Monday, June 20, 2011

Would You Take Away Storytime?

Punishing kids for disobedience or bad behavior is a tradition that goes as far back as Creation itself. ("Didn't I tell you not to eat the apples? No more pretty garden time for you! And Eve...well, let's just say that before long, you're going to wish I invented epidurals.") Since then, parents have been issuing penalties both minor - like time-outs and canceled playdates - and over-the-top, like razor-strop beatings and cutting the offender out of the will.

One strategy that many parents employ is taking away desserts, playground trips and other privileges. But this dad does something a little different. When his five-year-old son starts acting up around bedtime, dad blogger Michael Kindness withholds storytime. Each misbehavior costs young Milo one of his nightly four books; four strikes, and he goes to bed without so much as a page of Knuffle Bunny. Kindness - a book lover who works in publishing - admits that he feels terrible every time he resorts to the no-book measure, then goes on to say that in Milo's case, it works better than other traditional penalties like canceling morning TV or giving a time-out to a toy.

I totally understand where Kindness is coming from. Like him, I've tried different punishments with varying degrees of success. And like him, I feel guilty when I forbid video games for a weekend or even dessert for a night, knowing the reaction that's sure to follow. (Denied a chocolate-chip cookie, my son once protested for 45 minutes straight, including a dramatic dialogue between "Mr. Cookie" and "Mr. Stomach" that was worthy of a Daytime Emmy.)

But alas, I can't back up this well-intentioned dad on his choice. Unlike a Wii game or a Twinkie, books aren't a privilege or a treat; they're a vital part of a child's growth. From vocabulary-building to social skills and problem-solving, reading helps children develop in just about every way. Of course little Milo won't drop 10 IQ points overnight if he hears two stories instead of four. But using books as a punishment or reward may be sending him the unintended message that only "good" children deserve to hear stories - or that reading is merely optional.

Cutting out storytime also means losing a precious opportunity to connect with a child in those final intimate nighttime moments.Without the distractions of work, school and chores, our minds and hearts open in a way that just doesn't happen during daylight hours. Some of my most interesting and personal conversations with my kids have taken place after the last page is read; there's something about that time that makes them feel comfortable enough to say, "You know what I've been thinking?"

Yes, I confess that I've tried the "no bedtime story" strategy myself a couple of times in the past - and felt like I was being punished too. Not worth it. And there are times when we have to skip the reading if they're going to bed late on a school night, but that's not the same as saying, "No Junie B. Jones because you hit your sister."

So Mr. Kindness, with all due respect, may I suggest you find a, um, kinder way to discipline your son? We all know it's frustrating to deal with the wired-and-tired antics that always seem to peak around bedtime, but depriving him of stories isn't the way to go. Read him those four books and cherish every moment of your bedtime bonding.

Besides, there are those who would argue that reading The Cat in the Hat or The Berenstain Bears for the zillionth time is punishment enough as it is.

What do you think? Is it okay to take away storytime if it helps encourage better behavior? Have you tried it yourself?