Choosing Consequences that Really Work

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Choosing Consequences that Really Work

Discipline is one of the hardest, but most important jobs that we do as parents. Loving, grace-based discipline is built on a foundation of heart-connected relationships as well as rules and boundaries that develop our kids’ character. Even with solid foundations and positive relationships with our kids, we will still have to correct them when they behave in ways that are counterproductive to their best interests. That’s where consequences are our best tool. Natural consequences can be powerful teachers, but often natural consequences aren’t enough and we’ve got to choose and impose consequences on our kids when they disobey. Every kid and situation is different. There’s no single consequence that will work every time our kids misbehave. But, there are guidelines that can provide a framework to help us choose consequences that are right for us and our kids.

  • Consequences must be timed properly– The younger the child, the more immediate the consequence needs to be after the undesired behavior. This is simply because of their stage of brain development and processing. Toddlers live in the now, and so consequences must take place in the now.

For older kids, you can delay consequences for practical reasons, but it’s still important to “tag” the behavior in the moment. Tagging behavior is when you identify wrong behavior or choices by name, even if you tell the child that the consequence is going to come later. For example, you say, “The way you are speaking to me right now is disrespectful and unkind. We will discuss your consequence when we get home.” The consequence can come at a time in the future, but tagging the behavior marks it in your mind and in your child’s mind and becomes a reference point to talk about later.

  • Consequences need to be proportional– Proportional consequences demonstrate to our kids that we are fair and just, but that we are willing to push back as hard as we need to, in order to correct behavior we see as destructive to our kids’ physical, emotional and spiritual health. My dad always used to say, “never drive in a thumb tac with a sledge hammer…” If our consequences are too harsh in proportion to our kids’ behavior, they can do unnecessary damage to our relationships. If our consequences are too lenient in proportion to our kids’ choices, then they aren’t effective and they won’t work.

It’s important to think about whether our kids’ behavior is something we might consider a misdemeanor or a felony, because the consequences we give should be reasonable and proportional to the offense.

  • Consequences must be based in child’s currency– Currency, as it relates to consequences, is simply what we value. Everyone’s different, and so what’s important to one person, may not be important to another. Extroverts value interaction with people and introverts value time alone to recharge. Some people are strongly motivated by money or material rewards and some are motivated by freedom and the ability to pursue their passions. Our kids’ unique personalities will have an impact on what they value most. Along with individual differences, our kids’ currency will change based on their stage of development. Toddlers see the world differently than teens, and each value different things. Effective consequences withhold, delay or remove things that our kids’ value in order to help them make more positive choices.

For a more in-depth discussion of consequences and grace-based discipline that really works, check out the Grace Based Discipline Video Study that is available for pre-order now!

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