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Do Consequences Work?

by Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.  
Copyright @ 2019 Anu Family Services/Center for the Challenging Child

Teen in Trouble
You just discovered your son was using drugs at school, or your daughter said something inappropriate to friends online. Maybe your first response is to take away electronics or ground them for a month ... to cut them off from their friends so they can think about what they did wrong, and to remove the opportunity to acquire drugs or say nasty things. Your expectation is that they'll think about this consequence next time, and avoid going down that path again.

But in the back of your mind, you realize consequences aren't that effective, as the kids always get around the limits you set. You feel helpless and disempowered.

In the world of authoritarian parenting, we tend to “stick to our guns” and hope our kids eventually see the light. Our thoughts go like this: “Maybe in a year or two, this will get better, and in the meantime, I have to make sure he knows I’m the boss. That’s what good parents do. He’ll thank me for it later.” Then we get caught up in keeping kids home off their devices, and responding to more and more defiance with harsher consequences. “Merry-go-round parenting,” it should be called. So stressful for you and them.

In the world of passive parenting, we tend to say, “He never listens anyway, so there’s nothing I can do about this.” We get all lenient and the kids’ behavior gets even worse, with ever-more dangerous and disrespectful behavior, to the point that our frustration is through the roof. We start thinking of them in really negative terms, and even find ourselves not liking them at all. 

In the world of authoritative parenting (hint: this is where we want to land) we start to wake up to the fact that as kids grow up, they no longer accept our authority over them because they need to establish it for themselves. Consequences just don’t have much effect, as they’re simply waiting us out until they can take the reins of their lives again.  What’s driving this, and this is so important, is that they are evolving humans who must manage themselves, and are in the process of learning how that works. If we stay in charge of our kids, or give up on them, we deny their inner drive for self-direction with parental guidance, which never goes well. More consequences, more defiance, more arguments, more acting out, and eventually, broken relationships.

So, what’s the solution to this rather daunting dilemma? Asking rather than telling. Including them in solutions. Honoring their opinions, even when they’re not those of a grown-up. Engaging them in conversation instead of saying how it should be. Understanding that they are works in progress and that your patience is key. Treating them with respect, and being there when things don’t go that well. Listening deeply.

These are all concepts contained in my book: Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child,  available in paperback and audio here.  Order it now if you want to see real change and to feel close to your child again. 

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