Not long ago I (Dr. Townsend) took my kids and some of their friends to a major league baseball game for an outing. While we were watching the game, a young boy sitting behind us was making everyone miserable. He was out of control, loud, and rude.
His parents did try to manage him, but their efforts were ineffective. They shushed him, praised him when he was quiet, bribed him with food, and threatened to take him out of the game. Nothing worked.
Finally, one of my son’s friends turned to me and said, “That guy needs some serious consequences.” I made a note to myself to call his parents when I got home and congratulate them. I don’t often hear that kind of thing from adolescents.
If you are like many of the people I talk with, you may often have difficulty identifying and following through with appropriate consequences. Let’s take a look at a five simple principles that can guide you in determining the right consequences when setting boundaries.
1. Remove the Desirable, Add the Undesirable
A consequence is either removing the desirable or adding the undesirable to someone else’s life as the result of a rule violation. If you have a teenager, examples might include the removal of television privileges or the addition of extra chores.
In my experience, removing something other people want is usually more effective than adding something they don’t want. This is true for two reasons. First, many people today have a lot of extracurricular demands (sports, music, theater, church, and so on), so they have less free time to do whatever has been added to their already busy schedule.
Second, it requires more of your time and energy to supervise and monitor added responsibilities than it does to remove an activity. So, before you impose a consequence that involves adding something, make sure it is worth your personal investment.
2. Don’t Interfere with a Natural Consequence
Whenever possible, allow other people to face a natural consequence to an undesirable behavior or attitude. Don’t intervene. For example, allow the other person to:
Lose a relationship as a result of being selfish
Spend the night at the police station after being picked up for loitering late at night
Miss out on going to a movie, concert, or event as a result of having spent all their money
These types of consequences are powerful and effective. Even better, all they require from you is that you get out of the way! Of course, many situations do not have a natural consequence, and in those instances, you need to apply something of your own making.
3. Make the Consequence Something That Matters
A consequence must matter to the other person. He or she must be emotionally invested in it. She needs to want and desire what she is losing; she needs to not like what she is having to add. Otherwise, the experience doesn’t count for much. For instance, if you have a loner kid who loves her music, she likely won’t mind being restricted to her room with her stereo. That is why you need to know your own teen’s heart, interests, and desires.
This might lead some people to ask: What if nothing matters? You might be a parent who has tried everything, but your teen doesn’t really seem to care. Keep in mind that your teen may be engaging in a power play with you, holding out to see how far you will take this. If so, the consequences do matter to your teen, but she doesn’t want you to know, either because she’s so angry at you that she wants you to feel helpless. Or, she is waiting you out in hopes that you will drop the consequence. In these situations, you may need to talk with your teen about her anger and try to connect and defuse things while also keeping the limit going. In time, your teen will likely become aware that she is only hurting herself, and will begin to respond.
When you do see a positive response, be sure you are warm and encouraging with your comments. When people submit to a consequence, they often feel humiliated, weak, powerless, and alone, which puts them in a very vulnerable position. They need grace and comfort. So refrain from lecturing, making jokes, or showing that you were right. Treat others as you’d like to be treated in a similar situation.
4. Give the Most Lenient Consequence that Works
How severe is too severe? How easy is too easy? You’ll want to ensure that the consequences fit the violation appropriately. The time should fit the crime. When consequences are too strict, it can lead to alienation, discouragement, or increased rebellion. When they are too lenient, it can lead to increased disrespect and a lack of the desired change in the other person.
So, give the most lenient consequence that works. Keep your mind on the goal, which is a heightened sense of responsibility, accountability, and self-awareness. If a more lenient consequence changes behavior, and the change lasts over time, then you are on the right track. If it does not, and you are providing the right amounts of love, truth, and freedom, then you may want to increase the heat of the consequence over time until you see change.
5. Preserve the Good
Here’s another good rule of thumb: the best consequences matter the most, but preserve good things the other person needs. Impose consequences that are a big deal, but don’t remove activities that are good, such as participating in sports, taking music or art lessons, going to church, etc. These activities teach important lessons in discipline, cooperation, skill building, and coaching, and in so doing contribute to your child’s development or the other person’s growth.
Is setting boundaries and determining consequences with your teenage son or daughter driving you crazy? Dr. John Townsend provides the expert insight you need to help your teens take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions while gaining a deeper appreciation and respect both for you and for themselves. With wisdom and empathy, Dr. Townsend, a father of two teens himself, applies biblically-based principles for the challenging task of leading your children through the teen years. With his guidance, you will be able to:
Deal with disrespectful attitudes and impossible behavior in your teen.
