A couple nights ago, we had a big blowout meltdown here over consequences. I asked my child if she had homework — she knows she’s supposed to finish her homework before she watches TV. She told me no, did all the other things she had to do (get ready for dance, hang her bag and coat up…normal stuff for a 6 year old) and then asked if she could watch TV. I said sure because we had about 30 minutes until we had to leave for dance. About 5 minutes before getting ready to leave, I look in her bookbag and stumble across the ignored homework. I tell her to turn the TV off and she loses her mind. “I forgot!!” She keeps telling me and whether it’s good or bad, at this point I dug in. Nope, no TV until you do the homework.
On our way to dance she’s still having an epic meltdown and I explain to her that there are consequences for when we forget things. I, for example, had forgotten to order paper straws for a lab I was doing with Marine Biology students and instead of sitting in a coffee shop writing my post while I usually do when she’s at dance, I now had to brave the wilds of Wal-Mart to find some paper straws. I tried to explain to her that I too now had to do something I didn’t particularly care for — shopping in person AND shopping in Wal-Mart — instead of doing what I wanted to because I forgot something.I sent her to dance with a twinge of parental guilt…. So many questions:1. Was she just really tired and that’s why she had such an blockbuster meltdown?2. Should I have been the sweet, comforting, everything’s alright mom instead of the tough love mom tonight?3. Is she going to bear resentment to me all night long?4. What is she going to say about me in therapy years from now?The list went on and on….
We spin ourselves up in guilt or shame because we somehow think we’re doing it wrong if our child has big feelings instead of realizing that big feelings, mistakes, consequences and dealing with it all is a part of life and children need to learn how to do it for themselves.
Often when children are young, the mistakes they make are cute or not a big deal so it seems that people choose not to correct them; I could have easily told her “well next time….” In hopes that she would somehow magically learn her lesson without me having to do anything about it.I have a distinct memory of watching Maury Povich one day when I was home sick from school (like you did in the 90s) and it was one of the episodes where parents were begging for Maury to send their child(ren) to boot camp to straighten them out because at 12, 13, 14, etc… their behavior had gotten so bad the parents felt at a loss. But there seemed to be a common thread amongst the parents that when the child did something wrong when they were 2, 3, 4, 5 years old, they were never corrected or felt any consequences from their actions and children do what they know. If you haven’t taught them x, y, or z is wrong and they haven’t experienced consequences teaching them those actions were wrong they will continue doing those same behaviors as if nothing is wrong. And as children get bigger, behaviors get bigger, problems get bigger, consequences get bigger and sometimes out of our control.
We’ve also come into a time where, for whatever reason, parents feel judged if their child makes a mistake and someone (a teacher or coach for example) attempts to call their kid on the mistake. “Oh not my child,” or “well, because they were dealing with x, y, or z so expect them to misbehave or make mistakes.” There is a litany of excuses parents (or other adults) give to excuse a child’s behavior instead of working to correct them. We are the adults, we build the fences and create the boundaries that the children are supposed to try to cross and then we teach them why they shouldn’t cross those lines.They are supposed to test us, we are the adults and thus supposed to help them learn the lessons of why those boundaries are in place. “No honey, you should not touch the hot stove because it will burn you.”That’s not to say we can’t have compassion and grace for children when they make said mistakes (because they will) but we can be strong and compassionate at the same time. Remember that discipline has it’s roots in learning, not punishment. Dealing with consequences are part of the learning process and we need to help children learn to deal with consequences for their actions because if we don’t in a loving and compassionate way (most of the time, not saying I don’t lose my cool….she is a feisty one) someone else out there (i.e. police, mortgage company, etc….) will do it in a very heartless way. If they don’t experience consequences early and learn to understand them, they will learn later in ways that might be more harmful to them.I suffered through my consequence of having to shop in person and picked her up from dance. She got in the car, “I’m sorry mommy.”“I’m sorry too honey,” because I had done my own fair share of poor communication. “What are we going to do differently if you don’t know whether you have homework or not?”“Check my folder.”Stay tuned for whether she remembers or not.