Let’s pretend you’re building your dream house. You hire a general contractor and draw up the plans together, scrutinizing over each corner of this new home. The land is carefully purchased, and the necessary permits to begin building are acquired. The night before the ground breaking seems to last forever, as you’re too excited to sleep. When you arrive at the build site the next morning, the general contractor and his crew have already assembled. You jump out of the car and run over to them, anxious to see their progress, only to stand there in dismay. “What is going on?” you think to yourself. “Why aren’t they working?” You look closely, and realize that every single member of the construction team has shown up with only ONE tool on his toolbelt–a hammer. “Where are the rest of your tools?” you shout to everyone. “You can’t build my dream house with only ONE tool!”
A hammer is a very useful tool for a builder. But just as it would be silly to attempt to build a house with only one tool, it is silly to look at building our children’s character with only one tool. (Or for some parents, no tools at all!) I view consequences as one tool of grace parenting. It works best when mixed with all the other useful tools (connection, correction, convictions, cuddles, consistency, cooperation, etc) and just like with building a house, overuse or abuse of any one tool will make an incomplete child. 🙂 If you’re a parent who struggles with too much punishment and too many consequences, study and apply some of the other techniques listed. However, if you’re searching for helpful ways to reinforce the consistent teaching of your family convictions to your children—this post will help with that!
There is no magic formula for raising perfect children.
Maybe I should repeat that, for us slow learners. 🙂
There is no magic formula for raising perfect children. I’m not going to give you some magical consequence that will suddenly eliminate all childishness from your home. (That stuff sells, though, doesn’t it?) I am an imperfect mama raising imperfect children, in need of as much grace as they are.
Slowly and carefully, with God’s daily help, we gently and continually rain His principles on our children (a harsh rain will quickly knock little plants to the ground), we bask them in the sun of our approval and God’s love, and we dig up the nasty weeds early—all for the purpose of our children embracing their need for the life-changing gospel! We nurture and raise our little plants to adulthood.
But what do you do when you’ve cleared your vision, you and your spouse have communicated about your family convictions, and you’re working through the four steps to consistency— and little Johnny still isn’t cooperating? 🙂 Consequences can help with that. I chose the word consequences, not just because it’s the word we use in our home, but also because there’s a vast difference between consequences and punishment.
Punishment seeks retribution for a crime, whereas consequences seek heart change.
Guard against becoming a task-master with consequences. Because each child is so incredibly unique, what works for one may be absolutely disastrous for another! If it’s not working for your family, change things up. There have been countless times on our parenting journey where we have called a family meeting to implement changes, cause the current tools just weren’t working. (Grace for parents, too!)
1. The beauty of the RE-DO
I’ve alluded to this one a bit in other posts, but I’ll detail it more here. First, though, I have to say–aren’t you glad we serve a God who allows us a re-do? Oh, the immense comfort of the forgiveness of almighty God on those really-bad-no-good-wish-I-had-stayed-in-bed-days. Sigh. Anyway, back to the re-do. The re-do is a quick consequence for minor issues.
If we call out to a child, “Johnny!” and they answer with a “what?”, we require a re-do. “Let’s try that again, buddy!” Then we call out again, “Johnny!” and they answer with “Yes, sir?”
If I say, “Johnny, it’s your turn to wash the dishes tonight.” and the response is, “Oh, man. Isn’t is Suzy’s turn?!” I would immediately say, “Let’s try that again, with a respectful response this time.”
A re-do can also be powerful when a child is just having an “off” day. (Ever had an “off” parent-day? I sure have!) Let’s say they’re struggling repeatedly, disagreeable, grumpy, whatever. We might sit them down and say, “You’re having a really bad day. Why don’t we stop right now, pray, and try again?” We teach and guide, encourage some quiet time with God, and then try to start the day again with a “clean slate”. (Sometimes I need a Mommy re-do, too. How about you?)
We use different variations of this technique with our children when they refuse to obey after a warning. I’ll illustrate this to show how it looks with various ages/stages.
Toddler: Let’s say Titus is trying to touch a no-no. The first time he reaches for it, we apply the four steps. If he moves on, great. 🙂 If he goes for the item repeatedly, we will sit him down firmly on his bottom. We help him fold his hands, and gently repeat the no-no command. After a brief minute, we stand him up and redirect him to a “yes” object.
Pre-school to Kindergarten: Traditional time-out works well with this age. (especially if you’ve been consistent with teaching the child to stay in a boundary before then!) If we’ve applied the four steps and the child is still defiant, we sit the child in a specific spot, and tell them to think about their behavior until the timer goes off. We come back after the specified time and we discuss what the child needs to do, then they are instructed to try again.
School age and beyond: We do use “time to think” with these ages periodically. Let’s say we’ve given instructions and the child is having a really hard time talking respectfully or following through. We direct them to take some “time to think” about their response. The child may come back to us at any point–there’s no set time here, we’re just giving them time to cool down and use all of their brain. (A stressed out brain isn’t functioning well!) After a few minutes, we readdress the problem and try again.
