Foolish: How to Discipline when your Kids are NOT Listening
Most of us parents still remember what a broken record sounds like. The same thing plays over and over and just won’t move on. Most kids haven’t heard a record-player, but have experienced the broken-record moments as their parents launch into the lecture about: taking more responsibility, being respectful, trying harder in school, cleaning their room, dressing modestly, being nicer to their little brother, taking care of the dog, or whatever it is that seems to require a bunch of nagging to get done.
Today’s post is a continuation on the concept of the Wise and the Foolish, by Henry Cloud, who captured it well in the book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that All of Us Have to Give Up in Oder to Move Forward. The Wise respond to words, and don’t postpone change. The Foolish, on the other hand; deflect words, ignore words, blame others, or procrastinate change. The last post talks about how to use words to impact kids who are wise and listening. Yet, there are times for our kids, and us as adults, when we either don’t want to change, or just don’t want to change that now.
Henry Cloud really makes a point that Foolish doesn’t mean stupid or dumb. They may give you all sorts of compelling and believable excuses; but in the end, they need to change, and they aren’t engaging in actually changing. If you keep using words, one year from now, you will be in the same place; only now you will be more resentful and they will be listening even less.
So, if words don’t work, what works? The answer is simple, but not easy – life works! Personal experience with the reality of life can be a hard teacher, but is also a good teacher; and most likely the only teacher who can reach your kid who isn’t listening. Life has a reality to it that is difficult to ignore. There is a cause and effect that we may resist, but still affects us. Gravity is one of those things that affect everything and everyone. Even when we are flying in a plane, we aren’t winning, we are just compensating for it. Life requires us to adapt our behavior to it. Life has consequences. What we do matters, and all our behavior has consequences.
The challenge for us as parents is to choose between two types of consequences:
Natural consequences are the things that will happen if we allow nature to take its course. Play in the snow without a coat, hat, and gloves; and the natural consequence will be a cold. Spend all your allowance at the carnival, and you won’t be able to afford the big toy. The easy thing about natural consequences is that you don’t need to figure out a consequence; the hard thing is that you need to figure out whether the cost is too high or too low? Are you willing to have your kid sick for a week, during your vacation, to teach him or her to wear warmer cloths? Are you okay with your daughter repeating the eighth grade? Does the kid need to burn their hand in the fire to learn not to touch fire? There are also times in which the natural consequence may not be readily apparent for a long time, and so the teaching may come too late.
Tom Sanford, the Founder of Project Patch, wrote about consequences in his parenting book: If Parenting is a Three Ring Circus: How come I’m not the Ringmaster? He posed, “If you didn’t cause it, why fix it? That is the responsibility of the one who broke it.” Spilled milk should be cleaned up by the ‘spiller’. Broken things should be fixed by the one who broke them. Too many times, parents step in, clean up, and fix things; and so the child doesn’t share in the cost of their own mistake.
If the cost from natural consequences is too high or too low, then consider a logical consequence. These aren’t direct results of the behavior; but instead, are consequences intended to create some thoughtfulness, and have some personal cost to the kid. For example: if your kid is playing around the fire and not listening to your warnings, then the logical consequence is that they may need to sit on a bench, away from the fire, until they are safe. Or even better, they may not be allowed to roast their own marshmallows, because that requires a respect for fire and an ability to listen, which they haven’t shown.
Logical consequences require a lot more thought and creativity on the part of the parent. The goal is to create an event and memory that will guide the child back to living productively. Tom Sanford writes, “Change the mistakes your child makes into ‘teachable moments’, rather than a time to release your own pent-up frustrations.” This isn’t easy, because typically when I’m disciplining, I want to feel better; and many times will create consequences which are punitive, rather than helpful. A parent needs to thoughtfully plan logical consequences which aren’t punitive, are fairly immediate, and can be logically interpreted by the kid to fit their behavior.
The great news is that for kids that are foolish, a combination of natural and logical consequences works. It may not be instantaneous, but reality has a way of requiring us to mold to it. Consequences, just like words, must be done in love; and they may be difficult for your kid, but I’ve found that they are also difficult for me. It isn’t easy to see our kids suffer and pay for their mistakes. Yet, when they aren’t listening, there really isn’t any other choice.
In the final post of this series, we’ll look at what to do when consequences don’t seem to be working.
I’d love to hear from you about this or any other topic. I’ll leave you with a question for today: “Do you remember a time in which a consequence really impacted your life? Was it logical, or natural?”