One afternoon, Shawn, age nine, set up a booby trap for his brothers—a bag of Lego blocks above the back door, rigged with a string to dump them on his younger brothers—and then called them to come inside for dinner. When they entered, blocks rained down on their heads, and they all had a great laugh about it.
A minute later, Mom called the boys to eat and told Shawn to clean up the Lego mess right after dinner. But after eating, Shawn plopped on the couch to read a book.
Mom said, “Shawn, what are you supposed to be doing right now?”
Shawn quickly replied, “Oh, yeah.”
Mom said, “Because you neglected your Lego mess, you have to do that first, and then pick something from the ‘extra chore’ list to do in addition.”
Shawn’s mess was huge, so while he worked, he felt overwhelmed and began to complain: “I’m so tired” and “This is going to take forever” and “It’s not fair that I have to do this all by myself.”
Mom might have been more effective if she had addressed the complaining immediately, but she was relatively inexperienced with Real Love parenting. When she saw Shawn playing on the trampoline outside, she inspected the work he’d done inside. He’d been quite careless, putting things away in the wrong places and even shoving socks and shoes in toy bins just to get them off the floor. And he hadn’t completed the extra chore she had assigned.
Teaching Consequences for Bad Behavior
Mom went outside and said, “Shawn, now you will need to (1) do your cleanup again, and (2) do your extra chore, and (3) pick a SECOND extra chore from the list to do.”
Shawn immediately played dumb, as though he had no idea what she was talking about.
Mom took him inside and showed him all that needed to be done. Shawn snapped, “If you want it done better, then YOU can do it.” At that, mom sent him to the car seat.
How to Teach Consequences to a Child
After a conversation with me, Mom reminded Shawn that she was the mother and queen of the home, and with that authority she would decide what he needed to do. He got out of the car seat and briefly complied, but again he began to spew a long string of complaints, including how unfair this all was.
Mom sent him to the car seat again, and when he screamed again about how unfair this all was, she said, “Yes, this really is unfair. You get a beautiful home to live in, a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a school to attend, free transportation everywhere, running water, a toilet instead of the bushes, medical care, and on and on and on. And in return for all that, you do nothing but a few chores around here, mostly cleaning up after yourself. So yes, it’s entirely unfair that you get so much in return for so little. It’s unfair to ME, not you.”
Shawn played stupid again, acting like he didn’t know what she was talking about, so Mom walked out the bedroom door as she said, “I’ll be back.”
Shawn was suddenly alert and snapped, “How long!?”
“We’ll see,” Mom said. Ten minutes later she returned.
“It’s past my bedtime,” Shawn said.
Mom thought that was pretty funny considering that Shawn had never been in a rush to go to bed on time before. “Yes,” she said, “it is well past your bedtime. And it’s late only because first you didn’t clean up the mess you made, then you played outside, then you worked slowly and sloppily, you complained while you cleaned, and you didn’t do your extra chore. You caused all this, not me.”
“I can’t sleep in this seat!”
“I guess we’ll find out. I can get you a pillow if you’d like, but you’ll either sleep or you won’t. But you’ll stay there until morning, and then we’ll see if you’ve learned something.”
Why Consequences are Important
THAT moment, right there, is where almost all parents give in. They can’t bear the discomfort of their children. They can’t stand the disapproval that shoots from their children’s eyes and mouths. But children can’t learn without discomfort.
If we give in to their every disapproval, we teach them that there are no rules to life. We fail to give them gravity, which anchors them to the earth and teaches them how life works. And a child without gravity just floats, cast adrift without any ability to reliably get where he needs to go.
But Mom, with great courage, gave her child gravity. She taught her son that if we break the rules, there is a price to be paid. She taught him that HE had to experience the consequences for his choices. She saved his life.
Oh, he screamed and cried for a bit. With pain and rage, again he screamed, “That’s not fair!”
“Like I said, kid, you’re right. It really is not fair that you get so much and give so little. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Mom, you’re stupid.”
“I know. See you in the morning.”
Mom went to bed and ignored the crying that persisted for several minutes. In the morning, she went into his bedroom, where he was awake but silent. He said, “Will you hold me?”
“Of course,” she said. “I want to hold you more than anything. First, what did you learn from sleeping in your seat, and shouting unkind things at me, and not doing your jobs?”
“That I was selfish and irresponsible. I was not grateful either.”
“All true,” Mom said, as she unbuckled Shawn from his seat. Then she took him in her arms and held him as he wept quietly.
Without a word of instruction or reminding, Shawn left the room and got straight to work. He was HAPPY. Three hours into his work—without a single complaint—he was wiping down the inside of the fridge. And he said to Mom, “Wait until I tell dad I cleaned out the entire fridge almost by myself.”
Mom instantly replied, “What are you feeling right now?” She told me that his feeling just radiated from him.
Shawn immediately replied, “Happy.”
Shawn, “Because I’m being responsible. And I feel your love.”
Mom celebrated with him, shouting, “Woooeeee!! Yeah, baby!!” She hugged him, he finished the job, and he went off to build something.
Teaching Your Child Consequences
This child made a transition from complaining and screaming to being cooperative, responsible, and happy, all within hours. How? When Shawn behaved badly, Mom CHOSE not to react to her fear of his pain or disapproval. She didn’t give in to his tantrum. She chose to be the mother and remember that happiness is governed by laws that cannot be broken.
She remembered the Laws of Happiness, which state that if we feel loved, if we are loving, and if we are responsible, we WILL be happy. Again she CHOSE to remember that his happiness was more important than his comfort.
Mom chose happiness instead of reducing her own pain—or that of her son—and that was the turning point. She chose to disregard her own fears and instead to teach her son how to have a joyful and fulfilling life.
It is in such moments that we truly choose to raise our children, instead of merely taking care of them and giving them what they want. The difference is as stark as life or death. When we make that choice, we save our children’s lives, without exaggeration.
You can do this!
Learn to teach with love and consequences.