Recently I’ve been celebrating the fact that I am getting meaner. What? That sounds odd? Well, my mean isn’t so much “mean” as it is giving consequences. In fact, my new mean isn’t really any more mean than my old mean, just more effective.
When my kids were toddlers, I was good at nipping bad behaviors in the bud. I gave out the consequences without anger very purposely and consistently. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t running so many directions then, or maybe because their boundary testing was more predictable.
Over time I lost track of effective consequences. The ones I used for little ones just didn’t cut it anymore. My expectations for their behavior didn’t adapt as they got older. As long as behaviors weren’t too offensive, they were ignored. Ignored, that is, until I’d had “ENOUGH!”. Then, the consequence was hearing mom say things like, “Clean up this room, I can’t believe you can live in this filth!”, “What were you thinking!?”, and “Who do you think you are?!” The worst part was that behind those words was often a lot of anger. So even though the no-consequence mom is what I’m calling my “nice”, she wasn’t kind or controlled.
Giving tangible, effective consequences in love instead of getting angry is how I am being a better parent to my kids. To my children I’m sure that this new, stronger boundary mom is no fun. They have actually told me they would rather I just yell than give a consequence. So, why am I doing it? You have to know why you do what you do, or you’ll never keep doing the hard work.
1. To get them ready for the real world
My kids are going to grow up. They will not always live where mom can follow them around yelling…I mean “motivating”…them to do what they need to do everyday. At school, they need to be able to do what needs to be done even without someone constantly telling them what to do. Also, they will face consequences in life and they need to recognize what they are. Whether natural consequences or those from a teacher, boss, or other authority figure, my kids need to know that a consequence is an opportunity to learn a lesson. If they can apply those lessons to their lives, they will be able to avoid other consequences later.
2. So they want to make a change
The idea of the consequence is to make the child want to change. The consequence needs to be more “painful” than doing the wrong behavior. They have to figure out that consequences can be and are worth being avoided, but they have to figure out that concept themselves. They won’t if the consequences aren’t consistent. Kids are smart and will bet that sometimes they’ll be able to get away with it if there isn’t a consequence every time.
My daughter’s middle school has an online grading system. Every weekend I am sent an email if she has any missing assignments or grades lower than 75%. My husband and I have decided that if she has any legitimate missing assignments (sometimes we find it was the teacher that didn’t enter the grade) she will come home and spend Monday after school in her room. We don’t get angry anymore, but just impose the consequence without anger and with an attitude of regret for her saying something like “I’m sorry that you have to spend the afternoon in your room. We give you this consequence so that it will help you to be more careful next time about getting everything turned in.” Because of this conconsequence, the number of assignments that go missing is much less now than at the beginning of the year! She prefers getting the work turned in to having to spend time in her room.
3. To help them build self-control
The reason we keep giving consistent consequences to our children is to help them develop self-control. Consequences put the results and responsibility of children’s decisions onto themselves rather than their parents. Self-control is one of the very most important skills for people to have and can greatly effect how students perform in a classroom.
I have gone back and forth in the area of clean bedrooms. Is it their space to control as they please and I should just keep out of it? Maybe. But I’ve finally decided to look at it through the lens of self-control. Leaving bits of garbage on the floor is a sign of lack of self-control. Would it be acceptable to do that anywhere else? No…so I need to help my child recognize this lesson as one that will help her control herself in the rest of my house and other places too. Therefore, this is an area that I need to have expectations for my child and set a consequence for so that she will learn to control herself.
Proverbs 25:28 says “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”
4. For their protection
Our tangible consequences now will teach our children to avoid natural and destructive consequences in their future.
We can decide if strong, consistent consequences are necessary in a situation if mismanagement of that area might put them in danger in the future. For example, if your child has a cell phone. It can be an expectation that they will NEVER use their cell phone while behind the wheel of a car. A tough consequence can be administered if you ever find that they do this so that they learn thier lesson from that consequence and not from an auto accident later.
“My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life…” Proverbs 6:20-23
Giving consequences out of love is an invaluable part of parenting, but it isn’t easy. If we remember some of these reasons “why” we do it, it will help us to put in the effort and commitment that it requires…and it requires a lot!
Next time I’ll talk about the “Hows” to providing those consequences effectively.