When my oldest son was about 7 years old, I dropped him off at a friends house where the children were staying while some older adults in our church did some prep work for an event. There was one mom assigned to watch the kids at that house and the parents were working not far from there. I don’t leave my children without myself or my husband very often, and when I do, I tend to hang around for a few minutes just to get a feel for the atmosphere of the place.
My son quickly ran off to play with the other boys there while I chatted with the mom in charge. Unfortunately, we could barely have a conversation because the mom in charge had to repeatedly tell a group of boys to stop running in the house and stay downstairs. Every time she spoke to them, they ignored her and kept on doing what they were instructed not to do.
Finally, I stepped in and told them to either stop or I would call each of their parents back to the house so the boys could explain to them why they were being disobedient and disrespectful. Every child ran on about his business, except my son who quickly said, “Guys, stop. My mommy means it!”
That statement implied two things; 1) My son knew that I meant what I said, and 2) he knew that there were other moms who did not mean what they said.
What are we communicating to our children when we don’t enforce a consequence?
When we commit to another adult that we will do something, and then we don’t follow through, we are thought of as inconsistent and not dependable. Our children may not have that same conscious thought, but here is what they do internalize:
- My mom does not always mean what she says, even when she sounds serious or in a serious situation.
- When mom tells me what consequence follows a particular action, its not always true.
- I can’t always believe or trust mom or dad.
Those are some pretty serious perceptions for a child. What if you are in a dangerous situation and need your child to obey quickly for safety reasons? What if you are sharing with your child the consequences of breaking the law and they don’t believe you? Worse yet, what if your child feels you cannot be trusted with what you say about your faith?
Five Ways to Make Consequences Stick
I have heard many arguments about why some consequences should be lifted from a child. The most frequent is that the parent feels that the consequence assigned was unfair to start with. Not disciplining in anger is another issue entirely and one that should be handled by the parent. However, here are 5 ways to assign consequences that you can stick to as a parent:
1. Get on the same page with your spouse or other primary authority figure.
Whenever possible, agree with your spouse or the other person who is in a position of authority for your child most often about the behaviors that require a consequence and the consequence that will be assigned.
I completely understand that sometimes, this just cannot happen. If a spouse will not cooperate, don’t fret. At least your child will know that you mean what you say. At least the consequence will be enforced when you are around.
2. Have a “go-to” consequence.
Many times parents assign consequences that they cannot or do not want to enforce just because they simply cannot think of anything else in the moment. They are angry or in public and tensions are high. These are not the best times to make decisions.
You know your child’s behaviors. Plan ahead of time what consequence will be your “go to” consequence for each behavior. Then, when you are in public or just at the end of your rope from a long day, you don’t even have to think about what consequence to assign.
3. Delay assigning a consequence.
When your child outsmarts you and pops out some behavior that you didn’t anticipate, there is nothing wrong with not assigning a consequence in that moment. You can say, “You know, I never expected you to behave that way. I am going to have to think before I tell you what your consequence will be. I will let you know.”
The only danger is this approach is that you MUST remember to go back and give the consequence or you are again not doing what you said you would do and the child suffered no consequence for that behavior.
4. Make the consequence meaningful.
This is pretty simple. Taking away the privilege of playing with Barbies from a boy who like Legos will not get you anywhere. The consequence has to be appropriate and meaningful for the child.
5. Make the consequence enforceable.
Never assign a consequence that you are not willing and able to enforce. Obviously, you can not restrict your child’s breathing privilege and you probably wouldn’t ground them from any regular activity for a year, in most cases. That said, this point calls for you to know yourself as a parent. Know what you are willing to give up and what you are willing to enforce. Are you willing to give up your social time with the other moms at team practice? Are you willing to stand by a consequence that you know your friends or peer will not approve of?
In the end, you enforcing your own consequences will only strengthen your relationship with your child. They want to know that they can count on you.
What are some other issues you have with enforcing consequences? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
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