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How to Implement Natural Consequences

How to Implement Natural Consequences

Shaking. He just kept on shaking it.

My son – he’s 6. We were on the way home from church, so I had all three munchkins in the van. We had already made a quick grocery pit stop. Everyone was hungry, and the ants were in the pants.

And he kept shaking his water bottle. He invents these little games for himself to pass the time. In this one, the water bottle could have been a missile or a medicine or machine gun. I have no idea – the boy stuff sometimes escapes me.

All I know is, he was shaking this water bottle, and the whole time I’m thinking, “It’s gonna spill. It’s gonna rocket out of there, leaving a big mess in the third row.”

I said, “Samuel, please stop shaking your water bottle so it doesn’t spill.”

Now, in my house, if you disobey a direct command, you usually get a direct consequence. Meaning: hey, I told you to do something, and you need to listen.

I find that if I give chance after chance, then I end up with a fuming mama and a frustrated kid, so I try to discipline right away.

He kept shaking it. And I did something I don’t usually do.

I waited. Just a moment. I’m usually quick. “You didn’t obey, so you will get <insert your own consequence here>.”

But Samuel isn’t 3 anymore. The direct consequences work best from about 18 months to about 5ish depending on the kid. In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (affiliate link), you see that Sam is now at the stage where we’re moving more into coaching/mentoring.

He gets the disobedience. He knows where his heart stands before us and the Lord. He can apologize and forgive on a dime (which I sometimes question but am also grateful for). So we’re transitioning to a lot more dialogue.

Not my favorite. I’d rather everyone just follow the rules. 😉

He still has one foot in each camp, though. He pushes the disobedience, and we reign back in with direct consequences. We’ve implemented a reward system that’s working great as positive reinforcement. (Whew!)

So I waited because I was thinking. What should I do? Does he get a time out? Do I take away a toy? Video game time? I was in a patient phase, so I was just calmly trying to figure it out.

And that’s when it happened. “Umm… I just spilled a lot of water back here.”

Now trust me, there’s a part of me that sometimes immediately progresses to the I Told You So part of this lesson. “Now you can see why I told you not to shake it!”… But I didn’t say that.

The Lord was granting me some insight here – I didn’t have the insight, mind you. But I could tell something was changing in our relationship, thus the waiting.

I chose to say, “Then you know the first thing you need to do when you get home, right?”

“What?” Oh, the smart ones always know how to play dumb.

“Clean up the water.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

That was it. Nobody was upset. He cleaned up the mess right away when we got home.

Y’all. I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t even say I Told You So.

I remembered reading about natural consequences in a fantastic book called Boundaries with Kids (affiliate link – so worth the $2.99!). And of course I’ve used them. I always require my kids to clean up spills of water or legos or baby doll clothes. But I usually add to those clean ups the talk. The I Told You So and You Should Have Obeyed.

Sometimes that’s necessary, but sometimes it’s not! Oooo it’s hard for me to even say that. Yes, kids will and must learn to make their own mistakes and clean up their own messes with a loving coach by their side telling them Yes, it happened, but I know you can make it right. (not I Told You So.)

How to Implement Natural Consequences

Recognize when your child is ready

Look for signs that your child is ready to handle the natural order of things. Maybe they start taking responsibility for their own things and show pride for doing so, even if only occasionally.

Another sign is when direct consequences aren’t quite as effective anymore. Rewards may not be as motivating. The age is commonly around 5 or 6 when children have to start taking more responsibility with the start of school.

Teach the principle of sowing and reaping

Principle of Sowing and Reaping

For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7b-8, NET)

Don’t use natural consequences alone

From Boundaries with Kids, “Life works on reality consequences.”

Reality consequences are woven into the fabric of the world that God created. However, God doesn’t strictly use natural consequence to teach us. He coaches us through His word and community, He models grace and mercy, and He gives us direct consequences as well.

Allowing natural consequences to be a part of your child’s life will help them grow into an independent learner, but it shouldn’t be the only way you plan to teach them.

OK, Steph, but really, HOW?

I think the easiest place to start using natural consequences is when you have an expectation to leave the house for something at a certain time. Ideally, it’s somewhere they enjoy, and they go often enough to practice. For my example below, I’m going to use Kindergarten.

