Make Sure the Consequences Fit the Crime
Our children should expect minor consequences for minor infractions and major consequences for major infractions. Some parents tend to panic when their children begin to rebel just a bit, but we should be consistent and not overreact to our children’s moving toward independence. If they are a few minutes late on curfew or didn’t clean up their rooms, it doesn’t mean that they need to be placed on restriction for the rest of their lives.
When we pass out consequences that don’t fit the crime, we usually renege on the consequence anyway, and that produces inconsistent discipline and more potential problems. At the same time, if our children continue to be disobedient over a period of time and we don’t offer appropriate consequences, we are not teaching them the lifelong lessons they need to learn.
Neither Cathy nor I can find any Italian blood in our family trees (although we sure like pizza!), but our house was anything but quiet most of the time. Here was our goal: We didn’t discipline our kids when we were angry. Otherwise, we would have usually said or done something we didn’t mean.
Leave the phrase “you will never” out of your discipline vocabulary. Don’t tell your kids that they are out of the school play unless you really, really mean it. Threats don’t work. When we are angry or full of empty threats, we are often not very consistent with our consequences and discipline. Sending mixed messages to our kids usually gets in the way of the lesson we are trying to teach them.
Express Your Expectations Clearly
Your expectations must be clearly stated, and the consequences must make sense to your child. If we constantly offer unrealistic expectations, we are most likely not doing an effective job in the discipline department. Be absolutely clear, ask your children to tell you what they understand, and if you must, write down your expectations.
Saturday morning was workday around the Burns house, but for most of our 20 years of child rearing, it had been more of a hassle than a joy until we finally decided to take a different approach: We wrote down on a paper each of the agreed-upon chores for the morning. If our kids wanted to do anything—from watching TV to spending time with their friends—they had to wait until all their chores were finished before making their requests. Should they choose not to do chores, then they made the decision not to spend time doing fun weekend activities. If they wanted to sit in their pajamas all day and delay their chores, that was up to them—as long as their choices didn’t get in the way of other family activities. “Freedom comes after chores” was our motto. This plan worked for us, but we found that we had to put it on paper and let the kids know we meant business when it came to consequences.