This is a continuation of Part 1 of Tips for Parenting Through Troubled Waters where I discussed consistency, which can be found here. The second tip I will discuss is Action and Reaction.
Imagine a friend comes over with a new board game. You have no idea how to play but she insists you get right into it. You roll the dice and choose a path. Your friend says you have to skip two turns because you chose the difficult path and landed on a certain space. Soon, you go again but the rules are confusing so you do something else ‘wrong’ and you’re told you need to go back 10 spaces. Frustrated, naturally, you decide not to continue the game, at least not until you learn the rules.
Apply this to children. Kids need to know the rules first to accept consequences. Things like breaking a window may seem obviously wrong, but having an extra snack or staying up late may seem like no big deal. Here’s an example:
Johnny is told to put his toys away before soccer practice. He doesn’t. When he comes home, he wants to play with friends but is told no and is given a time out. Johnny throws a fit. He and his dad argue, dad yells, Johnny cries, and no one is happy.
Here’s another version:
Johnny is told to clean up his toys before soccer practice because cleaning up his toys will keep them safe and easy to find. He’s also told he cannot play with friends later if they’re not cleaned up. Johnny cleans up some toys, but then goes to practice. When he gets home, his father points out that he missed lots of toys and asks Johnny what happened. Johnny states he ‘ran out of time.’ His father listens politely and asks Johnny what he should do. Johnny asks if he can have help cleaning up the rest and then go play.
In the first example, Johnny is not told why the toys should be cleaned up or what happens if he doesn’t do it. Also, his father loses his temper at Johnny losing his. One reacts to the other who reacts to the other and so on…
In the second example, Johnny is told why the action should happen in a way he can understand. Johnny doesn’t want broken or lost toys. Also, he’s told consequences if he doesn’t listen. When he doesn’t complete his chore, there’s calm dialog. His father has control over himself and over Johnny because he’s not fighting for control with his volume. He’s showing his son respect.
Okay parents, sometimes it doesn’t work, but we do try, right? We want our kiddos to listen and do what we say but we need them on our side first. They’re not robots; they’re little humans with free will. We need to help them understand and be patient. Our patience teaches them patience. Our kindness teaches them kindness. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).
This brings us to another important point about consequences: follow through. If it doesn’t happen, it has no power. If you say, “no more screen time unless you clean your room,” and junior doesn’t do it and you don’t enforce it, guess what? Junior is neither going to respect your authority nor believe your threats. You need to follow through, but there’s a second important factor. The consequence needs to make sense.
A couple was having trouble with their preschooler’s behavior. They would bribe her with the most ridiculous things like trips to the amusement park or threaten her with taking away something the next day. They had to learn that small children are not going to remember long-term actions. Small, immediate consequences which are explained in a way tangible to the child will have a great effect at teaching discipline.
My 14 year old can be told to fold her laundry or no ride for tomorrow’s hang out. My four year old can be told to put his shoes away or no going in the living room to play. My teen is old enough to understand the action and consequence relationship and knows from experience that I follow through. The younger one needs to hit that road block immediately. “Freeze! Where do your shoes belong? Let’s not trip over them. No playing until they’re on the shelf, please.”
We do well to remember Ephesians 6:4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.
Also, Proverbs 22:6: Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.
We must love our children as the Lord loves us. With love comes obedience, but not tyrannical obedience but kind instruction, dialog, and concern. When we are honest and teach them with the respect that allows them to learn why the rules are in place, that we are in charge of the rules because we love them, and that there are certainly consequences for everything, they will show respect in turn. I leave you with this poem which hung in our hallway growing up.
Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.