Kids & Consequences


Nothing seems to work as far as consequences for my kids.  Help!

Consequences with girls are tricky.  First of all, girls are manipulative.  Second, they’re smart.  And third, they’re manipulative.  They’ll find any way to beat the system, if they can…especially girls that are later in the birth order.  When it comes to consequences, I believe the three most important ideas are:

  1. Consequences need to be consistent.

  2. Consequences need to be enforceable.

  3. Consequences need to build incrementally.

Consistent.  We have a lot of parents who are of the “nothing works mentality.”  We call these parents “buffet-style” parents.  They’ve tried everything, for a week.  Girls, again, are manipulative.  These girls figure out if they say, “I don’t care,” or act like they don’t, their parents fall for it.  They switch tactics thinking the consequences don’t matter to their daughters.  These girls figure out if they hold out long enough, their parents will change tactics.  Follow through.

Enforceable.  One of my favorite consequences for young girls is to have them run laps.  They can run up and down the driveway or around the house.  But, laps doesn’t work if your daughter is older and literally won’t walk outside.  Only give consequences that are enforceable.  Chores are great, but only if you can actually rely on your child to do the chore.  If your child won’t do what you ask, the consequence will never work.  A girl who stonewalls needs a consequence that’s in your power.  She likely needs a privilege taken away that you do have the power to enforce.

Incrementally.  Girls, again, are smart and manipulative.  She’ll often try to blame you, if she can.  “You’re being strict” or “mean” or whatever word she chooses.  She earns one lap for disrespect.  Then another when it continues.  Or loses time on her ipad incrementally.  This teaches her cause and effect and a direct, non-arguable correlation to her behavior.  Girls are smart.  We’ve got to be smarter.

Finding effective consequences for boys can be challenging as well.   I talk often about the importance of parenting in tandem with how God made him.  As we lean in to understanding his hardwiring, I believe it can adjust how we approach discipline.  Consider these categories.  

Experiential.   Boys learn best by going through the motions.  Lectures don’t help him make connections, consequences do.  Think back on the Prodigal Son.  We’re told that young man “came to his senses” when he was dining with pigs - broke, filthy and swimming in guilt and remorse.  In that moment, he decided to go home.   His wise father didn’t meet him in the driveway with a lecture or an “I told you so.”   He let the consequences do the teaching.  

Disengagement.   Boys will bait their parents (especially moms) into a negotiation.  They need to hear “I love you too much to argue.  The conversation is over, and I’ve told you what the consequence will be.  I’m going to my room and I suggest you go to yours.”  Choosing to exit the conversation safeguards the chance either party will say or do something they’d later regret.   

Elevated Emotion.  Giving out consequences when we are flooded with emotion is a bit like going to the grocery store on an empty stomach.  We aren’t capable of making our most rational, thoughtful decisions.  We’re more vulnerable to saying things like “you’re grounded for life” or “I’m selling the X-box.”   I often remind parents that time outs aren’t just for toddlers.  Exiting the scene allows us to make wise decisions and model regulation and restraint.