Thursday, April 19, 2012

Do What You Can Do, When You Can Do It!

People often question me when I suggest that they delay consequences.  For example:
·       Didn’t wash the car when asked on Saturday?  Parent says no to the movies on Friday (because you didn’t wash the car when I asked you to)
·       Didn’t stay with you in the store?  Parent sends the child to bed immediately after supper (because you didn’t stay with me in the store).
·       Didn’t get ready for school on time? Parent tells the child on Saturday morning that he can’t play outside for the whole day (because you weren’t ready for school on Wednesday by 8AM)

Parents’ major concerns seem to be:
1.     The child will forget what the event was all about.
2.     The child will think he got away with the misbehavior if punishment isn’t immediate.

To the first, let me illustrate how long children can remember.  Last week, our 3 year old grandson discovered the ice machine on our freezer.  He busily went about getting water and ice for everyone – needed to “help all the very thirsty people”.  He was so cute!  But then his Dad said “enough”!  And 2 minutes later he asked me for the “purple sippy cup” – which he has used maybe 3 times in his life and not since Christmas.  Of course, when he got it, he could put water and ice in one more time!  The point is, he easily remembered something that happened 3 months earlier.

To the second point; the purpose of consequences is not so much to punish past behavior as it is to deter future misbehavior.  Most parents are in the mode of punishing behavior as soon as it happens.  You feel like you “did something”, but while you may win the encounter, you hardly win the war!  If you wait for the right moment and make the consequence relatively agonizing to your child, he will start choosing better behavior in the future.

Finally, if you begin disciplining this way, your child will soon understand your approach.  The first few times he may feel he got away with something, but he should get the picture once he understands that great big consequences are going to fall sooner or later.

As a rule of thumb, children can remember their misbehavior events for 1 day at age three, for 2 days at ages four and five and for seven or more days after age 6. 

Summary: to convince your child that you are in charge, don’t make a big deal out of misbehavior when it occurs, don’t yell, stay calm and wait for the moment when you can calmly, but authoritatively levy a great, big consequence that really matters to your child.  Do what you can do, WHEN you can do it.