Literal spanking may be falling out of favor, but even parents who consider physical punishment unacceptable may “discipline” in ways that have similarly undesirable effects. Whether parents send kids to their rooms, suspend their allowances, or make them write “I will put things away” 1,000 times in longhand, it won’t have the effect the parents hope for—true internalizing of better behavior—if the message received is, “I’m bigger and stronger and richer than you, and that’s why you have to do what I say, like it or not. I don’t have to explain or show you any respect.”
Many parents bully their kids into line simply because the only alternative seems to be letting the kids do exactly as they please. But there are other ways, most notably the “consequences” approach.
Learning the Hard Way
The first question to ask yourself when a child acts up is, “What would happen if I didn’t get involved at all?” Surprisingly often, the answer is: nothing particularly serious. The world is full of parents who deliver long lectures on the hazards of carelessness, and then nullify those hazards by personally replacing broken toys. The kids learn a lesson that way, but the wrong lesson: that it’s fine to be careless because someone else will always make things better, while all a kid need do is tune out “someone’s” grumbling for fifteen minutes.
Directly experienced consequences are great teachers: don’t interfere with their work.
Of course, you can’t just stand back if likely consequences include serious injury or major property damage. Still, there should be some “consequence” connection, if we want kids to see more than an arbitrary imposition of authority. Suppose a child has a tantrum, throws a clock across the room, and breaks it.
Arbitrary: “Just for that, you can forget about playing any video games for the rest of the week.”
Logical Consequence: “I’m afraid you’ll have to pick up those pieces before you can eat lunch. And then you’ll have to pay for a new clock.”
Kids may not be any happier with a logical-consequence penalty; but they’ll be learning there are other reasons for rules besides “I said so.”
A Final Caution
However objectively “consequential” your response to misbehavior, resentment will spoil the lesson if your child senses that your real goal is to assert your authority. If you want consequences to teach effectively:
- Avoid the attitude, “I’ll show him a thing or two.”
- Don’t make a big deal of possible consequences before a “wrong” act is even committed. That’s just another form of, “Do it my way or you’ll be sorry.”
- After a consequence occurs, omit “That should be a lesson to you” comments. Let the consequence speak for itself.
Finally, remember that good behavior has consequences as well. Practice catching your kids doing things right, and reward them with more freedom and responsibility. And when they take on a tough challenge, avoid “helping” too quickly: let them experience the full joy of a job well done!
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!