Proper consequences are a great teacher for all of us. The definition of consequences is “a logical result.” The definition of punishment is “to cause pain for a crime.” Good parents use consequences not punishment. Yes, consequences bring pain, but when used correctly, the child learns the logical result of what they did and the responsibility is upon his or her shoulders instead of the parents’.
When considering consequences it is vital at any age that you discover the “coin of the realm” for your children when consequences are needed. What is most valuable to them at their given age? Is it playing with a particular toy, watching a certain TV program, riding bikes, playing with friends, talking on the phone, playing computer games? These are the coins that he or she will have to pay with when needing a motivating consequence. Consequences that are not valuable to the child do not work. For elementary age children and up, we have found that going to bed early is a great consequence. Staying up is very valuable to them. It is easy to say, “Well, for that, you will have to go to bed early tonight.” You can add half hours as needed if you get too much protesting. Going to bed thirty minutes early can be an all around, easy to administer consequence.
Make certain that the instructions about behavior and consequences are clear: “If you ______________, this will happen.” Then make certain that you follow through with consistency. I know adults that go to work late day after day, goof off instead of working, get threatened and then don’t change—because the threatened consequences never happen. One can be sure that this is the story of their lives and not paying consequences creates a very dysfunctional adult. A child who consistently hears, “If _________ happens, then ___________,” will not only be more likely to behave but will at the same time learn cause and effect—a very useful skill for life.
Consequences are most effective when they fit the “misdeed.” Save drastic consequences for huge problems like running out into the street, lying, defiance or stealing. If “every-day” consequences are too harsh, the child may be “provoked to wrath.” In Ephesians 6:4, we read, “Fathers, do not provoke (exasperate) your children to wrath.” The idea here is that something the parent is doing causes the child to be angry with the parent and not feel loved. The child is not truly obedient with a decent attitude, but rather stubborn inside (or outside). This can set up strongholds of anger and stubbornness in the heart that will bloom into huge problems later in life. The use of proper consequences done in love produces “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)