Time-in is similar to time-out, except for two key areas. One, the child is in control of when/if they get up (“I’m ready to obey!”), and two, the child is kept very near the parent. We use this with one of ours who freaks out over time-out :). This is very helpful for an adopted child who feels anxiety at any separation from the parents. In this scenario, I might say, “Johnny, go pick up your paints-it’s time for dinner.” Johnny says “no”. I would go through the corrective steps, and if the answer (or attitude) was still resisting, I would say something like, “Johnny, you’re having trouble obeying Mommy. Sit down next to me until you’re ready to obey.” I might keep trying to talk to the child, or ignore them for a bit, or I may even try to hold the child if they seem willing, but regardless, they remain very close to me and I watch for their countenance to soften. Some children are “ready to obey” in 2.5 seconds, but I do have one that takes much longer to yield. 🙂 With that particular child, verbally yielding is very difficult, so I sometimes offer a “You look ready to obey. Want to try again?”
3. Loss of sweets:
There are a handful of words that are “yucky” in our home. (Stupid, hate, shut-up, butt, jerk, idiot, mean, fat, ugly). There are also a few nick-names that some of our children dislike strongly. 🙂 If one of the children uses one of these “yucky” words, they lose the next sweet offered. (candy, gum, cookie, dessert) The only exceptions are for meals out, meals with friends, or birthday cake (because the goal is to reach the heart, not anger or embarrass the child, and missing a sweet in front of someone would humiliate the child). They lose the sweet after that event if necessary.
We have removed sweets for 7 days a few times, for a problem with repetitive lying. This was very fairly warned and actually quite effective to eliminate the habit. Just a side note, I never recommend long-term consequences with children with attachment/trauma issues–rarely can they hold it together to last the full amount of time. I keep consequences to the same day in this case.
4. Physical activity/extra chores:
This is a consequence we use with our v
ery active boys. 🙂 If they wrestle without permission or are aggressive, we assign some outside physical work for their extra energy. My hubby always goes outside with them and teaches them through this typical boy struggle. 🙂
Occasionally, extra chores are added, in the case of a child complaining excessively about their chore or being mean to a sibling. They might have to do each other’s work for awhile, or do the same chore for an entire week.
5. Creative consequences:
My hubby is especially good at coming up with creative consequences. For example, if two little ones are repeatedly arguing and not getting along, he will require them to walk around the outside of the house, holding hands and singing. They can stop walking around the house when they’ve decided mutually to get along. This is adorable to watch, as they start walking with a surly expression, and as time progresses, they start giggling and skipping and realizing that they might as well like each other again. Or we might assign two children to play a game together if they’ve been getting on each other’s nerves for awhile. Once, we took away one of our teen girl’s makeup for a week because she kept burping loudly in public. (She was very very fairly warned!) Let’s just say that worked beautifully aND is some thing we all laugh about now. LOL. We also have a rule that if you burp at a meal, you get to clear off the table alone. I’m always hoping someone burps so Mommy gets a break, lol. Get creative with logical consequences that teach a lesson and encourage a child to do right.
6. Removal of privileges:
Sometimes we remove a privilege if a child doesn’t follow through with something they’ve been asked to do. This is a more rare consequence for us, mostly because the other siblings get so upset if a child misses anything “fun”. One consequence we use if a child has a bad temper is missing part or all of a family movie (and having to go to bed early instead). I will tell you, however, that the last time we sent a little one to bed, her siblings were in tears at the thought of her missing the new movie and begged us to “take a vote”—they unanimously voted to allow her mercy and we got her back out of bed. 🙂 I realize this may sound like permissive parenting to some—but when we looked around the room at 6 children holding up their hands and voting for mercy, we realized we were reaching hearts. Forgiveness is a powerful motivator, too.
7. Outlasting/Parent time:
When a child is defiant and not responding to any of the other methods listed above, we simply outlast them. This means they stay near us until they can make good choices on their own. It’s not a punishment, just a natural consequence of untrustworthy behavior. T-I-M-E with Daddy or Mommy is often what is needed to bring a struggling child around. If we’ve tried to reason with them and it’s just not working, we move on about our day, but they must stay in the room with us until they’re ready to talk and try again. Some of our adopted children get “stuck” with the fright/flight/freeze stress triggers, and they absolutely need time before they can be reasoned with. Life moves on for us, but STOPS for them, and we wait for the child to calm down and decide to work with what we’re asking them to do. We reassure the child that we are not angry but remind them that obedience is a requirement and that they will need to get up and obey if they want to have any fun privileges. There’s no one right or wrong way to outlast a child (it looks different with each child), but the point to be made is that a family works together and working together is not optional. One of the keys to successful outlasting is allowing the child a measure of control/pride. We occasionally ask, “Are you ready to obey? Do you need to talk to Mommy? Can I pray with you?” which allows the child to give in with dignity. It is embarrassing to any person to know that you’re making wrong choices and can be very hard to yield and admit this. Gently offering the right way out of the situation makes it easier to accept. The opposite of this is saying something like this, “Stay in that chair until you’re going to stop being ugly to everyone! I’m sick and tired of you treating me this way! You never obey!” and yes, I’ve said these kinds of things, too. It never works, by the way. 🙂
I’ve given you a little glimpse into some of our (imperfect) family consequences. What about you? What consequences do you find useful in teaching your children? I’d love to hear about it on my Facebook page!
Today’s Challenge: Consequences or punishment–have you considered the difference? Do you have more than one tool in your parenting toolbox? Join me in seeking to reach our children’s hearts this year!