Change can happen in a split second
Sometimes deciding to change a core policy can happen in a split second. For me, it took four little words from my two year old son. "I hate you Dad"
It was a situation way back when Benjamin was going through his "terrible twos" stage. Lori and I were in the kitchen and Benjamin and Rebecca were having an argument in the other room. I heard Benjamin say something like "But, Rebecca!!!" then I heard something like a growl followed by a moment of silence.
Rebecca screamed out and came running into the kitchen crying uncontrollably. "Mommy, Benjamin bit me!!!!" She held out her little arm and sure enough, there was an arc of little red teeth marks on her forearm. No skin was broken but it was a crazy thing to see.
I yelled, "Benjamin!!! Why did you bite your sister?" He cried something and began rushing towards her again.
Lori said "Tim, you got to do something"
Damn, the pressure was on. Two screaming kids and a wife expecting me to figure it out. I didn't have time to think it through much. I had seen early on that Benjamin had a temper. I guess he gets it from me. I might look like a very mild-mannered guy but when I've had enough, you don't want to be around. Over the years I used various sports to channel that pent-up anger. Football in high school, basketball in college and then spiking volleyballs for many years after that.
I had to make it clear to Benjamin that biting someone was totally unacceptable and wouldn't be tolerated. I felt I had to nip it in the bud. I had visions of him getting angry at school and hurting someone. He's always been a big strong boy and if he couldn't control his anger he could easily get into a lot of trouble.
Maybe I could talk sense into him. "Benjamin, biting or hitting someone is totally unacceptable!!! Do you understand? Now I want you to say you're sorry to your sister." If it were only that easy.
I think Rebecca might have chimed in, which just set him off again. He stood there for a second, clenched his fists, made a snarly face, growled and started after her again.
So I had to escalate the response. Reason wasn't going to work. So I did what I thought any good dad would do. I snatched him up and lay him over my knee and began spanking him. I was hoping I would snap him out of it and he would capitulate.
After a few swats on the butt, I asked him if he was ready to say he was sorry to Rebecca. Benjamin was a tough kid. He just looked back at me in an angrier face and just said "Rebecca deserved it!!!"
Damn, I really didn't want to go down this route, but now I had a standoff and I couldn't step down. Benjamin had to learn that biting someone was just not going to be tolerated. So I escalated.
I pulled away his pants so I had bare butt. I was able to get a little sting into the smacks. I was getting angrier and angrier at the whole situation. I had a flash-back from when I was a kid. My dad was definitely not a role model. He never hit me but I remember him pulling out his leather belt and giving my older brothers whippings. He would vent his anger out by getting drunk and smashing dishes. Once he threw a coffee cup at me and missed my head by inches. His father apparently had some anger issues too. I was told that he had smashed a mustard jar on my dad's head when he was a kid. So I knew I had to break the chain so Benjamin didn't get himself in trouble due to a moment of rage.
As I was getting angrier and angrier and feeling like I really wanted to smack his butt really hard, Benjamin turned around at me. His face was red and full of tears. This little boy looked me in the eyes and said "I hate you Dad."
In that split second, I froze. It all became clear to me instantly. I put Benjamin down and told him I was sorry. I walked away into the bedroom and cried for I don't know how long. I eventually came out and told Lori that I don't know exactly how I will handle discipline in the future, but physical punishment will never again happen in this house.
It was tough, but I found a better way. I learned how to use a threatening voice to get Benjamin to accept a time-out chair in the corner as punishment. He was a stubborn kid. Sometimes it would take over 30 minutes before he would be ready to apologize.
But I thank God that I found a way that worked for everyone. And I thank God for never having received any calls from teachers about biting or fighting.
And I also hope that Benjamin has forgiven me.