Fix It, Clean It, Replace It, or Lose It
I worked as a school-based therapist in an inner-city middle school for several years. It was a great experience. I met many wonderful students and amazing teachers. Still, at times I thought we missed the mark when responding to students’ misbehavior. For example, one day a group of girls had a “wet paper towel party” in the bathroom. They soaked paper towels in water and threw them against the walls and ceiling. Soaked with water, these wads of paper towels stuck to every surface they hit. The girls left the bathroom a mess, globs of wet paper towels hanging all over the surface of walls and ceiling. The staff chose to suspend the girls for three days as a consequence. By simply suspending these young ladies, we missed an opportunity to teach them an important lesson. They enjoyed three days off school and, at best, learned how to have irresponsible fun and get a vacation. Perhaps we would have taught a more important lesson by offering a consequence directly connected to their behavior. For instance, a more logical consequence of the girls’ behavior would have been keeping them after school for three days to help the custodian clean the bathrooms. This would more likely teach the girls respect for property and personal responsibility while encouraging more responsible decision-making in the future.
The same principal of consequences applies at home when we discipline our children. Simply sending a child to their room for a day or grounding them for a week does little to encourage responsible decision making in the future. Instead, offer a consequence related to the misbehavior, a logical consequence. Let them fix it, clean it, replace it, or lose it…whichever represents a logical result of their behavior. Let me give you some examples:
- When your child refuses to get up for school, let them get to school late and suffer the usual consequences for tardiness.
- When your child waits until the last minute to complete a project and then does not have the needed materials, don’t rush out to get it. Let them find a way to get it or suffer the consequences of an incomplete school project.
- If your child does not finish their assigned chore, let them stay in (not playing their video game or watching TV or some other “fun” activity) until it is done.
- If your child refuses to eat an appropriate amount of their supper, they miss out on dessert.
- If your child breaks a window, they can work to earn the money to replace it and help in the actual replacement of it.
These all represent logical consequences. However, sometimes the results of misbehavior offer consequences enough. We simply need to step back and allow those natural consequences to happen rather than bail them out. Here are a few examples of natural consequences:
- Your child refuses to eat and they go hungry until the next meal.
- Your child refuses to wear a jacket on a cold morning and they get cold.
- Your child does not hand in his homework and he gets a lower grade in that class.
- Your child gets angry and breaks their phone (or is careless and loses it), so they do not have a phone until the next contract comes up.
- Your teen driver carelessly has a fender bender so they have no mode of transportation while the car is fixed.
Using logical and natural consequences take effort on the part of the parent. We have to stay calm and allow the natural consequence to occur or we have to think of an appropriate logical consequence. But, the results are well worth the extra time and effort. What’s the result? A child who learns from their mistakes and makes adjustments in their behavior to avoid the consequences in the future. In other words, a wise child!