Consequences. Nobody likes giving them. Nobody likes receiving them. So, in an effort to make this post a bit more jovial, I searched for pleasant-sounding synonyms. Instead, I found…
None of them are terribly pretty. What these words have in common is that they all occur AFTER something else.
A teacher announces the results after an exam.
A business presentation concludes with the upshot.
Outcomes are reported after a plan is tested.
Aftermath is what you discover in the wake of a tornado.
Likewise, consequences are what a parent deals after attempts to be proactive have failed. You tried to set your child up for success. You made your expectations clear. You stood your ground, hoping he would obey. Instead,
Your child has disobeyed. The next step is up to you: Will you ignore that fact, or will you address it?
In the short-term, ignoring it may seem easier.
For one thing, parents have limited time and energy. You’re tired. You’re busy with something else. You can always address it next time, right? No.
Behavior is like a dandelion. When children are small, their defiant little “no”s and temper tantrums seem inconsequential. A nuisance, yes. But not that hard to overlook.
Likewise, the longer a bad behavior goes unchecked, the harder it is to correct. And the older a child is when you start correcting her, the more resistant she will be. Address disobedience, even if the offense seems small. Because in a few months, the offenses will be bigger; in a few years, they will be out of control.
Parents don’t want to be the bad guy. You don’t want your child to get mad at you. If you correct her, she may cry; and when she cries, you feel like a bad parent. What if she ends up hating you?
Children do not hate people who lovingly discipline them, although they may appear to when the discipline is taking place. You may feel like the bad guy, but you’re an adult. Put on the grown-up pants and endure a few minutes of a child’s anger. You’ll live. In the long-run, children respect people who lovingly discipline them.
Have you ever seen children whose parents don’t teach them obedience? I have, and the outcomes are ugly. They are full of contempt for their parents; show disrespect for others in authority; and a general belief that the rules don’t apply to them. And since they’ve never experienced consequences for their actions, they have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and partners.
The Big List of Consequences on about.com offers age-appropriate ideas for the types of consequences you may find effective with your child. I offer just a few tips to accompany these ideas.
(1) Don’t promise a consequence unless you intend to use it. I once saw a child running recklessly through the store. His mother said, “If you don’t stop that, we won’t go to the birthday party.” The child continued to run around.
The mother asked, “Do you want to go to the party? You do? Then stop.” The child’s behavior continued.
A couple minutes later the mother said, “We won’t go to the party if you don’t quit.” The running continued.
Another minute or two passed and the mother said, “I guess I’ll just call Joey’s mom and tell him you’re not coming.” She got out her phone.
The child stopped running, said, “No, don’t call Joey’s mom! I’ll stop, I’ll stop!” So he stopped. And they went to the party.
For whatever reason, Mom was hesitant to take away the party. Choose a consequence you can live with.
(2) Don’t dangle the consequence for some unspecified amount of time. Like the example above, Mom kept threatening to take away the consequence, but she never did. As far as the child knew, he had all day to make the right choice. Instead, say “If I see you run through this store one more time, I’m going to call Joey’s mom.” Then do it.
(3) If the consequence doesn’t upset your child, you’re not doing it right. Suppose you’ve promised your child some screen time if she behaves well during an appointment. Instead, she is quite naughty during the appointment, so you deny her the promised screen time. She’s very upset, so you attempt to cheer her up by saying, “That show you were going to watch is on Netflix. You’ll be able to watch it tomorrow.”
It’s not your job to make sure she’s at peace with the consequences. It is your job to teach her that poor choices have negative consequences.
(Side note: Some children might not show that they’re upset by consequences. In fact, they may try to hide it as a way of manipulating you. But as a parent, you know what is special and dear to them. And while they might not seem upset right away, it will come out later.)
Sometimes we love with hugs and sometimes we love with consequences. When you consistently give a consequence following disobedience, you are creating a stable, predictable environment that your child can count on. Giving a consequence may cost you emotionally, but the sacrifice is made from love. Such a choice may not be immediately popular with your kids, so may I say…