Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Impressing Jesus on Them: What is the Purpose of Consequences?

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On Wednesdays, our newspaper prints a column by Dr. John Rosemond. While I don't agree with all of his parenting advice (especially when dealing with children who have disabilities), our overall thoughts are very similar. 

High expectations for all children.  Boundaries that prove the test of time.  Unconditional love that has no end. 

Pretty basic thoughts on raising children. 

A few weeks ago Dr. Rosemond answered a question concerning a behavior and bad habits.  I tore out the article knowing that I would be sharing with you the "Impressing Jesus on Them" series and  I believe the he has hit on the head an essential point of parenting.
When parents use consequences in the mistaken belief that there is a magic consequence that will solve the problem in question, they miss the point and are possibly setting themselves up to fail.  The purpose of a consequence is simply to demonstrate that in the real world, "bad" behavior causes bad things to happen, sooner or later. Hopefully, the child will "get it," and solve the problem.

If, however, the child doesn't solve the problem, that doesn't necessarily mean the consequence was not the right one to use.  That belief often causes parents to try one consequences after another in a rather chaotic attempt to find the one that will turn the proverbial wheel. 

[With that said,] my recommendation is that you focus on one problem area and one only.  Don't bite off more than you can chew.  ...[This] could take four weeks; then again it may take four months or four years.  Be ready to hang in there and continue imposing the consequence(s). 

...Here's what I call the "Hang in There Principle":  If a child does wrong things, and the child's parents do the right things, and the child keeps on doing wrong things, then the child's parents should simply keep on doing the right things.

Let's break this down.

A magic consequence that will fix our child's issues does not exist.  It is just like losing weight. Society jumps from one diet fad to another in hopes that they can lose weight while still eating seventeen mini-Snickers right before bed.   But it doesn't work that way.  If I want to lose 10 lbs, I have to take in less calories than I burn off.  Unless you have an angel child (and a few do exist) parenting takes a lot of work. 

Second, Dr. Rosemond states that purpose of consequences is a lesson in the real world.  We are trying to train our kiddos with consequences while the stakes are low.  As a Christian, I also believe the consequences occur because of sin.   In a God-fearing family, we teach our children that sin separates us from God.  Jesus died when He took my consequences upon Himself.

Because of the instant-gratification world we live in, we expect immediate results.  Dr. Rosemond reminds us that change or improvements may not happen right away.  In all actuality, it isn't unusual for things to get worse before they get better.  That doesn't mean that we jump to another behavior chart, try another plan, or grasp a new-flanged parenting idea we read in a magazine.  Choose a natural or logical consequence that is age-appropriate and stick with it.  (More on consequences soon!)  The consistency has more of an impact that you might guess. 

In those moments when I want to throw in the towel or try something new, my husband reminds me that we are doing the right thing.  We have set expectations, trained the children to meet the age-appropriate expectations, and then are providing consequences when the boundaries are crossed.  He tells me, "Heidi, keep going.  We are doing the right thing.  It will pay off."  And I know he is right. 

Next Dr. Rosemond suggests just what I shared last week.  One problem area at a time.  This has proven to be so true.  (Read the blog post "Teaching a Child to Come Immediately")

In closing is what he calls the "Hang in There Principle."  What a great reminder.  Keep on, keeping on. 

Before I close, let me share a real life example. 

Peanut (age 3) struggled to eat as a toddler.  He didn't like anything; except strawberry yogurt.  It was a war at every meal.  I refuse to be a short-order cook but also knew that he needed calories.  At one of his well-baby checkups I discussed the issue with our pediatrician.  She told me that he does not have the will-power to starve himself at this age and to keep putting the variety of food in front of him.  With time, she promised me that it would pay off.  Meal after meal, we battled getting him to eat.  Sometimes, I dipped the food in yogurt to get the process started.  But, he has learned to eat the food on his plate because he learned the consequence for not eating his food was the same every time.  He knew if he didn't eat it this meal, it would show up the next meal.  I am happy to report that the consistent consequences and standing our ground has paid off.  He now eats very well! (Though if he had his pick he would have pancakes three times a day.)


Dr. James Dobson wasn't lying when he said, "Parenting isn't for cowards."  This isn't easy.  But, I am thankful for this reminder of why consequence are implemented and the need for consistency. 

Next in the series:  Why I Want My Children to Be Broken

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The Our Out-of-Sync Life blog focuses on encouraging women to deepen their spiritual life, simplify daily tasks, and impress Jesus on the children around them.