Saturday, February 4, 2012

Am I a bad parent because it makes me laugh?

(Alternate title: Thank God my parents did not think of this one...)

Although I cannot take credit for thinking up the following consequence of poor behavior, I can say that it is extremely effective and sometimes makes me chuckle...ok, maybe it makes me laugh so much that tears run down my cheek...does that make me a bad parent?  I can justify my behavior by the success of the "time" for the "crime," though, which would make me a good parent....right?  Don't answer that, I'll just keep believing its true.

First, let me describe the consequence; in a word, "stairs" aka, "steps." Never before has one simple word brought a temper tantrum to such an abrupt halt for a ten year old boy.  Usually, just the mention of "stairs" is enough to stop his misdemeanors cold, but if he carries on, he must go up and down the staircase for the amount determined by the boss (Mom and/or Dad).  The total amount of stairs is based on his actions that led to the mentioning of the terrible word, by said boss.  In other words, if he really messes up, he gets lots of stairs, which he hates...of course.

One "dose" of the stairs equals a trip up and down the staircase.  He must put both feet on the floor at the top of the steps, and at the bottom, before one stair can be counted.  These rules are not to be broken and must be enforced. In addition (this one was my genius at work), he must not touch the walls of the staircase at any time, or he will have to do the whole stair over - this has since eliminated any and all fingerprints about four feet above the floor in the staircase!  (He is, however, allowed to use the bannister since his mother recently fell down those stairs, broke her ankle and now has a huge phobia about it...)

We do not use the stairs every time, and we do not abuse them either.  The stairs can be done all at once, or little by little, but the catch is that he is on complete and total restriction until all stairs are complete.  If he chooses to wait a day, that is fine, but he gets absolutely no privileges until he pays his dues.  In the event that we choose not to sentence him to stairs, he gets to alphabetize the bookcase or the CD case (I own over 800 CDs and my wife has close to that many books), sometimes by author's last name, sometimes by author's third letter of last name, or sometimes by title. Dirty words coming out of his mouth?  He gets to clean the trash can...and it needs to be spotless.  In a nutshell, you don't need stairs to apply the method!      Whatever it is, the time fits the crime.

When he is in the process of completing the stairs, he is usually moaning and groaning about the mean person who thought up the consequence of stairs and how they must love to torture kids (I think that person is a genius).  This alone is enough to bring a smile to my face, but not because I am sadistic; rather, I smile because I know he is thinking about his actions that led to the stairs.  I try to make him realize there is a reaction to every action and that he needs to be aware of his part in that reaction, hoping to teach him accountability, a trait that we do not see often in today's society.  I can almost see his mind gears turning round and round, making sense of the whole situation...which is a huge relief to a parent whose kid is smarter than he is.

When he has completed the steps, he must (on his own) apologize, name the reason for the apology, and ask for forgiveness.  

Ironically, in a sense, we are breaking him down, just to rebuild him back up again.  This time we can make him better, stronger, faster...but we are not going to call him Steve Austin.  (Yes, you have to be of a certain age of generation to get that reference!)  The point is not to make him complete unjustified physical work, but to make him think twice before he acts the next time.  The stairs provides a good source of exercise (so that candy he just took without asking is now exercised off) and a tangible consequence.

Tonight, he earned 30 stairs and alphabetizing two shelves of books.  I'm sure it won't be the last time he does a round of stairs, but at least it has made him think a little bit before he breaks a rule, which means he is learning.  Now, he is determining if the crime is worth the time, before he tries to get away with something.  Which is exactly why I'm so thankful to have found this parenting tool...I was running out of ideas!  And yes, I am VERY happy my parents did not have this tool when I was a kid!

UPDATE - (Can this really be an "update" if I neglected to post the above when I actually wrote it - about eight months ago?)

The steps method has proven to be very useful and has become a solid method of showing the crime is not always worth the time.  For example, one of our rules is that the fridge in the garage is off-limits.  This is where we store any goodies such as cake, ice cream, and yummies that need to be controlled.  The payment for stealing something from that fridge was, typically, 25 steps.  One day, however, about a month ago, my son decided the cake in the fridge was worth the 25 steps.  He also decided he was going to confess right away.  Kudos to him for being honest.  The conversation went something like this:

Son - Dad, I took some cake from the fridge this morning.  Should I do my 25 steps now?

Me - No, but you can do your 50 steps, now.

Son - WHAT?  It is supposed to be 25 steps!!!

Me - No, it is what we decide it should be.

Son - BUT....BUT...

Me - The idea is to get you to stop stealing things.  Just because you thought that piece of cake was worth 25 steps does not make it okay to steal things.  Now you have 50 steps, which will, hopefully, make you understand the principle of the matter.

Son - whine...moan...fuss...grumble, grumble...

He hasn't stolen from the garage fridge since then. 

 Disclaimer...(Yes, its a repeat of the last one...but the blog above is new!) First, let me say that I am not a specialist in Asperger's Syndrome, nor do I play one on TV. What I write or say are strictly my own personal observations and beliefs, so please do not sue me because I said something that made you do something that caused a misdiagnosis, or created a problem, or made you do something stupid. Have accountability, go see a professional, and leave my finances alone...besides, you really wouldn't get much anyway, so its probably not worth your time to call the lawyer on the back of the phone book to see if you have a case. Spend that time more wisely, like figuring out how to subscribe to my blog...and don't ask me about that because I'm not even sure how it works! Seriously, though, if some of the things I say seem like they sound very familiar in your family, set up an appointment with a true professional. While you are waiting for their callback, please, continue reading and leave a note!


  1. Stairs would not have worked with you at his age. We didn't have stairs in the house in Abidjan. It does seem to work pretty well with Grant, so keep it up. He also gets some needed exercise which is good. Nice article.

  2. Now I learn about "steps"! Well, I don't think that method would have been very effective in either Abidjan or San Jose, as we didn't have enough steps to make it worthwhile. Alas, so sad! (hehe) Seems you're pretty smart & staying one step (oh, oh) ahead of your son. You stepped up to up the ante for that cake and made a lasting impression. All just has to be done with love.

  3. Forgot to mention - - there were many times I fought to suppress a laugh or at least a giggle when you were young. I guess it's safe to say that now - - it is, isn't it??

  4. WHAT!?!?! YOU laughed at ME when doling out the discipline?!?!?! How could you!?!?! haha I suppose it is only fair and logical, huh? And, no, I am not unhappy about not having stairs in Costa Rica OR Abidjan!