...is a Double Edged Sword
Confronted with the bright questioning gaze of our newly born babies we are engulfed in upwelling emotions. There is wonder, the sense of awe and the race of excitement at meeting this wonderful new person, finally face to face. We feel the surge of overwhelming love and the gut-shattering need to protect.
Yet the recurring theme what seems like only months later is Mexican Stand Off after Mexican Stand Off! Words wound us as our children tell us we can't "make" them do their homework, tidy their rooms, stop hitting Jason, come in sober at the agreed time after a night in town or... eat that broccoli!
Our children are right, we can’t make them do what we want; what is necessary.
We may be able to manipulate them, bribe them, or even physically take them away when they are little but these strategies have a very short shelf life!
We also can't make them take responsibility! We can't make them remember to give us the letter about the school trip. We can't make them remember to bring their PE kit home or take in their homework!
We can however help them learn to live with the consequences of not doing these things.
Missing the favourite swimming lesson, even the longed-for school trip, just once, is something children will not forget. Next time they will make sure that the kit or the permission slip is in their hand as they walk into school!
The key to helping them to take more responsibility is starting early!
As parents we can fall into trap of making excuses for our children, popping into school with the forgotten swimming bag, and covering up for them when they have lost that school trip permission slip... This slippery slope is a dangerous one as we set ourselves up for years as rescuers.
Tough love early on teaches important lessons in responsibility and consequences.
Making sure our 'imposed' consequences age appropriate is essential.
A toddler can learn to put her coat on the hook, boots under it and so on. We have to actively teach and allow time for the learning to embed. Letting our child know the consequences of not taking care of said coat and boots as we teach her lets her know that this delays getting ready; that it could mean that the family is late for something important or may miss out on treats is important.
If after all this teaching, she repeatedly leaves them elsewhere then we need to take action before it becomes a habit.
Announcing at breakfast, “We've just got time to go to the park if we hurry as I have to be back for ten thirty to... So come on, let's go!” The resultant delay due to lack of coat and boots and no park visit will be remembered.
The teenager who doesn't put dirty clothes in the washing basket doesn't get them washed! That includes the favourite designer t shirt he wanted to wear out to town!
The closer these imposed consequences are to natural consequences the more powerful their impact.
One of my heroes, Becky Bailey, once said "our greatest mistake is to un-plant the seeds of wisdom we sow by too much talk!"
Offer empathy by all means but let the consequences speak for themselves.
Embarrassment and tears are hard and not only for our child. It is a double edged sword that cuts us too as we also have to stand by and watch them suffer.
Providing empathy gives important life lessons. Empathy is showing our children that we understand the indignity and the hurt that they are facing.
While we won't fix things for them, with empathy, we can show them that we have complete faith that they are strong enough, that they not only can, but will, accept consequences.
Maybe they will not always do this with grace, but at least with some stoicism. If we are convincing enough they will believe that they are able to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and that life will go on.
Children need to learn from their mistakes – not be protected from them.
Accepting consequences not only builds resilience but gives children the greatest vote of all, our confidence in them!
Newspapers depict again and again stories of parents making excuses for and defending their ASBOed offspring. Fortunately not many of us face this extreme challenge to our parenting. As our children get older and spend more time away from us though, their chances of getting into trouble increases, even if only on the periphery or by association.
Early nurturing with tough love builds the innate protection of greater levels of forethought in our teenagers.
We can't prevent and protect them from all the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" as they hit the clubs, face the drug culture, encounter questionable moral standards and irresponsible sexual practices - they will make their share of mistakes. We did!
We see the hurt written across the faces of our children when they are little and it is easy to give in, to rescue. We are programmed to want to do just that!
Applying tough love then, when our children are younger, and helping them face the consequences is hard and it hurts them and… us.
But it teaches them and they learn how to think twice; before they face those huge challenges later.
Tough Love arms them with personal qualities that will help to shield them and reduce the frequency and gravity of their mistakes, well… at least a bit!
PS Look out for our blog on Punishment or Consequences - coming soon!
REFERENCES: Dr Becky Bailey is the creator of the Conscious Discipline Programme and acclaimed author of Easy to Love Difficult to Discioline and The I Love You Rituals both can be sourced through the Well Tree Shop