Behavior and consequences

A while back I asked if any of you would be interested in hearing a bit about our behavior expectations and consequences... and I had some takers.  And since I am drawing a complete blank about what to write, this is what wins.  This is not meant to be a definitive list, and depending on circumstances we may not follow it to the letter.  It is more some examples of our practices and general thinking.  I also don't mean to imply that ours is the only way to raise children, but I often find useful ideas by hearing about what other parents do and perhaps I can do that for others.

In general, J. and I are far more concerned about our children's attitudes than by any specific outward behavior.  (And one very often follows the other anyway.)  For that reason we try to focus on consequences which deal with the underlying motivation than just the outward behavior.  At least that's what we try to do... if only we could parent perfectly.

We focus on obedience... doing what we ask when we ask it, and kindness to one another... being careful with words and actions towards others.  Siblings are most definitely included in the group of 'others'.  If you can treat those you live with kindly, it is far more likely that you will treat others outside the family kindly.  So, on to nuts and bolts examples:

I know I've said this before, but we do a lot of practicing of good behavior.  If a child does not respond and come when called, we practice this over and over.  (Sometimes up to 10 times in a row if the infraction was especially egregious.)  Our goal is to both create good habits and make the consequence as dull and unappealing as possible.  For example, when I call a child, I expect them to respond, "Yes, Mommy" or "I'm coming, Mommy" and then come.  If they don't, I will send them back to their starting place and we will do it again (and again and again).  It's dull and tedious (for everyone), but it is effective.  I try to be matter-of-fact about it.  It's just what happens when a child disobeys; no need for shouting or yelling.

Or, if I ask a child to do something for me, I expect the child to pleasantly agree and do the job.  They don't have to be eager, but nor may they whine and complain.  One job is added for every complaint.  (Yes, it's a pain for me.  I then have to be sure each additional job is completed as well as the original one.  I could have much easier just done the first job myself and been done with it.  But, this has now become about training my children and not the task.)  Very quickly, if the parent is consistent, the child learns that complaining is not worth their time.

For sibling relationships, we use other consequences.  Much depends on the pair of children involved and what the circumstances were.  Both parties often have had a hand in causing the problem... and while it does happen, it is rare that there was a completely innocent child.  First, I like to ask what each child could have done differently to change the outcome... and sometimes we will actually practice this if it seems as though it would be useful. 

If an older child seems to be baiting or is particularly impatient with a younger one, often a discussion is all it takes (and some quiet pointing out when it happens, because it often has become a habit).  Discussions are often along the lines of what kind of relationship they want to cultivate with their brothers and sisters and do they want to be friends with those people when they are all adults.  Sadly, we have friends who have poor relationships with their siblings with the seeds having been sown in childhood.  Being treated unkindly (and even cruelly) in childhood by a brother or sister does not promote healthy adult relationships.

If a younger child is pestering (or hitting or whatever) an older brother or sister, that child must do something to serve the older one... do one of the older's household jobs, make them a present or a card, etc.  Most often I find that this type of behavior is really more attention from the other person than malicious.  I will often talk with the younger child about ways to get the desired attention that isn't annoying.

And sometimes there are just two children who are not getting along.  One effective measure I have done is to force companionship by requiring them to stay in the same room, having some part of their body touching each other, and assign them a task (either positive, such as baking cookies, or negative, scrubbing a floor).  They usually end up laughing and having fun together because the situation is pretty ridiculous.  Other times, it is just caused by frayed nerves and all I need to do is put one on either side of me and read some stories.

Discipline is always a moving target with so many variables that's is difficult to have an absolute list of rules.  Parenting is an art.  It takes strong observational skills, quick thinking, creativity, and emotional intuitiveness, and a willingness to pray without ceasing.  Nothing having to do with raising children is stagnant, and what worked yesterday may not work today. 

Which leads me to my last point... that there are some things that I do (and don't do) that help (or hinder) my parenting and discipline efforts.  First, is that I need to respect my children.  Just because I'm the parent and in charge does not give me permission to become a petty tyrant.  If I know my child is involved in something, it is unfair of me to ask them to drop it without warning and come to me.  It is much more sensitive to give the child a warning that I will be asking them to stop what they're doing before I call them.  Try not to set up the child for failure.

Next, I need to ask myself if I am modelling what I expect from them.  (And this can be painful, I warn you.)  If my child needs me, do I come to them immediately?  If my child is saying something to me, do I attend to what they are saying?  Is the overall atmosphere in the home one of respect for each other or just from child to parent?  Ouch.

Last, I need to remember that happy, joyful children are far more likely to want to obey than unhappy, miserable ones.  Creating a joyful atmosphere in my home and having fun with my children (smiling, joking, singing songs, dancing) goes a long way toward raising children who are happy and content... and consequently obedient.  Everything is tied up together and is very difficult to try to fix one part without dealing with the whole package.  I also think this is why stressful events have such a negative impact on families.  Even happy stressful events... such as adding a new child... are still stressful and there is not a lot of emotional energy to focus on all the things I've mentioned.  When even one of those things becomes unbalanced, it affects the entire structure.

My short prescription for obedient children?  Smile, be joyful, be consistent, and be respectful.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for posting this. I totally agree!
Anonymous said…
I often struggle in this area...thank you for having the courage to write about such a controversial topic and for your insights and ideas.
Amy said…
Very good advice and discipline ideas. Thanks for sharing!
Lucy said…
Excellent post, thanks for sharing - you definitely gave some good ideas and things to think about. Having one child perform an act of service for the other after being unpleasant is a great idea. I am always looking for opportunities to teach my children to have servant's hearts.

May I ask a specific question, how do you handle lying?
Annette said…
I will admit that this is an area I've fallen short on. We had two miscarriages in one year, followed by a year with an extremely difficult twin pregnancy that ended with me in heart failure. The twins are now 3 months old and I am really seeing the results of the older children getting away with poor behavior the last two years. You've given me some good encouragement and ideas for reigning them back in. Thank you!
thecurryseven said…
Oh Annette,

It sounds as though you've been through an incredibly difficult two years. I am so glad you are here to be able to enjoy your children!

Erica said…
Thanks for sharing this. I have to admit that this is an area I don't do well with, and I know that it would benefit my kids more if I was more consistent with them.
thecurryseven said…
Lucy--I have to admit that I struggle with the most appropriate ways to deal with lying. And it's not because we've never dealt with it, that's for sure. Our main weapon is an extreme restriction of priveledges and positive acknowledgement when someone does come and confess something. I've also been becoming more aware of when I am putting a child on the spot and making it easier for them to lie because I am creating a bad situation. And, there was a period of time when one of the cut-apart word sentences the boys were practicing putting together was the Proverbs verse about lying lips being an abomination to God. I'd love to hear what other parents do... I find this one tricky.

ashley said…
thanks for posting about this, so helpful! i have been doing more of the practicing with our 3 year old lately and it is helping us a lot. look forward to putting these kindness ideas into action -- thanks again!

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