CONSISTENCY & BOUNDARIES:
Two Absolute Necessities For Guiding Your Child’s Behavior
by Eileen von Seckendorff
Amy asked me if I would be willing to share some of my own experiences and observations on the subject of discipline. It should be noted emphatically that I am not an expert in child rearing or in child psychology and as a parent I am constantly reminded of how much more I need to learn and grow. I also know there are no guarantees. I’ve seen “good” kids go bad and kids whose parents gave up on them turn out amazingly well. That said, I believe that children who grow up in a loving and consistent home stand a much better chance of having a successful and happy life. That’s not to say that there won’t be trials, hard times, and bad choices at times, but hopefully they will have the tools they need to persevere, evaluate their options, and make better choices in the future.
When I was growing up there was a complete lack of consistency in our home. I don’t blame my parents at all. They did the best they could raising ten kids in their situation and I don’t think I could’ve accomplished half as much as they did if I had been in their shoes. The fact remained, you never knew what to expect. The same infraction could be a huge deal or not, depending on the climate in the home on any given day. Not knowing the consequences or even the severity of an action ahead of time added a huge fear factor to us as kids. That fear led to panic which led to lying which led to all sorts of problems which could have been avoided.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, the rules we did have did not necessarily apply to everyone equally. For instance, let’s say my little sister did something we weren’t allowed to do and I got blamed for it (which NEVER happened). Even if I could prove my little sister did it, I was told that I was still responsible because I was the older sister. That may make sense to a Mom, but to me the message was clear; I was responsible for my own actions and hers and she wasn’t responsible for anything. Not only was that not fair, it could easily have led to bitterness and resentment between us and caused countless other problems.
It has been said that when a child does something wrong, their actions usually fall into one of three categories: Disobedience, Disrespect, or Irresponsibility and there are three easy solutions. If they are disobedient, they need to obey. If they are disrespectful, they need to show respect, and if they are irresponsible, they need to assume the responsibility. My husband and I have really taken this to heart and have had this at the core of our home discipline.
- If a child was told to clean their room and they didn’t, that’s disobedience. I would tell them they had to obey and then I would sit in their room while they cleaned it. Did that kill my afternoon plans? Maybe, but they eventually learned that our rules are not multiple choice and that next time it would just be faster and easier to clean it on their own. (When they were really small, I did not expect them to clean their own rooms by themselves, but I did expect them to help Mommy while I cleaned it.)
- If a child was mean or rude to someone, that’s disrespect. I would have them apologize and be nice to that person.
- If a child spilled a drink, that’s not disobedience or disrespect (unless they were throwing it at someone), it’s irresponsibility. I would tell them accidents happen, give them a hug, and have them clean it up (or help me clean it up if they were little). This is a biggie. If they know they’re going to have to clean up all their own messes, the number of messes will decrease dramatically.
If your children are anything like I was as a kid, their infractions will involve a combination of the above. For instance, I knew I wasn’t supposed to play with my older sister’s record player. I also knew if I did, someone might hear me and I would be busted, but I was so fascinated with it I just couldn’t leave it alone. My solution? Put a record on it, put the needle down, and manually spin it as fast as I could to see if I could still hear it making music. I could! I was so excited
…until my sister found her record all scratched up and told Mom.
- I disobeyed. I needed to say I was sorry, and recognize that I did not have the right to play with other people’s things without permission.
- When confronted, I got sassy about it. That’s disrespectful. I needed to be reminded that I shouldn’t speak to my mother that way, and told to apologize for it. (If I refused, that would’ve been disobedience again).
- I damaged my sister’s record. That’s irresponsibility. If I didn’t have the money to pay to replace the album, then I should’ve been given some work to do around the house to make the money so I could assume the responsibility and pay her back. Odds are, if I’d had to pay for the album, I would’ve been less likely to do that kind of damage again.
Bottom line: If there are no consequences for bad behavior, there’s no incentive to avoid it.
I’ve also found that there are some times when apologizing alone for disobedience is not enough. Kids need to learn that their actions have consequences (whether it’s a time out, or a loss of privileges, or a grounding, or a spanking ~ whatever you choose). They also need to know that it doesn’t just apply to kids, that adults can get punished too. (i.e, If I get a traffic ticket, it’s going to cost me money … even if I’m sorry.) Once they realize that consequences are something that follow you throughout your whole life, their perspective will change.
I think the most important part of all of this is that you take your time in deciding the consequences. Never decide on or impose punishment when you’re angry, and be consistent in enforcing the rules. My kids have known since their first driving lessons that if they get a traffic ticket, they will have to pay the fine and they will lose driving privileges for a time (how much time will depend on how far over the speed limit they were traveling). They know what to expect and are not fearful of Mom or Dad “losing it” and grounding them ‘til they’re 70.
I think the second most important part of this is being approachable. I’ve always told my children that they can communicate anything to us (they can even tell us we’re bad parents), as long as they do it respectfully (no “I hate you!”s, or lashing out angrily). If we tell them to do something, they know they should never answer with “but…”, because that sounds argumentative. I’ve told them to always say yes sir or yes ma’am first (so we know they’re willing to obey) and then they can ask their questions or bring up their objections for discussion. Along with that, we need to clearly communicate not only what the rules are, but why they’re important. That may seem obvious to you and me, but it’s not always obvious to kids. There are plenty of kids out there who think that their parents are just mean (because they do not understand why they’re being punished) and that if they just ran away from home, they wouldn’t have to deal with stupid rules any more. I can think of countless stories of teenagers who’ve had it with their parents telling them where to go and what to do all the time … so they left home and joined the Army. They eventually learned why discipline and hard work were important, but they learned it the hard way. Help your kids to understand why the rules are important and that your actions are done out of love and concern for who they are now and who they grow up to be.
That’s pretty much all I have to share. Are these good principles? Yes. Is it easy to be calm, consistent, and disciplined as a parent? No. Will I mess up? Daily, but when I do I admit it to the kids. It’s important for them to see that we all struggle to do the right thing and that we all fail at times. With lots of prayer, and guidance from the Lord, I find the strength to get back up and try again and I try to teach them to do the same.
I hope you’ve found something helpful in all of this and I wish all the best for you and your family.