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How To Teach Children About Consequences

One crucial ingredient makes a big difference in how we teach our children about consequences. The critical ingredient is trust.

When our children trust us, consequences help them learn how the world works. Without trust, our children may comply to avoid negative consequences, but compliance and obedience are two different ways of navigating relationships.

Compliance comes from a motive of fear--and a perceived need to please.

Obedience comes from a motive of love--and is an experience of trust.

Trust is a big deal because we're not wired to find satisfaction living in compliance. Instead, we're designed to find rest and peace obeying all the ways love leads us.

And, obedience is a building block of maturity because we experience a boost of oxytocin (the love hormone) when we trust the truth that love offers. Love is the fuel of maturity.

Compliance is simply a way of measuring up because there's no oxytocin involved in choosing to avoid a consequence. We may do the right thing, but from a motive of fear, we only experience a boost of dopamine. Dopamine is the stuff of addiction--not maturity.

The way we use consequences with our children can build trust--or damage it.

Consequences that build trust-

Trust means to have confidence in and experience freedom from suspicion or doubt.

When consequences teach children important principles about living life well, they build trust.

Consider this example: "You can go play outside after you've made up your bed." It's trustworthy to help children build mature habits when they're young--especially about morning routines.

"Eat your vegetables and then, if you're still hungry, you can have dessert" is another helpful example. Teaching our children to eat to live instead of live to eat is freedom. Freedom is trustworthy!

But, I wish consequences came with a warning because we can use them to manipulate our children's behavior instead of teaching them how to live life well.

Consequences that damage trust-

Manipulation damages trust. It feels like a threat--and it often is.

"If you do that again, you're in trouble!"

When our children comply because they're afraid of what will happen if they don't, they're living a fear narrative--not a love story.

Consider this practical example: "If you interrupt me while I'm talking on the phone, you're going to lose all your screen time today."

The message that's communicated is "I'm in charge so you better be good--or you'll be sorry." Instead of teaching an important principle about respecting others, threatening is a fear-based attempt to control.

Trying to control behavior is like trying to herd cats.

We can't control other people without damaging trust--in their relationship with us, and with themselves.

Trust is damaged when our children need something to be about them, and we make it about us.

Our goal is not to try to control our children's behavior, but to teach them the beliefs that help them grow up and build relationships they can trust instead of manipulate.

Instead of threatening with artificial consequences, our heart's desire is for our children to believe the truths we teach them.

Truth changes behavior more effectively than consequences-

If your child interrupts you while you're on the phone, it's because they believe it's ok to interrupt. Really! They may KNOW that interrupting is wrong, but they BELIEVE it's ok to do this wrong thing.

Behavior is the echo of belief.

Your job is to help your child recognize that they're believing something that's not true--and inspire them to change their mind. This is the power of love.

The conversation may sound something like this: "You believe it's ok to interrupt me when I'm on the phone, but that's not true. The truth is--interrupting is rude. And you're not a rude person. Will you change your mind and agree with the truth that it's not ok to act rudely?"

You'll know your child trusts you when they obey...and stop interrupting.

After you've finished a phone conversation without interruption, you might say something like: "I'm proud of you. You changed your mind about believing it's ok to interrupt me. Changing your mind and trusting truth is a big sign that shows you're growing up and becoming trustworthy. Let's celebrate! I'll make some cookies. Do you want to help?"

Spontaneous celebrations are consequences, too.

Celebrating real signs of maturity builds trust. Maybe it's cookies or a cupcake or an extra story at bedtime or a $5 bill tucked inside a note to your teenager that says, "I so appreciate all the ways you're really growing up. Enjoy a treat after school today as a reminder that I'm very proud of you."

Whatever brings a genuine smile to the soul of your child to mark a moment of maturity is a natural consequence with lasting impact.

Instead of manipulating our children's behavior by offering a treat if they're "good," teaching them to change their mind and trust truth creates an explosion of oxytocin. Oxytocin is good stuff.

Spontaneous celebrations are natural consequences that teach truth and remind our children they're growing up--and that's a good thing!

Maturity is the best resolution for misbehavior.

Truth is the best teacher. And without trust, we won't experience the love and freedom truth offers us. Neither will our children.

Our maturity and theirs are woven together like threads in a sail. A trusty sail powers grand adventures and helps navigate storms and struggles with strength and confidence.

The authors of The Cure & Parents have this to say about the parenting adventure:

"When your children are young, being the parent carries enough control to handle them. But if you don't grow up as they grow older, your immaturity will stunt their maturity at the level of your own. And no measure of control can handle that."

They say this, too:

"Because God's primary goal is earning my trust so He can Love me and increasingly mature me, correct my behavior, and free my life, I will attempt to offer the same for my child."

Building trust takes time. It's messy and almost always requires that we sort lies from truth. This is sacred stuff, friends.

Together, there is great hope.

If you want to dig deeper into these ideas about how to teach children about consequences, check out these two podcast episodes:

Doug and I recorded these episodes when the LOVE IS FEARLESS podcast was called the BRAVE LOVE podcast.

Thank you for listening--and sharing this hope with your friends and community.


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