Learning Consequences

I sometimes wonder who learns more during the toddler years; the kids or the parents.  The child is likely learning faster than the parent but I have realized that we as parents have every bit as much to learn.  These learning experiences can contain immediate and long term consequences for both child and parent.  Predicting these consequences and making the difficult decision is a talent to exercise all through life.

While still a baby it was hard to envision my son as a teenager.  That vision began to develop as the toddler began displaying conscious disobedience.  I don’t mean when he acts out because he doesn’t understand or know better.  I am talking about when you tell him “no” and you know he understands.  But he looks at you with a sly smile and while maintaining eye contact with you he proceeds to do what he was told not to do.  It burns me up and is a small example of what I know lays ahead.

What I realized this past week is that no kid will obey their parents at all times.  Not as a toddler, child or teenager.  We can never make our children obey every time, all the time.  I think the natural learning process does this intentionally.

What is important is that they learn consequences to their actions.  Not threats, but real and appropriate consequences.  This long and continuous lesson is critical to their future wellbeing in this world.  Their future actions will have consequences which they must be able to foresee, decide upon and endure.

To clarify, teaching our children consequences to their actions is not an attempt to make parenting easier for us.  In many cases parenting will be harder implementing these consequences.  Denying our children something they greatly desire due to their misbehavior can be heart-wrenching.  Often, we may have to put ourselves out in order to enforce a consequence.  For instance, you may have to deny yourself an anticipated trip to the ice cream shoppe to stay home with the child who lost that opportunity.

Here are some guidelines I have drafted for myself (with approval of my wife and co-parent) to help navigate through these lessons.

  • Whenever possible, he must be informed of the consequence prior to the action.
  • Consequence must be fitting of action and relative to other consequences and actions.
  • Let him make the less dangerous mistakes on his own.  The consequence shouldn’t always be punishment.  Sometimes the laws of physics are the consequence.  Letting him fall from a short step or touch something that is 100 degrees (F) allows him to understand the dangers of “fall” or “hot.”  Without these experiences he may never fully understand these concepts and it may lead to more serious future dangers with a full flight of stairs or a 400 degree oven.
  • No idle threats!  Kids seem to get smart with these very quickly.  Besides, many real life consequences are hard set with no maybes.

These may sound a little tough or cruel to some readers but the SAHD truth is the world can be tough and cruel.  I believe sending my child into the world ill-prepared to handle these things is the cruelest thing I can do.

Photo Note:  As he was determined to keep climbing into the window sill, I opted to simply ensure proper pillow coverage below and allow him to better understand gravity.

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