Every parent wants to know what to do when the kids do the wrong thing. For many generations parents have tended to focus on punishing children – this has created a desire in the children to avoid doing the wrong thing in order to avoid the punishment. This is not the type of parent I want to be – I want my children to choose to do the right thing because they know it is right, because it lines up with the morals that they hold to. This means that we have to teach our children moral values as well as moral behaviour. They have to know the right thing for themselves – we then help them line their actions up with the morals.
When our child steps outside of the moral boundaries that we set for our family, the issue isn’t that our child is bad and they need a punishment, the issue is that we, as parents, need to continue to teach and train our child to make wiser choices. (* if this statement concerns you please do read the explanation at the end of the article). And though the child has done the wrong thing reality is how parents handle it from then on is going to be a huge factor in how our children learn the appropriate lesson.
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Parents must do their homework first
We must do our part before we can expect our children to grow and mature.
–Discern the child’s heart; what’s really going on, is it a heart issue or lack of skill/ability?
–Have you taught and practiced the right responses? We must model, teach, practice and then we can expect our children to make appropriate choices. Doesn’t mean they always will but we do first of all need to be sure that we’ve given them the ability to make the right choice.
–Are you calm? If you are not calm you do not have the right to teach your child to make right choices. Deal with the issue in your heart first – and then help them deal with their issues.
–Know what you want your child to learn from this experience – what was missing in their thinking, or choices that enabled them to do this ‘wrong’ thing. This is the key to anything that you do from now on in.
This last point is so important. If we don’t know what we want our child to learn from this experience we will be just punishing them for inconveniencing or embarrassing us. Alternatively when we know what moral choice or action was missing in our child’s life we have something very concrete to teach them – and to help us find the right strategies to use in teaching them.
Learn to give effective consequences
Consequence choice #1: Time out
There is much discussion about time out – is it cruel, does it work? It depends if it is used as a punishment or as a tool to help your child. Using it as a punishment opens the door for resentment and the child hasn’t learnt anything, or at least not anything helpful to their moral maturity. But using time out as a tool to help your child looks totally different than normal time out.
The way I use time out is giving the child time away from people and activity, away from distractions so they can think about their heart and change their attitude. The child determines how long time out lasts – if they want to stay grumpy or angry (toddler to teenager) then they can stay in time out for as long as they need to get back to being willing to make good choices.
Time out is actually my Go To Consequence. When my child is finished in time out I want them to first of all have a different attitude to me, or to whomever they were reacting against. If they are old enough to talk about their heart issues I want them to be able to confess what they did, why it was wrong, and what they should have done. I want them to be ready to apologise to anyone who they hurt by their choices and I want them ready to go forth doing good!
But sometimes there are repercussions from their choices that will need to be worked through once they have a good attitude. These repercussions (or consequences) will reinforce that moral truth that they forgot when they make their initial choice.
Consequence choice #2: Loss of whatever was involved.
The key here is to connect the removing of something to the poor choice. We can remove possessions or activities, but there must be some reason why we take something away from our kids. It is kind of like the punishment must fit the crime, except we don’t want to just punish them we want them to learn.
Consequence choice #3: Work to put it right (restitution)
Poor choices usually damage something; they may damage a relationship, possessions or people’s plans. Our children need to see the repercussions of their choices and they need to be made responsible for putting things right. Once again this isn’t a punishment but rather a learning process where they start to value the right thing and see the repercussions of making poor choices.
The Consequence choice that is missing:
In the past smacking has been seen as the ‘biggest’ tool parents have – it is their fall-back and often their immediate response regardless of anything. Not only is smacking frowned upon in society (and in some places actually banned) it often isn’t wise parenting. It falls into the category of punishment where what the children need is to be taught, trained, reminded and established in their ability to know what is right and make choices accordingly. If you are using smacking as a key tool – please reconsider and know that there are other tools out there that will teach and train your children’s hearts.
Think about Consequences:
You can find blog posts and books written on all the different consequences that you can give your kids. The thing is if consequences are to teach your child something in the situation they have got themselves in – there is no way anyone other than you, the parent there on the job in that moment in time, can assess what is going to teach your child’s heart. This is why I’ve tried to narrow it down to three options – time out, loss of something, restitution.
What is the flow on effect of your child’s choices and how are you going to teach him / her to make better choices? These are the questions you need to think about before giving a consequence.
If you need to retrain yourself to think before you react – download my parenting worksheet to help you think through the issue and find an appropriate consequence. The link is below…
[Tweet “The purpose of a consequence is to teach our child why and how to do the right thing.”]
*I’m not saying that our children are inherently good – they are sinners and need a saviour. Once they know Jesus and desire to please him, then our parenting has an extra dimension – but each and every person has a spiritual, moral, emotional, social, intellectual and physical capacity. When we are teaching and training our children to do the right thing we are teaching and training their moral capacity – that is their ability to understand and act upon what is right. Each civilisation has a moral aspect regardless of their standing with God.
Learn to give effective consequences
Bonus worksheets and parenting cheatsheet
Over to you:
What is your go to plan when your kids do something unwise?
My Go to Consequence: My go-to consequence helps children consider their heart; afterall it is their heart that directs their choices.
What are Parents to do When Consequences don’t Work: Consequences are to teach our children something but they don’t always work leaving parents wondering what to do next. We need to ask why.
How to See Attitude for What it is: When we deal with the attitude in the heart our children will change their behaviour. It starts with seeing attitude for what it is.
It’s Easy to Think it is a Heart Attitude – but is it? Parents need to discern between a heart attitude and a bad habit that need to be overcome. Download cheat sheet with 5 questions to help you discern.