“Go to Time Out…Of the Car!”

by Dr. Dathan Paterno

Many of you have heard about Madlyn Primoff, the mother of two bickering girls, 12 and 10, who were kicked out of the car and told to walk home when the bickering wouldn’t stop. Even though the mother drove around the block and came back for the girls, she was later arrested for child endangerment. Quite a number of parents have been debating this issue, with most of the debated surrounding whether it was an appropriate consequence.  

I’m not in favor of her decision.  

Before I criticize Mrs. Primoff’s parenting, let me confess that I have great sympathy for her. I will give Mrs. Primoff the benefit of the doubt in presuming that her children’s behavior was ridiculous and not just mildly annoying. I am completely in favor of tough parenting. This includes having no tolerance for ridiculous behavior. So she was right to use tough discipline to shape their behavior. 

However, kicking the girls out of the car was unwise for two reasons. 

First, kicking a 10 or 12-year-old girl out of a car and expecting her to walk home a mile or more in a suburban neighborhood is not reasonably safe. Sure, there are some ten and twelve-year-old girls who are independent enough to walk a mile or even more in safe neighborhoods. But most aren’t. If the children were 14 and 16, I wouldn’t be saying this (unless of course the neighborhood were notoriously dangerous). And if it were two blocks, I might be persuaded to let it slide. But in this day and age, I just don’t trust the world enough to allow two pre-teen girls to walk far without a chaperone. 

My second problem with her decision is that she likely made it impulsively. I highly doubt that she and her husband had had a family meeting with the children and informed them that bickering in the car would result in being kicked out. Rather, this punishment was made off-the-cuff, in a rage, and without much thought of the consequence. This kind of parenting scares children and invalidates that parent’s authority and trustworthiness.  

Again, I’m all for tough parenting with consequences that induce discomfort or pain. But consequences must be reasonably safe; they must also be made calmly with pre-thought and understanding of the possible consequences. 

As always, let me know what you think! If you don’t like her decision either, let me know what you think would be a better consequence for bickering in the car. 

5 thoughts on ““Go to Time Out…Of the Car!””

  1. I’d like to ask a question:

    How do you help a child get over or learn to handle “fear”.

    My grandson, now age 8, was severely battered until age 6. He has reported being beaten with video cables, he hid for hours under dirty laundry to avoid being beaten.

    Even though he has not seen the batterer since 2006, he suffers from anxiety and fear of possibly losing his mother, going through the courts, even being forced to speak to his father and faces possible future visits with the man who beat him and his mother.

    He has made progress as the batterer is now behind bars and will be until 2011.

    He has severe anxiety attacks. In elevators, on airplanes, etc. He also sucks his thumb. He was wetting the bed but has recently stopped.

    We want to help him every way we can. Do you have any suggestions specifically about the thumb sucking or airplane?

    He often asks me when he will stop being afraid.

    Thank you.

  2. First, Cherry, thank you for responding and for your excellent and heart-wrenching question. I can’t imagine how horrific that little boy’s experience has been and continues to be.

    You use the words “get over”. I’m not sure we can expect him to get over the horrific abuse any time soon. He can cope, he can try to make some sense of his suffering and the evil that this person did to him. Those are existential issues that psychology can’t even touch, much less solve.

    The most important factor for a child like him is to normalize and empathize. What I mean is that his response, even though it is strange and counterproductive, is perfectly normal given what he has been through and is now going through. He SHOULD be anxious, depressed, struggle to think like “normal” children, etc. It would be very odd indeed if he behaved, thought, felt, slept, ate, or functioned normally.

    I say let him suck his thumb and help him understand why he does it. The more he understands, the more choices he can make consciously about his behavior. Long-term, that will help him.

    I hope this helps!

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