If there is one aspect of parenting that parents always want to talk about it is discipline. We have this unexpressed idea that if we could just have the perfect consequence then the kids would ‘get it’ and our training would be done! Well, I’m sure we all know, really, that this isn’t the case!
First we need to clarify what we mean by these two words discipline and consequences: Discipline means to train and consequence is for the purpose of teaching. If we vary from these ideas we end up with punishment and venting our frustration and anger.
There are four sequential steps towards training our children: model, teach, practice, expect. Each step takes time and it is unfair to the child to expect a certain behaviour before we have been through all steps thoroughly. Parenting is not about giving an instruction and expecting a response. Parenting is about teaching our children how to respond to life, to people and circumstances, and it takes our time.
It certainly involves giving instruction and expecting a response, but if that is our whole understanding of parenting, then we will create obedient children (often out of fear of your wrath) rather than children who have what it takes to respond to all sorts of people and situations – even when you are not there.
The Go-to Consequence
So when someone asked me for a go-to consequence I had to smile and say, simply there is no such thing.
Then I had a second thought and realised that I did have a go-to consequence – and that is timeout, but timeout with a difference.
Timeout is often given as a punishment where the child is banished for a set amount of time. This is not what I’m talking about because this type of timeout deals with the externals not the internal. A child won’t change, won’t learn anything (remember our definitions of discipline and consequences) just by being removed.
Timeout can be a productive process – a process where the child gains self-control, reflects on the circumstance they were in, thinks about their choices and prepares to go forth and do well.
The Purpose of a Consequence
Unless we are helping our children do these things we are simply going through the actions of a timeout but it won’t change our children’s behaviour (because their heart has not been touched). Our heart is the inner place the holds our beliefs, emotions, character, passions and it determines our will.
As parents we need to teach the heart – we need to help our children develop in their beliefs, emotions, passions, character and will.
What this looks like
So when our children behave inappropriately the first go-to consequence I use is timeout. This means I remove the child from where they are. Now I must say, not every negative behaviour requires me to do this – sometimes I just give a verbal reminder or correction (remembering not to humiliate the child publicly) but if they need more than this – I send them to timeout.
If the child is out of control – angry etc, then I’ll simply tell them they need to get self-control. If it has been another issue – an attitude or an action – then I tell them they need to think about their actions, and what is in their heart. Once they’ve either calmed down or had some thinking time I would go into their room, or to the space where they were sitting, and talk to them. (If this is new vocab to your family you will need to find words that fit your family, or teach into these words.)
This of course will look different for different ages, and different maturity but the key things you want them to know are:
- What you did that was wrong
- Why was that wrong
- What can you do to put it right
- Who do you need to speak to
- How could you handle things better next time
- What about God? Do you need to talk to him?
When our children are young, they cannot answer all these questions – but by having these questions in our mind we can guide them towards an age appropriate response and in the process, we are teaching their hearts.
For a toddler/pre-schooler – who is in the early stages of gaining self-control and having a happy heart – this process looks different, but my intent is still the same. I leave them in their timeout space to gain self-control or a happy heart. Sometimes I would even sit with them, but I don’t engage with them, or try and cajole them to a smile. When they are calm again, I remind them of what is expected in the given situation (obedience, kindness, happy) and we go and give it a go.
As my children have grown older we have been able to move away from a step by step process to the place where I can say: I want you to think about what is going on here, about your heart and choices.
Sometimes they can fix their direction and choices really quickly, sometimes they still need time to sit away from distractions and sort it out. Occasionally, they would then come to me and say, I don’t know how to sort this out, I don’t know what I could have done, I don’t know how to do the right thing. But by the time they do this, they have sorted out their heart attitude and they want help, they want to do the right thing.
What happens after a timeout is as significant as the process itself. Our children need to be prepared – in their will and awareness, to go back to the circumstance they were in and do the right thing.
Of course, the next question is – what if they don’t do the right thing then? That is probably a whole other question – but the short of it is probably one of two things:
- They went through the process, said the right words, but didn’t really change their heart – didn’t change their belief, emotions, passions, character, will.
- There is something else going on – either you didn’t discuss the real issue, or they are tired, hungry, overwhelmed. Or they are simply unable to do the right thing at this time (it is an age or maturity-wise inappropriate expectation we are putting on them)
Timeout is a doable consequence wherever you are. If you are out and about you can create a private space by going to a secluded place, by sitting in the car, or by just drawing your child onto your lap. At home you can have a thinking-spot, or use your bed, or even your child’s bed (if they don’t play with the toys).
Timeout (or as I rather call it – reflective time out) is a go-to consequence because it deals with the heart. It is not a punishment – but rather an opportunity to think about choices, attitudes, and actions. It prepares our children to go and do the right thing.
PS Note: there may well need to be other consequences to help teach them the right thing to do in a given situation, but time to think about their heart is always a good place to start.
Heart Focus Parenting This ebook is a collection of articles and snippets of thoughts that address the issue: what is the heart and how does it affect our parenting? Purchase here, paper version also available for Australian readers (postage costs are ridiculous for overseas readers, sorry.)
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