“If you don’t pick these toys up, they’re going in the bag for storage,” my husband told our son, bag in hand. As you might expect from a three-year-old testing his boundaries, he stayed rooted to where he was, refusing to pick the toys up. On cue, my husband started stuffing the toys into the bag, despite my son’s protests and change of heart. As much as any parent doesn’t want to see his child cry, following through with consequences was more important than the temporary relief of a tantrum.
Still… that doesn’t make enforcing the rules any easier. We don’t like seeing our kids upset, and following through with consequences can feel really, really draining. It’s so much easier to cave in and let the deed slip this one time (especially when our kids seem truly remorseful). Such was the case with Kim Peterson from Kim’s Counseling Corner. On her Facebook page, she asked her readers:
I’m really struggling to follow through on consequences with my son lately. He’s pushing limits all day, but when I see the disappointment and remorse on his face, I give him another chance, even though I know it’s not wise. Please, fellow parents, do you have any words of wisdom to encourage me to be strong?
Many of us have shared the same sentiments. Even though I knew that following through is important, I wanted to learn why:
Kids will take us seriously
Perhaps the biggest reason to follow through with consequences is that kids will take us seriously. Or conversely, they’ll call our bluff if we don’t enforce the rules consistently and regularly. So much so that any “punishment” doled out will simply be an empty threat, just another phrase mom or dad say that won’t bear any action.
As painful as it is to leave a family gathering because of their wild antics or to curtail reading time when they have misbehaved, following through will get the message across that we mean business, and we mean our word.
Similarly, following through with consequences reinforces the trust kids place on us. While we may not win short-term favor when we hold steadfast to the consequences, in the long run, we’re gaining our kids’ trust.
Bad behavior won’t be rewarded
Reward positive behavior, not negative ones. We reward misbehavior when we let kids get away with them.
Kids will learn right from wrong
We’re our kids’ primary teachers—the people from whom they decipher right from wrong and learn their values. By following through with consequences, kids learn which behavior is acceptable and which ones aren’t.
Kids are held accountable
No finger-pointing here: When kids bear the brunt of their actions, they’ll learn that they are held accountable for their decisions. The consequences tie directly with their choices: They didn’t pick up the toys = They don’t get to play with them.
Following through shows we care
Ironically, setting limits and following through reassures our kids that we care. Despite their protests, kids want boundaries, as well as the fact that someone cares enough to go through the hassles of enforcing them.
Kim may have known in her head that following through is the right thing to do, but like many parents, we could use some advice on just how to go about doing so.
Consider the following ways you can effectively follow through with consequences:
Be calm and follow through without anger or lecturing.
The not-calm way to do it: “You’re not getting a cupcake after lunch if you don’t keep your voice down!” I yelled at my son in the car. My excuses: his brothers were sleeping, we were in traffic, and we were hungry.
Still. The better way? State the consequences as a matter-of-fact (and follow through just as calmly). I applied this tip a few days later when my son was playing with a fairly heavy plastic toy near his baby brothers, hovering it above their heads. “Play with that elephant but keep it away from your brothers and not hold it above them. It could fall and hurt them,” I calmly said, before continuing, “If you hold it above them, I’ll have to put it away until tomorrow morning.”
Of course he tested my word and hovered the elephant over their heads. So then I reiterated the consequences and placed the elephant in my closet, well out of his reach, all done without anger or lecturing.
By following through calmly, I took my emotions out of the equation and emphasized that the consequences were truly a result of his actions only. I wasn’t being the “mean mommy” acting out of a foul mood as I had done when I was angry in the car; I was simply enacting the consequences of his misbehavior. The best part? His reaction was by far one of the calmest I had ever seen, and no uproar, resentment or further stubbornness ensued.
Don’t offer consequences that are difficult to follow through.
If you don’t plan on cancelling that trip to Disneyland, don’t tell your kid you’re all not going if he doesn’t hurry up and get dressed. Stick to feasible consequences, such as not being able to play in the morning considering how much time he had taken putting on his clothes.
Similarly, don’t expect your child to vacuum the mess she made on the carpet if she doesn’t know how to or is too small to do so. Stick to consequences that are within her abilities.
Like most things with parenting, consistency is key. While it’s healthy to pick your battles, only in constantly following through with consequences—and not letting every misdeed slide by—will kids understand that this is how it’s done around the house.
My biggest takeaway from learning about following through is the difference a parent’s tone of voice can make. Looking back, I tended to use an angry, disciplinary voice that reflected my desire to appear authoritative. Then I realize how much more effective setting consequences can be when done calmly and as a matter-of-fact.
When done with respect, following through with consequences isn’t only about setting “punishments.” It teaches our values, cause-and-effect, and provides boundaries from within our kids can learn to grow.
Do you struggle with following through with consequences? What are some examples of when you stayed your course and followed through?
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