Let the Consequence Fit the Crime

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Let the Consequence Fit the Crime

Dano, the typical firstborn, who is tasked with always being first to generate the need to create a consequence for unwanted behavior, was consistently late for car-pool.  Well, technically, he was on time because Lis would nudge him with “Dano, hurry up!”, “Eat your breakfast”, “Get your shoes tied and let’s go!”, “Don’t forget your backpack”, “Is your homework in your backpack?”, “Did you get your lunch?”, and all sorts of urgent “Get a move on”’s. Poor little buddy was in the second grade when Lis devised a solution to Dano’s absent minded lollygagging.

Morning routine wasn’t the only instance when Dano wasn’t ready when it was time to go. He was consistently ill-prepared for departure for some sport or social event or other. It’s just that he would get mentally involved in something else and have no idea of what to prepare and how long that would take. That skill, and sense of urgency for punctuality, hadn’t been taught yet. As parents we hadn’t actually cemented the skill and family identity principle – The Marr family is always on time and ready to go.

What we learned in the Parenting from the Tree of Life classes was that when we are characterized as being late all the time, we send the subtle message “You know what? You’re just not that important to me” to the people that are waiting for us. As parents, we didn’t want our children’s behavior to give us the reputation that we didn’t care enough about school or sports or our friends to get our act together. And that meant hounding our kids to “Hurry up!!!” Their actions reflected on our parenting reputation.

So Dano’s dawdling had to go. Plus, it didn’t send the right message to our wonderful little boy to be stressing him out the door every day. “Hurry, hurry, hurry, Ok I love you have a wonderful day.” Whew! No, we needed Dano to own his own responsibility of getting ready in the morning. We needed to establish an expectation and routine for every day – wake up, make bed immediately, get dressed immediately, eat breakfast immediately, brush teeth immediately, pack lunch in backpack, get homework, and be completely ready to go before playing or goofing off.  Ta da!! Now isn’t that easy?!

Aaaah no. Because that’s no different than what we already had in place. Reviewing expectations didn’t provide motivation. The motivation came when we drew the line that was unmistakably clear the night before by actually teaching him what we meant by being on time – “If you aren’t ready for school with all your responsibilities done (and here we taught him during a time of non-conflict what those responsibilities were), then you aren’t going to school. You’ll stay in your room all day and study. You’ll call the teacher and tell her why you’re missing school. You’ll do your homework and eat your lunch in your room. Oh, and I have to go out after lunch, so I’ll need to take you to Kathy’s which will cost $10 for the hour. So you’ll have to do extra chores to pay us back. Do you understand what will happen if you’re not ready for school on time?”

“Yes mommy.” Lis in fact got Dano to repeat exactly what he was to do so he would own the requirements.

“Here’s the thing buddy. Marrs are on time and ready to go. You need to be on time and ready to go too.”

Well, you know what happened of course. He was late the very next day. And sure enough, Lis endured the torture of enforcing her own proclamation (lest she become a threatening/repeating parent). Lis notified the car-pool folks Dano wouldn’t be going to school. Dano then called the teacher and explained what had happened and promised he would be there the next day. (Very uncomfortable for him, but the teacher heralded this action for years and years). And Dano stayed in his room all day except for the hour after lunch.

So what happened the following day? And the next? And the next? Yes, Dano was ready to go and Lis no longer needed to remind him to “get going”. It took only this one time of letting the consequence fall on his shoulders to bring him to present minded action in the morning. And when Shelli came along, what happened there? Well, she made the same mistake and suffered the same consequence with, again, only one day away from school and a lifelong habit formed. And little tiny buddy Kevin? What happened there? The interesting part is that Dano and Shelli convinced him that he didn’t want to spend all day in his room. He avoided that fate and was always ready to go. The Marr family was on time.

There are two big challenges in this tale: Figuring out what consequence is appropriate for your child’s “crime”. You must consider their age, temperament, and behavior. The above solution fit our family and kids, but maybe not yours. The important piece here is to keep the standard the same for each child but finesse the consequence to best fit each of your children’s unique temperaments. The second challenge is more difficult – generating the joint willpower between the parents to create the consequence and stick with it. Because if you don’t enforce fully and completely the consequence you’ve stated because “compassion” for his or her little suffering overwhelms your parenting, then you will likely be compounding the problem. It is worse, much worse, to teach your children that you don’t mean what you say. The consequence of our kids staying home for one day was uncomfortable for them, for sure, but it was torture for Lis. In the end, it worked out fantastic for our family’s well-being because the mornings were dramatically more peaceful and stress free and the kids learned a valuable lifelong skill of punctuality.

To your family’s well-being,

Lis and Dave Marr


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