This time, I would like to discuss consequences and the role they play in the learning process for children. I often see parenting situations where parents threaten consequences for certain actions but often fail to follow through with them. This is very damaging to healthy learning of appropriate behaviors. It is the very process of dealing with that uncomfortable feeling that allows for a healthy child to develop a regulatory process for unacceptable behavior. When parents give in to easily, it sets the stage for “limit testing” children to figure out ways to get around the rules and expectations. It also prevents children from learning the connection between privilege and responsibility, a dynamic that I often preach about in my practice.
I am sure many parents can relate to the overwhelming noises that children can create when not getting their way. Conversely, the sickeningly sweet way they will act until they get their way. These behavior tactics should not sway parents into forgoing consequences or into letting things slide too easily. This does not mean you should choose consequences out of anger, thus choosing consequences that are unfitting for the infraction (Your 10 year old should not be painting the house as punishment for a dirty room). It does mean that this is an open door opportunity for discussion with your children so that you can communicate your expectations for behavior as it relates to responsibility. The natural flow for kids as they grow is to ask for more privileges. By handling the above dynamic properly, parents can review how a child handles their responsibilities to evaluate the readiness for new privileges. It sounds simple but it is the foundation of many problems that I see in my practice working with young people and their families.
No one is perfect and I am not suggesting that this will be with out challenges but, the more consistent parents can be the better. The expression that repetition demands respect holds true and consistency is powerful in teaching children. Also, when parents relax the rules for special circumstances, it makes the reward of breaks from the normal routine more meaningful. When children are indulged with privileges that are beyond their demonstrated level of responsibility, they can become expectant and manipulative in order to get away with more. They have not earned it and this can lead to bad judgment scenarios in which children get into trouble or get hurt. No parent likes when this happens and it is painful for all.
I encourage parents to sit down and discuss with their children those expectations that they consider reasonable, along with what types of appropriate consequences and rewards will be given. Parents, please keep in mind your child’s age, stage of development and individual level of functioning as a guide for setting expectations. The goal is for your child to be successful, as this will be helpful in strengthening his/her self-esteem. It is very validating when kids can feel that their parents are proud of how responsible they are being. It will really make them shine when they can proudly state “I earned this privilege”.
As always none of us is as smart as all of us and I welcome your input.