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What to Do when Consequences Aren’t Working

Boy running - to L - in sunsetI remember an experiment my brother conducted when we were little kids. He had done something wrong and was going to be punished. He had the brilliant idea that he wouldn’t be punished if Mom couldn’t catch him. He started running around the house, trying to keep away from her. Finally, he gave up running, and learned that discipline doesn’t eventually improve when we run from it.

Nearly 40 years later, I think more about my mom than my brother, when I remember that scene. While my memory is incomplete, she didn’t join his game and chase him; instead, she waited him out and made sure he understood the impact of his decision. I haven’t faced that same experiment yet; but, probably will, and I hope I react with the poise and focus of my mom.

One of the hardest things about discipline is that there are times in which it just doesn’t seem to be working.  Even worse, it may just seem to be making things harder for you, rather than for them.

Here are a few things to consider if discipline just doesn’t seem to be working:

  1. Are all the consequences negative? One of the most powerful parenting skills is catching your child doing something right, and affirming it. Kids crave attention and will, at times, get in trouble just to get your attention.
  2. Do you take short-cuts? Consequences are often a pain, not only for the kid, but also the parent. Be careful, when giving consequences, to make sure you can live with them, too. For example, taking away your teen’s driving privileges may mean a lot of your time will be taken driving them around. This may be really effective; but, don’t do it, if you don’t have the time and ability to carry it out fully.
  3. What are the consequences accomplishing? Are they acting as teaching, or simply punitive? The best consequences teach; not only about the effect of their behavior, but hopefully how to make amends. Is the punishment making you feel better, or is it helping your teen learn?
  4. Who has the power over what? The teen is the only one with power over what they do. However, you as the parent, have power over all sorts of other things that they want. Make sure to focus on what you can control, and make sure the teen also knows the relationship between their behavior and what things you give them access to.
  5. Is there a bigger power struggle? There are situations in which the power struggle is so fierce that what ever you do as a parent just feeds the conflict. They will suffer just to prove a point. I’m not talking about the typical situation of a teen pushing back on the parent. This is a situation in which the struggle has taken on a life of its own and needs to be addressed, before anything else can happen. I recommend NOT trying to solve the power struggle on your own; and, instead, work with a counselor, youth pastor, or another trusted mediator, to break the impasse.
  6. Don’t be afraid to change your tactics. There are times which require sticking to your plan, and other times in which changing your attack, or even providing unwarranted grace, may make the biggest impact. Don’t become “wishy-washy”; but, at the same time, don’t give up your ability to make adjustments as needed.

If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you review the series I wrote on overcoming resistance. Many times, just being more aware of resistance can help you overcome it.

I’d appreciate hearing from you about what you do when consequences aren’t working.

2 Comments on “What to Do when Consequences Aren’t Working

  1. I just spent the day Monday with Chuck Hagele, executive director of Project PATCH, which has come to mean the world to our family. I still have so much to learn. Thanks, Chuck! Today I also received this from Focus on the Family. What a great visual!

    • David, it was awesome to spend time walking the property in Goldendale and talking about the Family Experience. I really like the visual and how it captures the crazy cycle for the family. The good news is so much can be impacted by the parent. Thanks for sharing.