Set healthy limits and realistic consequences.
Be loving and caring while establishing rules.
Determine specific strategies to deal with problems both big and small.
Click here to read a sample chapter and purchase today.
RELIGIOUS UPBRINGING AND ADULT HEALTH
~ by Tom & Chaundel Holladay, from Love-Powered Parenting ~One of the most important opportunities we have as parents is the opportunity to teach our children genuine mercy.
This teaching begins with us. Our treatment of our kids is the first place they learn about mercy and forgiveness, and so it is one of the most powerful and enduring ways they learn about mercy and forgiveness.
These are the four actions we take toward our children day by day that will teach them mercy.
The teaching of mercy begins with the decision not to exasperate your children. You see this choice clearly in the simple words of Ephesians 6:4:
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Don’t drive your kids up the wall! These words were written to dads, possibly because they were the disciplinarians of the day or maybe because too often we dads aren’t relationally sensitive in thinking through the impact of our words, but they obviously fit both moms and dads.
I cannot help but make a comment here about the truth of the Bible. These words from Paul are totally against the current of Bible times. In the first century, a Roman father had absolute control over his children. He could cast them out of the house, sell them as slaves, or even kill them with no legal penalty. A newborn would be placed at his father’s feet to determine his future. If the father picked up the baby, he or she became a member of the family; if he walked away, the baby was sold. Into that kind of culture, God inspires these words about a father who cares enough about the fact that his child is a person created in God’s image that he will strive not to exasperate his children.
Hear again what our heavenly Father has to say to us as parents. The Living Bible paraphrases it this way:
And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord Himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice. — Ephesians 6:4
Colossians 3:21 echoes the same command:
Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits. — Colossians 3:21 MSG
So here’s the big question: What exasperates children? Well, it’s many of the same things that exasperate you about your boss at work! It’s easy to become frustrated with someone who has authority over you. Here’s a quick list, gathered from talking to parents who were once children, of what can frustrate our kids.
Unclear boundaries. Often we are just not specific enough in our directions to our children. “Don’t watch too much TV,” we say. How much is too much? “Five hours sounds good to me,” our children decide. “Be sure to be in early,” we tell our teenager. “Three in the morning is early,” they say. “Don’t wear short dresses,” we say. “You call this short?” your daughter answers. Clear boundaries mean we say how much is too much, how late is too late, and how short is too short. Clear boundaries also mean that we are specific about what will happen if the child crosses those boundaries. Instead of saying, “you’re really going to get it!” we make the consequences clear.
Instead of just reading through this list, I invite you to think about small changes you can make that will impact your kids in a big way. What can you do to make a boundary clearer — particularly one you may be struggling with at present?
Inconsistent discipline. Think in terms of your work. One day you get a high five for being great with people on the phone; the next day you are called on the carpet for spending too much time with customers on the phone. It’s enough to drive you crazy. Our kids feel the same way when we give completely different discipline in the same situations. Our parents did the same thing to us — it’s amazing that any of us turn out with a measure of emotional health!
There are many reasons we become inconsistent in our discipline. We get tired; we’re distracted; we want our kids to like us. I’d much rather take my kids out for ice cream than make them stay home for a weekend to catch up on schoolwork!
Instead of striving for perfection on this one, what if we just faced up to our inconsistency as human beings? And then what if we planned to begin to discipline based on that confession? What happens when I honestly face up to the fact that I am an inconsistent, undisciplined, sinful human being who has been given responsibility by God to discipline another inconsistent, undisciplined, sinful human being? It first makes me smile at God’s sense of humor. It also causes me to pause a moment before exacting discipline, because I realize I can too easily react emotionally. It creates a greater willingness to listen to other parents and even to my children. Discipline becomes more a daily relationship than just a proclamation. It may mean I more often will have a second thought and go back and give discipline where I may have let something slide by or be willing to back away from too harsh a discipline that I gave in the emotion of the moment.
Ask yourself: What will it take for me to be more consistent?
Unbalanced criticism. Everything I’ve ever read about motivating people says you have to balance every one word of criticism with at least ten words of praise. This advice applies to parenting as much as to any other relationship. I’ve talked to some parents who feel that if we praise our kids too much, they’ll listen only to the praise and will miss the tough words of discipline. The opposite is actually true. Without balancing words of praise, our words of correction get lost in our kids’ negative feelings about themselves.
Ask yourself: What can I praise my child for this week?
