Thinking Through the Consequences of a Big Consequence


Your kid messes up big time. You levy a big consequence, right?

Do you ever look back and wish you had thought a little more about the consequences of your consequence?

The Big Threat

A friend lamented last school year that her family wouldn’t be attending one of the biggest events of the year at her child’s elementary school because one of her kids had made a pretty major mistake. As soon as she heard about the misstep, she handed down the punishment. Her whole family missed the party. But that wasn’t the end of it.

She had told the child that if behavior didn’t improve, they might cancel a long-planned trip to Walt Disney World. I *sometimes* stay out of friends’ private business, but I knew she had carried through with other promises and asked whether she was serious about Disney.

Then, I told her about a now-legendary move by my parents when I was growing up.

Following Through

I was typically a good student; my brother typically was not. He was having a particularly rough semester in high school, so my mom explained that if his grades didn’t improve, he wouldn’t be going with us on a rare Spring Break trip. We were planning to visit my grandparents at their winter villa in the Caribbean—possibly the coolest place on earth at the time.

My mom understandably thought such a colossal threat would nudge my brother toward better grades. And my brother understandably thought she was bluffing. My parents already had spent precious thousands of dollars on non-refundable plane tickets to this remote island, they had taken days off work and, perhaps most importantly, our grandparents were expecting us.

Spring Break arrived and my brother’s grades remained in the tank. He stayed home with my stepdad while my mom and I hopped on a Bahamas-bound jet. I have asked my mom about the incident in subsequent years–how she had the strength to do what she did.

“I had to follow through,” she said, simply.

If she didn’t make good on her promise, she feared that my brother would lose respect for her words.

I get it.

Think Again

As adults, we think big consequences will mean big compliance. But that’s thinking like an adult. 😉

Both my husband and I have spoken too quickly at times and later realized that a sanction we imposed, while perhaps appropriate in scope, was more painful to us than to the child who was in trouble. Like my friend and my mom, we have tried to keep our word.

No one says parenting is easy, but we make it harder on ourselves when we choose discipline that brings the whole family down.

So… Next time you’re fuming, stop and think, “Will this punishment be a bigger headache for me than for my child?”

Creative Consequence

If so, take a moment to come up with something more creative. Instead of canceling a family trip, ask the child who didn’t make grades if he would prefer to shovel snow from the driveway or forgo electronics for a few weeks. Ask the child who threw a ball in the house and broke your favorite memento whether she would rather do dishes or clean the bathrooms until she has paid off the debt.

Call it Love and Logic. Call it common sense. You can call it whatever you’d like, as long as it makes parenting a tiny bit easier.

As for my friend… After missing the fun school event, she realized it was a real possibility that threatening the loss of a family Disney trip could very well result in just that. She switched gears immediately, found alternate ways to deal with her misbehaving son and had a wonderful vacation.

Thoughts? Suggestions? After more than a decade of parenting, I have figured out a few things, but still have an awful lot to learn…


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