Would you give your partner or friend a consequence if they behaved in a way you didn’t like? No! You would simply tell them what they did, how it affected you and how you felt about it. Our relationships with our kids are no different. Kids don’t learn to behave better by having a consequence applied.
Consequences are punishment and you don’t need punishment to raise considerate, moral kids, in fact it gets in the way of kids developing morals and empathy.
Instead of learning to modify their behaviour out of consideration for others around them, consequences cause kids to become preoccupied with their own needs and they learn only to behave in ways that won’t cause them to be deprived of something they want.
Yes, you need to have limits, and yes, there needs to be follow up when kids have done wrong. But respectful parenting always assumes the best of kids. It assumes kids are always doing the best they can in any given moment.
If they could behave better they would.
What causes difficult behaviour is usually a backlog of tangled up feelings, and/or feeling disconnected from you. And consequences don’t help with the underlying cause of the behaviour. In fact, they only make children feel worse, which won’t help the child behave any better.
Kids behave better when they feel better.
Kids generally know what you expect from them and if they need reminding you can use an I-Message, or just give them information. “I don’t like muddy shoes in the house”, “that volume is too loud for me” or “I don’t like it when you talk to me like that”.
What makes kids want to comply with your wishes is the warm loving connection with you.
If you set limits with empathy, your child will feel more understood and connected to you, which helps them comply with the limit. For example, “I know you would love to keep on watching TV honey, you really love that show huh… but it’s time to turn it off now.” “I know it’s hard, would you like my help?”
If setting a limit results in upset feelings, this is OK! Kids have a right to express their disappointment. Don’t think of this as your child misbehaving, think of it as an opportunity to help your child empty out their backlog of emotional stress. (See previous post on Meltdowns.) Of course throwing things or breaking things while upset is not ok. See if you can gently limit the behaviour while accepting the feelings. “Wow, I can see how upset you are! But I won’t let you break that ….. If you want to throw something we can go outside and throw sticks or smash egg cartons.”
Following up so kids don’t “get away with” bad behaviour:
Many parents apply consequences because they don’t want the child to “get away” with bad behaviour. A better option is to follow up by talking with your child about what happened and listening to them to find out the underlying causes of their behaviour.
The heat of the moment is not usually the time for this. Your words are most likely to come out as a lecture about right and wrong! And your child will usually be so emotionally heightened that they aren’t even in the part of their brain where they can take in your words of wisdom! The stress hormones caused by upset feelings take at least 35 minutes to leave the brain. So plan to follow up later when everyone has calmed down.
You can build a repair routine by having “couch time” together to talk about what happened. I also find that the bed-time snuggle is a good time to review your day and talk about what happened. Feeling really close and connected by physically cuddling creates the safety to talk openly.
For example, “You know honey that was really hard when….. and I didn’t like the way you talked to me (gently restating your expectation), you don’t usually talk to me like that (assuming the best of your child), what was going on for you?” Your openness and curiosity create the safety for the child to explore what was going on for them.
It can be helpful to give your child the opportunity to make amends for their behaviour. Ask them what they think they can to do to make things right. Perhaps they can help sand the damaged kitchen table or fix the broken toy! This helps them learn that they can always make amends for their behaviour, which is much more empowering than consequences.
You can also brainstorm together ways to deal with the situation next time it comes up. Eg. “Getting off the computer is hard isn’t it, what shall we do next time? Set a timer? Go outside and kick a ball together?” Making a plan together can help prevent problems and help your child learn ways to handle the situation in the future.
The connection between you and your child is vital.
Your child’s connection with you is what motivates them to comply with your wishes. If you’re getting a lot of difficult behaviour you might need to spend some time nurturing your connection with your child. (See previous post on Connection.)
Ultimately, if kids could behave better they would. Kids don’t usually misbehave because they don’t know or care about your expectations. Something else is getting in the way. Difficult behaviour a signal that either, they are full of feelings that they need your help with, or they are feeling disconnected from you.
Your empathy fixes both.