Consequences are to teach our children something. But they don’t always work leaving parents wondering what to do next. As a last resort parents hold hold onto the belief that ‘it’s just a phase’ and ‘they’ll grow out of it’. Our kids would be better served if we asked ourselves – why are these consequences not working.
A few reasons that I know of are:
We are angry –
When we dish out consequences and are still angry our children see consequences as punishment, they also see our hypocrisy and become resentful and resist change.
We are inconsistent –
We let things happen and then we reach our fill and out of frustration we snap, we’ve had enough – and we give a consequence – our older kids will see this for what it is and the younger ones will be confused. When we are inconsistent we encourage our kids to take the risk in doing whatever they want – they’ll probably get away with it, and children being children, they’ll take the chance that you’ll let it slide.
There is no heart change –
There is no heart change – that is, the kids don’t grow in their understanding of what is right and wrong, they don’t grow in their ability to make different choices. Most kids know how to play the game – they know what to say to get them outta-there. If we accept words without heart change, which will reflect in action change, then we are maintaining a repetitive cycle.
Our children truly don’t have the skill we are expecting –
We must teach our kids how to do the right thing we are talking about. They can have their heart in the right place, and want to do the right thing and yet if they don’t have the actual skill to do so, they will still do the wrong thing. E.g. if you have never taught your kid to make their bed, they will not be able to make their bed to the standard that you expect. Doesn’t mean they don’t want to – that their heart is in the wrong place, it simply means they don’t have the skill. There are many skills we need to teach our kids before we can expect them to choose to walk that way – relationship skills, practical life skills, self-management skills, study skills etc.
Heart Change is the Child’s Responsibility
One other reason I have seen, and it comes to the fore as our children grow older, is that the child/teen does not understand that his/her behaviour is their responsibility. They become so accustomed to a parent giving a consequence, that they live out the consequence and move on. They think that this is a part of childhood, a part of their family life that they need to endure. Even if the consequence truly does bring about pain (inconvenience, lost privileges, extra work etc) they seem to think that dishing out consequences is the parents’ job, dealing with it is the child’s job and life goes on.
In order to promote the idea that the kids are responsible for their actions we need to help them see that their actions are a result of their choice, and that their choices are a result of what is in their heart. A dark angry heart will drive a person to do dark angry things. Our children need to see that they are the only ones that can change their heart – it is their choice.
Unless a child wants to change all the consequences in the world won’t bring change, in fact consequences given to a child who does not want to change, will be seen as punishments. Punishments just deal with external behaviour, and do not touch the heart – they are a short term solution.
Further Tips to help your Children Learn
So if consequences are not working, some other things to consider are:
- Is your child willing to learn?
- Is your child wanting to change?
- Does your child see change as his/her responsibility, and something that they can really do?
If so, then I’d suggest that you ask them a question like one of these – don’t play 20 questions with them, firing questions from the hip but rather involve them in a conversation about their choices:
- How are you going to learn to respond to this situation with love and grace?
- How are you going to learn to make wise choices in this situation?
- What is it that you find so hard and how can I help you grow in that area?
I can guarantee you will be surprised at their answers. Mind you, they may be surprised at you asking, and they may not have an answer – this may be because they are simply expecting you to dish out a consequence and move on. If that is the case talk to them about their choices being their responsibility, and your responsibility is to help them make wise choices. Tell them that you are in this together and that you are there for them. It may just change things around.
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