Unreasonable demands. We make an unreasonable demand anytime we ask a child to do something beyond their abilities. It obviously doesn’t work to discipline a child to get an A in math when a B would be a miraculous achievement for them. But there is more to making unreasonable demands than this; they’re can also be demands we make without giving a reason. When our kids ask for a reason that they should keep some rule, we often pull out our favorite phrase as parents. I’ve used it myself. “Because I said so,” we state with solemn strength. We want them to obey simply because it is the right thing to do.
But think for a moment about how God our Father treats us. If anyone has a right to demand obedience simply “because I said so,” God does! Love one another — because I said so! Pray — because I said so! Read your Bible — because I said so! God could say this, but He usually doesn’t exercise the right. Instead, He regularly tells us why He says so. He commands us to pray and expects our obedience; and He also tells us why prayer is so valuable to our connection with Him and the doing of His will. He tells us to give sacrificially, not just “because I said so,” but because the act of giving will increase our joy and is an investment in eternity.
Let’s admit it: sometimes we say “because I said so” because we’re tired and don’t want to take the time to think through how to explain why we’re asking something of our child. I’m not talking about giving a reason so they can choose not to obey if they don’t like our explanation, but about giving the biblical reasons behind what we’re asking them to do. They may roll their eyes at those reasons in the moment, but we’re trusting that these principles will eventually sink into their souls.
Unspoken expectations. Of all the potential points of frustration in the way we discipline our children, this may be the greatest. We have some expectation of what we are disciplining our child toward, but we’ve never spoken it — not to them and possibly not even to ourselves. We expect our two-year-old to speak in a quiet voice in the evenings, but we’ve never expressed it. When we speak an expectation, it gives our child a chance to see the boundary more clearly. It may have another result — we may come to see that it is an unreasonable demand. We may have an unspoken expectation that our child will attend the college we attended, yet we know the grades they’re getting will not get them accepted. So we discipline them toward better grades, without ever verbalizing why. This creates great tension and frustration.
Ask yourself: What expectation do I need to speak clearly or to free my child from?
Undeserved or unresolved anger. How we deal with anger is a huge issue in our families. Most of us are good at hiding our anger, but we cannot hide it from everyone, and those who see our anger are most often those in our homes. Our anger often comes out sideways. We’re mad at our boss, but we yell at our kids. In an earlier chapter, we looked at the importance of honest confession after we’ve expressed undeserved anger.
It is also important not to allow even justifiable anger to go unresolved. You may have expressed to your child that the lie they told makes you legitimately angry because you’ve been hurt by their lack of trust and you know how deeply the lie can hurt them. Even then, the anger must be resolved. If you go for days without speaking, bitterness is allowed to grow. God is clear about this because He knows our hearts so well:
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. — Ephesians 4:26
Admit that you’re angry, and deal with it immediately. Admitting isn’t easy. We tend to use all kinds of other words to describe our emotion: we’re frustrated, annoyed, troubled, antagonized, exasperated, vexed, indignant, provoked, hurt, irked, irritated, cross. The truth is, we have some anger that must be dealt with.
Sleeping on anger is like sleeping on a bed of nails; you wake up feeling great pain. Let anger hang around, and it grows into bitterness. Angry words are a discordant tone in the home — a tone that needs to be resolved through another conversation before the end of the day as you assure your children that you love them and that the anger you felt was because of your desire to protect them, they are learning lessons about mercy that cannot be learned anywhere else.
Ask yourself: Is there an angry encounter that I haven’t yet resolved?
It takes great humility to admit our tendency to exasperate our children, and even greater humility to act in new ways. When you make these choices, you are teaching your children the character of mercy, passing on to them the mercy that Jesus has shown you, and helping to form a heart in them that can pass mercy on to others.
Response from the Heart of a Mom
The thing I struggle with most as a parent in this chapter is unspoken expectations. Just as I want my husband to figure out the perfect Christmas gift for me without my having to spell it out, I want my kids to figure out exactly what I expect from them. The truth is, I don’t want to verbalize these expectations because I may have to admit that they are selfish or unrealistic. It’s much easier to hang on to unrealistic or selfish expectations if they are unspoken!
Verse to remember: “Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits” (Colossians 3:21 MSG)
Action to take: Look again at the six ways we can exasperate our children and ask yourself what changes you can make in just one of these areas
Excerpted with permission from Love Powered Parenting by Tom and Chaundel Holladay, copyright Tom Holladay.
Which of these ways we parents exasperate our children hit your target? Come and share what most spoke to you and what you think the Lord wants you to do about in on our blog.
5 Apps That Help You Connect With Your Kids
How To Teach Your Kids Responsibility