I recently discovered that more people click on my blog Instilling Maturity in Children than any other. That tells me we need to take another look at the topic. In the first blog I talked about learning to do hard things, respecting another’s “no,” dealing with disappointment and seeking forgiveness. This time let’s talk about consequences and taking responsibility. For more info on this topic see Handbook to Joy-Filled Parenting. Also check out the blogs under “Parenting Tips,” such as “Predator Games with Toddlers.”
The definition of consequences is “a logical result.” When dealing with children, the consequence of a negative behavior should be a logical result that they do not like. Consequences should be clear, consistent and “fit the crime.” In other words, the consequence should be laid out before the actions occur, the consequence should happen every time and lying should have a heavier consequence than failing to make the bed. Consequences should be something that motivates the child to stop or start a given behavior. If you are going to take something away from the child, it has to be something very valuable to them. Elementary age children hate to go to bed early. An early bed time is a great consequence for unwanted behavior. If the child complains, immediately add another 15 minutes—then another 15 if needed. Taking computer or other electronic time away works as well. If a child does not do homework, the natural consequence is a low grade or summer school. It does not help maturity for parents to do the homework and bail the child out of consequences.
Consequences should be clear and consistent: “If you do __________, this will happen.” Consistent, unwanted consequences will teach cause and effect—a valuable skill in adulthood. “If you don’t get out of bed on time, you will be late to work. If you are late to work all the time, you will lose your job. If you lose your job because of your own behavior, you can’t come back and live with us.” Threats without carrying through are not a consequence. Parents, teachers or bosses that threaten but never bring down the consequence will find themselves dealing with a dysfunctional, immature adult.
Consequences should not be dealt out in anger or harshness as this will make children feel unloved and cause them to become stubborn. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke (exasperate) your children to wrath.” Proper discipline is done in love and produces the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11) Children who have been taught lovingly that inappropriate behavior brings clear, consistent and fair consequences are more likely to grow up to do well in school, in their career, and with their relationships.
Paying consequences also teaches children responsibility for their actions. Have you ever been in a relationship with a person who shifts the blame and makes excuses every time they get called out on their behavior? That is not maturity. As we talked about in the first blog on maturity, when children are required to ask forgiveness that will be one of the ways they learn to take responsibility for their actions. The two go together.
Parents wishing to build maturity must be careful to listen to all sides when someone else talks to them about their child’s behavior. These days teachers are reporting that many parents will not hear any complaints about their child—everything is someone else’s fault. This trend towards making excuses is filling our culture with people who do not own their behavior. There is a “victim mentality” that is the opposite of maturity. Children must learn that the world does not revolve around them.
Between the ages of 4 and 13, part of maturing is to learn to do what one does not feel like doing and to learn what satisfies. “Victims” who expect to only do what they feel like doing will not learn what satisfies. Satisfaction comes from doing a good job, being unselfish and bringing joy to others. It takes energy and maturity on the parents’ part to accept that their child needs to grow in an area and to be willing to do what is necessary for the child to work on their behavior. It takes time to instill maturity. Making excuses is the easy way out.
Next we will take a look at how learning to manage money is one of the ways to instill maturity in children.
“Discipline your son while there is hope. . .” Proverbs 19:18a
“Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.” Proverbs 19:20