When I had Knox, the older boys were just finishing up the second half of Spring semester. A month after he was born, I attended parent-teacher conferences. During one conference a teacher asked me, "When ____(insert name)___ does something he's not supposed to do, what is his consequence?"
Oh shoot! Consequences? I had completely forgotten about consequences.
What I wanted to tell her, but wisely didn't, was when the boys got too wild or broke a rule, their "consequence" was an angry mommy... or the command, "STOP IT!!!!" or choice words yelled across the house.
Feeding a newborn every couple hours made it challenging to remember the importance of an effective discipline system. Meeting the needs of a baby was all-consuming. Providing for physical needs of 3 other boys, then possibly meeting some emotional needs AND executing thoughtful discipline on top of it all? Forget about it.
But her question, "What is the consequence..." stuck in my head for several days. She reminded me how off-base my discipline had tilted. Maybe it had just fallen off the wagon all-together.
For me, discipline swings on a pendulum swinging between too-strict and too-permissive. When things get too permissive, it gets too chaotic in our home and it robs the joy.
James Dobson gives a memorable analogy (this is my summary...) Suppose you are going 90 mph on the highway and pass a police officer. What if the officer could only stand next to the highway and yell as loud as he could, "Slow down!!" & blow his whistle...would you stop speeding?
But imagine driving with your kids, jamming to your Seeds Family Worship and you see the lights of a police car in your rearview mirror (not that this has happened to me...merely an example). ;) Your heart beats rapidly as you roll down the window to hand over your license & registration. You wait anxiously for the officer to return to the side of your car and determine whether you will be handed the dreaded ticket requiring you to pay a large sum of money.
For the next month...or year...when you get to the specific road you were pulled over, you make sure to go well below the speed limit. And it worked...behavior changed by a consequence.
For a long time I've been the police officer just yelling from the side of the road. My kids called my bluff & there was no change in behavior.
Then I was flipping through the book "Good & Angry" by Turansky & Miller and was reminded of a simple way to deal with misbehavior at home. It gave me a plan to implement in those moments I want to just shout "no!".
Here is my version of their plan for handling misbehavior:
- Unacceptable behavior occurs
- Ask the offender to sit on our bottom step
- Tell him to come find me when he is ready to talk about his behavior
- When he finds me we talk through the following questions:
- What did you do that was wrong?
- Why was it wrong?
- What are you going to do next time?
**End with "Now go try again!" (my favorite part...they leave encouraged instead of discouraged).
I've found the boys typically know what they did wrong. But they rarely can express "why" it was wrong (a child development issue...most kids struggle with the "why"). Talking through the why helps form their moral code. For example, "Why was it wrong to hit your brother? Because God commands us to love one another. Hitting someone is not loving or kind."
Then talking about options and ways to respond next time has also proved helpful in reducing bad behavior choices. For example, "If he takes one of your toys and it makes you upset, you could tell him, 'I was playing with that car. You can have it when I'm finished.'"
I'm not going to lie & tell you life is grand & my boys never fight or disobey. No ma'am. But I have a plan now. When the baby needs to be fed & someone makes a bad choice I have a tool I can pull out instead of yelling.
What consequence system have you found to be useful? I can use all the help I can get!!