Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Art of Natural Consequences

When adults are foolish, they receive the natural consequences of their actions.  For instance, when they act dangerously, they are physically injured.  When they are rude, mean, or hurtful to others, they lose relationships.  When adults act stupidly, they suffer financially.  Because life has these natural consequences, we do our best to make the “punishment fit the crime,” making the discipline as close to the natural consequence of breaking the rule as possible. When a child wouldn’t share their toys, we took away a favorite toy.  When they threw a fit (which is a demand for attention), we gave them a time-out away from other people.  When older children broke something through disobedience, (“don’t slam that glass door, or it will break!”), we had them participate in the repair work, either financially or as a helper.
When our teenage daughter violated our “only use nail polish remover on the bathroom counter” policy, she learned how to refinish Becky’s brand new kitchen table the hard way (did you know that nail polish remover dissolves Styrofoam cups in a really cool way, but doesn’t stop when it hits varnish?).  We weren’t always able to make a good fit, but were always searching for creative discipline to match the infractions.  Surprisingly, when we asked the kids for their suggestions, they often came up with very creative disciplines, especially when it was for their siblings!
Each child is different, valuing different objects or freedoms.  For our introverted pre-teen, we found that just the threat of removing his bedroom door was enough to correct a serious behavior problem.  For our extroverted teenager, one day’s restriction from the cell phone was much harder than a week’s restriction from any other activities or objects.  Some children’s personalities will only require a stern look and the threat of discipline, while others will require draconian measures before they will change a bad behavior.  Make sure to study your child to see how they’re built, so you’re administering a discipline that is personalized and appropriately restricting to cause a change in behavior.
At first, we were concerned that removing a favorite toy or object would bond the kids tighter to that object, and make it a problem in the future.  However, our experience was just the opposite.  When they received the security blanket or plush toy back at the end of the discipline, they bonded to it for a short time, but then abandoned it in the long term.  They learned that no object is truly secure, and began to find their security in other, more appropriate places.  In our materialistic society, we’re surprised to find that none of our teenagers are tightly bonded to any of their possessions.  They may value what an object represents, like the communication from a cell phone, the enjoyment of a video game console, or the freedom of a vehicle, but they don’t mourn the loss of any of these objects if they are broken.