As my children grew older, I quit using the word punishment and started using the term consequences. Ideas have consequences, behaviors have consequences, even your attitude has corresponding consequences. Now if you asked our children they would still use the word punishment, but our goal is to teach our children Newton’s third law of motion, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Understanding this principle is particularly helpful if you have a strong-willed child. They want to engage you, enrage you and get you off your game. When a child is pushing all the right buttons and driving you to the brink of unconscionable thoughts and actions, step back and as the great philosopher Horace once said, “culpae poenae par esto,” or as we understand it “let the punishment (consequence) fit the crime.” How does that play out in real world discipline?
- “I am not going to argue with you this evening, I will deal with this in my own time.”
- “That’s fine, don’t clean your room, but don’t ask for the car keys for the next 7 days.”
- “I’m sorry, what was that you called me. Not a problem, I just turned parental controls on for the internet and cell phone. Your blocked till your behavior changes.”
In his excellent book, “New Kid by Friday,” Dr. Kevin Leman shows how a parent can have a simple, swift response without engaging in the theatrics children love. Just quietly, simply take action and go about your business.
Children learn the threat and response game early. They understand how many times you will say no, how far they can push you, etc. What gives them the most difficulty is swift, appropriate action. When the consequence is immediately tied to the action, children make the connection. The mental synapse begins to connect negative behavior with immediate consequences.
Certainly regaining our sanity is an important part of a happy home, but more importantly we must prepare our children for life. For the next 50, 60, or 70 years they have to interact with employers, spouses and even their own children. That should be our mission and one we pursue with prayer and persistence.