Parenting tool #2: Clarifying consequences leads to good behavior

In Parenting tool #1, we covered how kids should be doing a chore a day, and how this leads to being a good household citizen. Now lets explore consequences– when kids are not meeting mom and dad’s expectations.

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Expectations are the behaviors we consciously and unconsciously have of our kids. You will be polite, you will push your dishes in the sink, you will pick up after yourself, you will put in 100% effort, you will get good grades, you will be a good sport, you will balance screen time with hobbies, you will do your chores without being nagged, you will not swear, you will eat all of your dinner, you will stay in your bed and go to sleep, you will cooperate, you will play fair, etc. etc.

Tip: Try to make your expectations explicit with your kids. I personally used to let a lot of stuff hang in the ether, like my own dad did, assuming my kid just understood my expectations. And when he went off track I was upset,  emotional, and barely constructive. As a result, my kid was usually recovering from his own reaction, and rarely learning my expectations.

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Example: my son invites a couple young friends over for a playdate, eats in the kitchen with them, goes from room to room playing with everything everyhwere, and then the other kids go home. My son heads upstairs for some screen time….leaving behind a trail of mess. I go up and yell and lecture about all the mess, toys, food, etc. and he cries and feels bad. What should I have done instead? Sat with him at about age 6, and said something like this:

“When your friends come over, you are all responsible for picking up after yourselves: in the kitchen, in the living room, in your own room. Before they leave, ask for everyone’s help to pitch in and clean up. If you do not ask for their help, then you will have to do it on your own. If you fail to clean up, then you will go to bed an hour early for a week.” He would have asked questions and I would have helped problem solve them.  After that, if he failed to clean up,  I would merely be a consultant on the matter, sending him to bed early–and not a lecturing, angry, over-bearing mom.

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Consequences:

Remember, we are not trying to be our children’s friend, we are the authority figures. Of course we love them deeply, but there are several key ingredients to remaining a strong authority for your kids, and one of them is enforcing consequences– consistently. Its hard! Have a talk with your kid about what you expect, and the consequences for not meeting that behavior. And then consistently enforce the consequence if they drop the ball.

Example: Ending the morning chaos routine

Make up a short list of tasks, age appropriate, for children to do. Get dressed, eat breakfast, put dishes in sink, brush teeth, get own coat, supplies for the day, and back pack, and be ready to leave the house at 7:45 am (have a digital clock handy for them to read). Sit down with them and go over the list. Answer any questions and problem solve with them. Let them know, “Every minute past 7:45 that you are still getting ready, you will go to bed 10 minutes earlier that night.” Six minutes = an hour earlier. They’ll complain and moan, but as Rosemond stresses: “give a latitude of attitude.” This means kids can even huff off and slam a door. Let it go, you’re clearly winning this one, and this is them firing up their engines!

Every morning the privilege of going to bed at the regular hour is returned to them. Unless they are 1 minute past 7:45 am the next morning.

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Example: Getting kids to bed at a regular time

“I expect you guys to have your pajamas on, teeth brushed, use the bathroom, wash hands, and be in bed ready for books by 8:30, or you’ll go to bed an hour earlier tomorrow night.”  If at 8:30 they are in pajamas but got sidetracked chasing each other around, then the next night they go to bed an hour early. Each night, the privilege of going to bed at the regular hour is returned~but only for those who can be ready by 8:30 the next night.

Expectation: Walk dog after school each day 10 mins
Consequence: stay inside after school the next day

Expectation: forgetting to do 5 min daily chore
Consequence: going to bed an hour early

Expectation: playing cooperatively with siblings
Consequence: BOTH children to bed an hour early (which will enrage the innocent one, but avoid the tattle-tale and triangle that forms with a parent)

Are you starting to see a theme? LOL. Yes, many behaviors can be modified quickly by suggesting that more sleep may help with the behavior you’re expecting. Children HATE going to bed early, and it becomes a fabulous currency with them. Of course there are other consequences such as losing play dates, staying in after school, loss of screen time, extra chores, losing a sleepover, etc.

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Be consistent. Be consistent. Be consistent. You will be so sorry, and lose so much authority if you aren’t consistent with consequences.

A few last nuggets:

The expectation is only as good as the consequence. Think ahead, or you’ll have off-track behavior, and no consequence planned. Suddenly the verbal struggle begins. Maybe even yelling. Which ultimately reduces your authority. Name your expectations, the consequences for the not meeting those, and be clear.

Make sure the consequence fits the crime. Making a child go to bed an hour early for a month, because they forgot to feed the cat, will wreck your child’s trust in you.

Make sure the consequence places the burden on the child’s shoulders and not your own. Example: mom and dad were looking forward to a quiet evening together, but Michael’s consequence is not going to that sleep over, and they feel obligated to give up their evening. No. Get a sitter, set him up in his own room, or delay the consequence until the timing is right for YOU.

As always, I’m eager to hear your feedback, input, and ideas on this hot topic!

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7 thoughts on “Parenting tool #2: Clarifying consequences leads to good behavior

  1. Hi, I have trained my son (6 yrs. old) to do simple things on his own. He actually know the drill when he stays with me. The thing is, when he stays with his father, the rules are different. Daddy does everything for him. Literally, spoon-fed. So, everytime he’s back with me, I am the bad guy…”daddy do this for me, why can’t you?” up to a point he said “you don’t love me because you let me do these things!” and my reaction was “WHAT???” and made me think where did he get that idea.

    My fear is I am not always around because I am working and he spent most of his time with his father. How can I instill these rules to him if another person in authority has a different rules. I’ve tried to discuss this with my ex but I got ‘we have our own rule’ response.

    What should I do??

    1. Jonaliz, this is very important question, especially when there are two households and two sets of rules. Here’s the good news: children are super adaptable and your son will learn if you can be clear and consistent about YOUR home rules. When he questions you, remind him that you love him and that you’re also a guide for him. Never doubt his deep love and need of you, even if he spends lots of time bonding with dad. You are his one and only mother, and he will flow smoothly between two homes, adapting to their differences smoothly, if you increase your clarity about expectations of him, and enforce consequences when he doesn’t follow through. You will establish more healthy authority with him. He may be emotionally testing you when he asks “if you love” him, and he may need some extra bonding time with you. But, this is different than learning Mom’s House Rules. –Thanks for writing, and let me hear your progress! LH

  2. I don’t have kids, but I remember (unhappily) the endless stress of my parents never being explicit about what they expected — and having huge screaming fits when I did not do what they expected. Sometimes what they expect, still, seems weird and unreasonable to me, but they’re not people who negotiate. Your suggestions are all smart and clear; if only people were all fully capable of being that! 🙂

    1. Ohhh, your parents sound really hard! Nothing is scarier to our nervous systems, than when we cannot predict where and what the danger is coming from. Children who are caught off guard a lot by high voltage parenting, can grow fiercely defended later in life. My mom could be unpredictable, and I have all the marks. Lol. Thanks for sharing with me.

      1. Oh, yeah. That describes me well! My mother is bipolar alcoholic w few friends and my Dad a charming narcissist. My husband is amazed I survived and turned out as OK as I did.

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