Are You Tired of Your Kids Tuning Out Discipline?

Are You Tired of Your Kids Tuning Out Discipline?

When deciding on consequences after our kids make poor choices, we often get centered on ourselves — we're focused on trying to "get it right" and we're fixated on the belief that our children's behavior is a reflection of us. 

But what if we looked at consequences from the viewpoint of our kids.   How do they interpret and internalize the consequences - or punishments - they receive?  And how do discipline decisions impact their beliefs about themselves - and about us?

Confessions of a Manic Mom

When my kids were  young and I was trying to control their poor behavior, I resorted to yelling and screaming - a lot!  Then I'd throw out an array of empty threats.  I remember thinking to myself  "Is this what my kids are going to remember about their childhoods - having a mom who verbally raged and threatened them all day"? 

I didn't like being the bad guy all the time.  Worst of all - by the end of my ranting the kids would feel angry and hurt by me.  This isn't the result I wanted and it simply wasn't working  - eventually my kids started to tune me out and their poor behaviors continued. 

I was struggling on two fronts:  First, I wasn't able to manage my own emotions when my kids would act up - I'd jump straight to anger and disappointment, which negatively impacted my kids.  Second, I didn't know how to effectively handle their poor behaviors  - I was at a loss.  And I knew that something had to change.

Thankfully, I was given some new insights that gave me a better understanding of my kids.  What I discovered was a parenting method that actually worked.  By using this method, we learned how to raise responsible kids - kids who are able to make choices (good and bad) and take responsibility for themselves.  

When kids are given the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves, they grow in self-competence and they feel good about themselves.  This is the premise of the Love and Logic parenting method.

Set Expectations and Limits

Kid's need to clearly understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not.  This is especially crucial for kids living in stepfamily dynamics.  House rules are a good way to clarify the expectations.  For example, in our home kindness and respect is important - these are values we want our kids to embrace.  So, one of our house rules is that we're thoughtful with our words.  It's not okay to say "shut up" or to call anyone a name like "stupid" or "loser".

When kids understand what's expected, they also know when they've crossed the line.  Then, when consequences come their way, they're able to directly connect their poor choice with the consequences they receive.

Setting appropriate limits for our kids is also important.  When our oldest Annika started driving we knew she needed some clear limits to keep her safe.  So we created a driving contract that included limits on when she could drive, where she could drive and what she needed to do if an accident occurred.  It also included consequences for crossing the limits and stated her responsibility if she decided to ignore the rules of the road or was irresponsible with the car.

Having clearly defined limits and consequences made our job a lot easier when she chose to disregard them.  Because of her poor choices, she ended up having her license suspended and losing her car.  Those were tough consequences for her to have to face - but the lessons she learned were invaluable.  She wouldn't have learned them through my lectures or threats.    

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Apply Empathy

According to the Love and Logic method:  "The thing that drives the lesson into our children's hearts after they make a mistake is our empathy and sadness.  We don't get angry, we don't say, 'I told you so' and we don't lecture them about their errors.  If we do those things, we will impede the logic of the consequences from doing their thing.  The child's anger will then be directed toward us and not toward the lesson which consequences teach".

This was a new concept for me and it took a lot of practice to get the hang of it.  I learned that I could  extend love and support while my kids experienced the consequences for their poor choices — they knew I was on their side.   I didn't have to be the "meanie" anymore!   This led them to take responsibility for their poor choices, rather than being upset at me for yelling and demeaning them.

When Annika went to court to face her traffic violations, I went with her, I held her hand and supported her throughout her ordeal…but I didn't try to rescue her.  When her car was sold, I cried for her and grieved her loss, but I didn't say "that's what you get". 

Annika is 22 years old now and she's very responsible with driving and with the car she now owns.   As her parents, it was up to us to set the limits and hold to the consequences while showing her empathy and love.  This let her know that she wasn't a "bad kid", but rather she'd made some poor choices that she would need to take responsibility for.  

Punishment vs Consequences

I love what Love and Logic has to say about punishment vs consequences:

"When we punish our children, we provide them with a great escape valve, an escape from the consequences of their action.  They never have to think when they're punished.  They don't have to change their behavior.  They think,  I'm being punished for what I did.  I'm doing my time.  And their anger is directed toward the punisher: us.

"As Love and Logic parents, we want our kids to hurt from the inside out.  That happens when we allow the consequences to do the teaching.  Consequences leave kids thinking very hard about their behavior and their responsibilities.  Consequences lead to self-examination and thought."

Two Kinds of Consequences

Some consequences are naturally occurring, for instance when a child is required to stay after school to scrape gum off the bottom of desks because they were caught defacing school property.  Or when they receive a failing grade on a test because they chose not to study. 

Naturally occurring consequences often give parents a painful, sinking feeling but they allow kids to experience the impact of  'cause and effect' which will influence their thinking:  Why am I hurting, embarrassed or ashamed?  Their only answer is: Because of my choices.

If a child's actions don't lead to a natural consequence, then parents will need to impose them.  Imposed consequences must be enforceable, they should fit the "crime" and they need to be presented firmly in love. 

Parents and step-parents can work together, behind closed doors, to determine what the consequences should be.  And don't forget that consequences need to be presented and enforced by the biological parent.  Bio-parents, you have the highest level of parental authority.  That means your kids are able to more easily accept consequences from you.  When you are the one delivering consequences, it helps to protect and nurture the step-parent's relationship with the child.  Check out this article to learn more.

Overwhelmed, Frustrated and Exhausted?  There IS hope!

I remember feeling like I was in survival mode when it came to parenting - just trying to get through the day without completely losing it.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or exhausted don't lose hope.  Every parent can take a next step in understanding how to guide their kids toward taking responsibility for their own choices. 

You can learn new ways to parent by setting up expectations and limits and giving lots of empathy as kids experience natural and imposed consequences.  In the years to come, you'll be glad you did and believe it or not — so will your kids!

QUESTION:  What expectations and/or limits do you need to clarify in your home today?  Leave a comment below…

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