Today’s tale is in the Chronicle. You can click here to read it.
Interestingly, the Chronicle editors cut off the end of the tale. Go read it there first and then come back and read it here. What do you think? Do you like the last few paragraphs, or do you like the change in focus that removing them brings? It’s a great exercise for those writers out there. Let me know in the comments: was I right or was the editor of the Chronicle right?
By Patrick Matthews
A few months ago, my wife and I decided to try out a new disciplinary tactic: restitution. The idea is to move beyond punishment and into the realm of “making things right.” We told the boys that when one of them hurt or upset the other, he would have to do something extra nice for him.
It was not exactly an original idea, but it was new to us, and we spent a couple weeks working the kinks out. For example, one big question is who picks the form of the restitution. We started out making the offender pick, but that didn’t last long. Too often, it would be something like “say something nice to my brother” or “let him eat my broccoli.”
Next, we tried establishing ourselves as the ones to assign the restitution. That just caused the kids to ask things like “what will I have to do if I hit my brother?” While this reduced the brotherly violence, it sounded a bit embarrassing at the grocery store.
Finally, we ended with the victim picking the restitution. At first, this seemed perfect. Not only did the victim best know the severity of the crime, but the offender knew he have to answer to the victim. Perfect, right?
A few weeks into our new scheme, the kids put it to the test. It was a cool clear Saturday and the boys were playing in the yard with the garden hose. I know, I know. You buy them loads of toys and what do they play with? A hose and a bucket. I don’t claim to understand.
Anyway, as I sat on the back stoop doing some paperwork, a howl of outrage erupted from the kids. I looked up to see my five year old with the gushing hose, his eyes wide and worried. His little brother stood next to him, holding his face with both hands.
“He hit me in the face!” He shouted through his fingers. “With the hose!”
Sure enough, he was soaked. His older brother looked at me desperately. “It was an accident! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It was an accident!”
I believed him. When he does those sorts of things on purpose, he always tells us afterwards. His mom emerged from the house, drawn out by the commotion, and we worked to get everyone calmed down. Afterwards, I asked the little guy what his older brother could do to show how sorry he was.
“Ummm… He could make a picture for Ms. Jody?”
Ms. Jody was his teacher. “No,” his mom explained. “This should be something special for you, just for you, not for anyone else.”
“How about if he makes a picture for Ms. Jody from me?”
“No,” I intervened. “This should be something just for you.”
He thought about it some more. “How about brownies?”
“Yeah! He could make me some brownies!”
His mom and I looked at each other. Making brownies is something she does with the kids as a treat, a fun activity that results in piles of brownies. It’s not quite the spirit of restitution.
We started suggesting things. “How about a card?” “Let you play with his cars?” “Give you his dessert?”
No luck. The little guy wanted brownies. Finally, we hit on one that got his attention. “How about if you are the leader on our walk?”
Bingo. The little guy shouted in triumph. His brother crumpled into tears. Restitution solved. We dried the kids off, grabbed the dogs, and the six of us headed out the door. The little guy led the whole way and he loved it.
At dinner that night, however, he just couldn’t stop himself. “You know what?” he asked.
“What?” I said.
“I really love brownies.”
“Eat your dinner.” I said.