I assume you offer plenty of positive reinforcement as well.

    For Friday night davening, do no women go to your shul? A seven year old is not too big to sit with his mother in shul for a few minutes, and your presence might help him control himself, and give you an opportunity to remind him to behave before his behavior reaches the point where you feel you need to punish him. Alternatively, recognizing that sitting still for an hour or so can sometimes be challenging for a 7 year old, can you let him stay home with you on an occasional Shabbat if he is in a particularly rambunctious mood?

    I hope the immigration authorities do their thing, and you are in a better situation soon.

    • women do not go to shul here Friday night. But even when I am in shul, on a Shabbat morning for example, he does not want to sit with me. He wants to be with the boys. Which is why he wants to go to shul. I do keep him home occasionally, but he is wanting to grow up and be like his brothers.

  2. L-rd knows I’m no expert on parenting, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but it seems to me that what you did was neither heinous, nor harmless. It was following through on a consequence that your son was very well aware of. It sounds like your discipline was meted out with much love and I think your son learned something from it. Had you allowed him to stay at the table a very different message would have been sent…

    But since you brought the topic up, the only thing I might think about IS the consequence–is there something else that could be done besides missing Friday night dinner? In my family’s busy life Shabbat is the only time we’re pretty much guaranteed that everyone will be present. I once banished one of my girls from the table (she was misbehaving terribly) and everyone was miserable… [Hmmm. On the other hand, it never happened again and that was several years ago…..]

    • I was about to write a similar thing (was waiting for computer rather than using phone to comment)! I also think neither heinous or harmless, but somewhere in between as much of discipline is.

  3. Lady Lock and Load

    You did a good job hadassah. It just makes me sad thinking that it’s hard for children from divorced homes cause they don’t have a dad to take them to shul and to sit next to. Thankfully those days will soon be over for your sons! 🙂

  4. I think you have to look at the outcome before deciding if it was heinous. He really seems to understand what he did was wrong and wants to change. I`d say that makes it a successful form of discipline.

    Barbara Coloroso says that the most effective way of discipline is one that allows you and your child to maintain your dignity, and that is certainly the case. You provided him with love and reassurance throughout and that`s a plus.

    All round, I`d say you did good mom!

  5. notachildanymore


    Period. What you did was wrong.

    Sending a child away from a meal (even if he has a little food) is wrong.

    What you should have done in this case is let him not go to shul. Because shul is an optional event this is not a problem.

    However if this was something important/required (like a class in School or whatever) and letting him not go was not an option then 99% positive reinforcement is all you need.
    Provide each child a “reason” to get a reward (to avoid jealousy)
    Your youngest child: stay quiet in shul
    Your older child: get good grades in school
    or whatever you think they need to work on and tell them both that they will get a reward if they complete their task.
    Make sure you carry out your promise.

    HOWEVER if you made a mistake and did promise to punish your child in the way you did then you carried it out well.

    It is well known that punishment unrelated to the crime (not eating && staying quiet) serves no positive purpose.

  6. Definitely not heinous.

    Hadassah, if I acted up in church, I would have gotten slapped in the face or swatted on the behind. (Yes, even at 7 years old. I can remember going to church as early as age 5.)

    I would have gotten hit at home later or possibly even AT the church in front of the other congregants…and the other children who were similarly trying to contain themselves because we knew our Latino old-school parents would definitely carry out their punishments if we acted up.

    (Similarly, I had to keep my toddler sisters from acting up! Quite a feat.)

    Fear kept me in line at church until I was able to recognize why I needed to keep still. I feared that even me jostling my foot or playing with the bench used for kneeling would get me slapped later. I learned to daydream and stared at the pretty stain glass windows. I also learned not to act up. Ever. But as Cam suggests, I probably didn’t get to keep any of my dignity.

    Disciplining a kid is not easy for the kid or the parent. Definitely not “harmless” either because I think, I hope, that you following through really made him think about the situation. He might (he probably will) do it again and you’ll have to keep following through.

  7. Not heinous at all.

    Not only did he have a hard lesson (one that it sounds like he is truly getting a handle on and understanding) about behaving in shul, but he also had a lesson about how his mama loves him enough to enforce rules and boundaries and that she will keep her promises (the fun ones and not fun ones) even when it is hard or painful for her to do so.

    Kids need to be able trust you to follow through, it gives them security and safety in a scary world. Bravo, mama.

  8. “””He might (he probably will) do it again and you’ll have to keep following through.”””

    because this type of punishment DOES NOT WORK

    just use a punishment that relates to the crime (“no more shul” if that is a negative for the child) or positive reinforcement.

    • I will def. argue that this child will incur this punishment again. He has been going to shul with his brothers successfully for some time and this was the FIRST time he acted up where all three (and even the child himself!) agreed that his behaviour was unacceptable. I KNOW he will think twice next time.
      Usually forbidding food is not a “good” punishment- although the child is definitely not undernourished. BUT- Hadassah made a consequence for the kids should they misbehave and she always follows through- no matter what.
      I feel that he learned a much more valuable lesson than just the fact that he didn’t have a full super with his wonderful family.

  9. I think it’s great that your son wants to be with the family so much for the meal! You must have really enjoyable Shabbat dinners. You could switch the punishment to something more directly related — or not. He doesn’t seemed too harmed the way you tell it.

  10. I’m also in the camp of “no more shul”. To me, that is direct cause and effect – an inability to behave in shul means you don’t go until behavior improves.

    I’m personally anti food based punishment (but that’s me).

    • I didn’t read it as a “food based” punishment, but rather a “away from the rest of the family” punishment.

      But most psychology-based advice does say to not use food-based punishments to avoid potential eating disorders in the future. Maybe a real psychologist could weigh in here.

      • I am generally not in favour of food based punishments. This was a one off. plus I made sure he had a large piece of challah and something to drink.

        As you said, it was more about missing family time than missing dinner.

  11. I wouldn’t say it’s heinous…but not harmless either.
    In my opinion, most 7 year olds are too young to sit through the whole davening quietly. It’s too much to expect of them. He’s not being bad…he’s just being 7.
    And missing the meal….ouch.

  12. Sorry, I don’t mean to make you feel bad, but I don’t think it’s right to deprive a child of a meal and make him go to bed hungry. I don’t think you were wrong to punish him- it’s good that you followed through- but I can’t agree with the punishment.

    I know he misbehaved, but the punishment is too severe. I actually can’t think of anything my kid could do, no matter how terrible, that would cause me to deny him food. I’d punish him another way- take away a privilege or something like that.

  13. I know this is an old post but I was back-reading and just had to put in my 2 cents.
    I think this punishment was actually 2 fold – the family bonding time over Shabbat and the Shabbat dinner (meal) itself.
    If the punishment was meant to be to be sent away from the family (shabbat meal experience or not) then maybe a plate of food could have been taken to him to eat in his room – alone.
    He would then not be devoid of nourishment – ever important to a growing boy – but the punishment of not enjoying Shabbat time with the family would have been meted out in the way it was originally intended, I think.
    I hope that since this incident they have all been well behaved and that this issue has not had to be revisited.
    Shabbat Shalom!

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