I think one of the most difficult things about changing to a connected parenting paradigm is giving up the idea of imposing punitive consequences to control or mitigate difficult behavior. It’s how most of us were raised, and it does make some logical sense.
We want our kids to succeed.
We want our kids to behave in acceptable ways.
We want our families to have some modicum of peace.
We want our kids to connect that actions have meaning and others will respond in kind.
It scares us to think that they won’t get this, that their behavior isn’t changing or getting better, that they just don’t seem to “get it.”
So, in hopes of helping them do better, our knee-jerk is often to level a punitive consequence. Problem is, with children who have trauma in their background–as well as many children who don’t–such consequences are not effective. I’ve become convinced that it’s very ineffective with most anyone because it doesn’t get to the core of the issue.
I was responding with this thought process on a post this morning, and another thought occurred to me. It’s like giving a kid the wrong medicine. Tylenol is effective for most children’s pain. But if you give Tylenol to my child who has a genetic disorder that causes knee buckling pain, it is completely ineffective and even problematic and can escalate the problem. Handing punitive consequences for the purpose of behavior modification to a kid whose brain is off-line is completely ineffective. Not only that, the punishment then feels irrational and unfair to them and increases their fear and sense of unworthiness in many. Fear is where much of these behaviors are stemming from so we end up making things worse. Also, it can increase shame because they are constantly, constantly in trouble. They can’t dig themselves out, they get discouraged or they start getting increasingly agitated.
It’s just plain the wrong medicine. But we continue to give it for many different reasons–habit, our own history, our own fear, pressure, lack of practice, you name it. It is very difficult. Keep learning. Keep trying. Keep going after your own “stuff” that triggers a punitive response from you.
And try the consequence that works. When our kids act out, they are communicating a deep fear. The best consequence for that is connection and comfort. It works. For real.
ANALOGY DISCLAIMER: I should stop and mention the analogy breaks down (as all analogy’s do) when you consider that Tylenol really is sometimes an effective medicine. However, connected parenting does not EVER promote punitive consequences as an effective parenting technique.
What about natural consequences?
While it is our job to be detectives and understand what our kids behavior is communicating about their fear, it is not our job to protect them from natural consequences. However, if you find yourself asking, “What is the natural consequence for __________?” so that you can make sure that natural consequence happens, it is not a natural consequence.
For instance, the natural consequence of not obeying a parent is not the withholding of a sport practice because, “If Johnny can’t obey mom, surely he can’t obey a coach.” However, if Johnny’s having a tough day, he may go to practice and not obey the coach. Then it is the coach’s job to act accordingly to your child’s behavior. Depending on the child’s fragileness, you may or may not deem it appropriate to give a head’s up to the coach.
However, if Johnny is raging and the rage lasts past the end of soccer practice, the natural consequence is the practice is missed. While this is a natural consequence, it’s important to not say things along the lines of, “Well if you could just use your words instead of throwing a 3 hours tantrum, you wouldn’t have missed practice.”
And, while you should not protect your child from natural consequences, it is our job to continue to empathize and connect with our child while they walk through the experience of the natural consequence. Even when the temptation to say, “I told you so,” is at its strongest!