Parenting Without Consequences? Uh, what?

10/07/2016 12:42 pm ET | Updated Nov 29, 2016

Are you committed to long term parenting?

Are you committed to raising your children to one day be adults with the skills they need to navigate the world? Skills like problem solving, self-regulation, organization, compassion, and solution finding?

When you look ahead, are you hopeful that your adult child can advocate for themselves, get out of tricky situations, fight for what they believe in, and embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and take accountability?

Do you want them to be responsible, to use their voice, to know that they can get through even the toughest emotions and situations?

Then you must allow them to practice these skills - over and over again.

And consider laying off the consequences.

Wait, what did she just say?

Yup, you read that right, I am inviting you to consider putting consequences at the BOTTOM of your list of parenting tools.

Why would I suggest this?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first one is that consequences often don’t teach the skills kids need for navigating situations differently. Instead, consequences are used as a “you had better do this or that or else” type of strategy. And that assumes that your child already has the skills they need to do better, and that the threat of consequence will somehow “motivate” them to handle things differently.

In the short term, yes, a well placed “consequence” can be “effective.”

“Turn off the computer now or you won’t get to use it again this week,” can motivate some kids to turn off the computer.

However, if the long term goal is for them to learn to manage their screen use, and turn them off at a certain time, then you are missing the mark.

So in the situation above, I would consider the missing skills – my child has a hard time getting off the computer, managing his screen time or navigating the disappointment that shows up when it is time to shut it down.

I might say, “I notice you have a really hard time getting off the computer, tell me a little bit about that,” then I would ask, “what would help you?”

At our house, we chose to handle this problem by coming up with boundaries around screen time together.

We made a plan for when they can ask (homework/family work needs to be complete), and how they will monitor their time (use a timer). Because they contributed to this plan, they are pretty darn willing to follow through. And when they don’t, we revisit the plan.

The second problem with consequences is that they damage our relationship with our children. Why is this important to think about? Because the relationship we build with our children is our most powerful tool for influencing their behavior.

For real.

Relationship matters! Think about the adults in your life who you cared the most about, the ones that let you know you mattered deeply to them. What did they invite from you? Cooperation? Contribution? A desire to show up as your best?

Yes, relationship matters, and consequences can get in the way of that connection.

Oh geez, you may be thinking, another parent educator advocating for letting kids do whatever they want. No thank you. I am not here to be my child’s friend!

Relax, that is absolutely NOT what I am suggesting.

I have no desire to live in a home with whiney kids, who can’t hear no, and think they can do whatever they want. That sounds awful. (Check out Amy McCready’s work around raising kids who aren’t entitled – she’s spoken about it on my podcast!)

Going back to the example above, when we consider our children’s missing skills, and work together to come up with solutions, relationship stays in tack AND the kids have tools for doing better.

The most powerful tool you have for influencing the behavior of your children is the relationship you build.

Now, when I talk about relationship, it is NOT about my kids liking me or being happy all the time. This is not the goal here.

What relationship IS about, is parents and children who are connected. Parents who treat their children with dignity and respect, even as they hold firm boundaries (which is treating ourselves with dignity and respect). It is about children feeling as though they can tell their parents things without being judged or criticized.

Relationship is not about letting our children walk all over us. It is about being respectful as we guide and hold space for them to learn to navigate the world.

So my invitation to you, when you children are struggling, making poor decisions, or getting into mischief, is to consider what skills they are missing, and look for solutions.

Solutions include:

According to the philosophy that has taught me so much, Positive Discipline, solutions are helpful, not hurtful, reasonable, respected, related to the problem and leave kids with more skills for navigating the situation in the future.

And when the above suggestions aren’t helpful, try spending special time with your child. One on one time centered on them will grow your relationship, and with it, your influence and their sense of belonging and significance.

And if you simply CAN’T wrap your head around ditching the consequences, my friend and colleague, Dr. Jody McVittie, Positive Discipline Lead Trainer and Director of Programs at Sound Discipline says, all solutions ARE consequences, but not all consequences are solutions.

Bam.

For long term skill development and growing healthy, functioning adults, focus on solutions.

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