Learn to Pause

I’m obviously working on this one. It’s tricky when you have kids in multiple stages because direct consequences are most effective when delivered quickly, but natural consequences take time to work out. So, I have to switch one off to do the other.

For example, I told my child that we leave the house for school at 7:35am. He wants to play with his toys, but he has responsibilities in the morning: getting out of bed to turn his alarm off, getting ready for school, eating breakfast, packing up his bags, brushing his teeth, etc.

What if he’s not getting ready? Do I nag him? Nope. Do I jump right in and put his shoes on for him? Nope. I wait.

We have a cheap digital clock in his room that he knows how to watch. If he gets ready efficiently, he could use about 10 minutes to play. Most mornings he takes his time getting ready and doesn’t have time to play, but he’s not upset about it because he knows he made that choice.

natural consequences

Teach the connection between his choice and the consequence as a matter of fact

Every once in awhile, he laments, “I never get time to play before school!” In this way, he’s casting out frustration.

The first time this happens, I gently and lovingly remind him of the process that is set up. “We leave at 7:35am. Once your responsibilities are done, you can use whatever time left to play.”

Don’t be offended by his frustration

My tendency is to take this personally and want to say, “If you get ready faster, you will have time.” Or bring out the I Told You So.

Or, my need to be on time makes me angry, and then I want to yell or hurriedly help him out the door while complaining. Instead, I need to stay calm so that he doesn’t think I’m to blame.

Let him feel the pain – Don’t rescue him!

I’m not to blame (usually) when he’s late. There have been times where we’ve gone out the door with his stomach only half full.

He’s walked into school late a couple of times (which he detests at this age). If the school hands out tardies, he might have to just get one! (gasp!)

Use a different method for the “struggle” areas

Some things that he struggles to do in the morning are part of his reward system.

For example, he’s learning to tie his shoes and doesn’t enjoy it. He gets a check in the system every morning he chooses to tie them. If he doesn’t tie them, I tie them for him, but he doesn’t get the check. So as we’re leaving, we check the shoes. I really don’t worry about whether he does it or not because the reward system sort of handles this area.

Help him plan for next time

Later, when you’re not trying to get out of the door, brainstorm together how you might avoid being late.

“Hey bud, remember how we had some trouble this morning? What do you think we can do differently?”

Release control and let God guide your child

natural consequences

This is maybe the hardest thing to do, but I’m constantly learning how to let God guide my child, and show my child how they can respond to God. Sometimes, instead of a consequence, I ask them if they would talk to God and ask Him for help.

Boy do I need that lesson for myself!

If you take advantage of natural consequences, what would you add to this “how to”?

This Too … is Here Right Now … For a Reason

When dealing with mommy woes, one of the phrases I’ve heard most frequently quoted – offered as a comfort – is “This too shall pass.”

I assumed this was in the Bible. Um… it’s not. At least according to the Internet.

And I’m a little glad. And perturbed. And just kind of shocked.

As a mom of little ones (i.e., the ones who don’t sleep, can’t tell you what they want, throw fits, hit others, etc.), you don’t want to hear, “Just suck it up and pummel through because it’ll be over soon.” Do you?

I suppose sometimes we do have to simply endure as moms, such as those horrible 3-day growth spurts or teething days. UGH. Those are the worst, right?

But I’m not convinced that God just wants me to push through, in misery, begging for tomorrow. My husband and I get to contemplate this often with our little ones, and we keep coming back to the fact that God has us in the little moments, even the painful ones, for a purpose.

Our very purpose on this earth is to worship and glorify Him.

So how do we do that when we’re rocking the baby for an hour straight, or giving the 20th timeout of the day, or rehearsing yet another apology for hitting our friends? Where does His glory come in when you take a car ride just to get a nap out of your little one?

Honestly, I think those moments are just as pivotal as the biggies in our lives. The crossroads decisions. Because these little moments are what make up your life. It’s the non-weekend. It’s the grind. We have more hours of opportunities for faith in those windows than any other.

And when you’re in that bleary-eyed, can’t think straight moment, that’s when you have to release control to God. You have to rely on Him the most, saying “God, I can’t. But you can. You have chosen me for this moment for this child. This baby needs me to rock her again, so I will. This child needs me to answer the same question 10 times, so I will. I’m not going to abdicate this responsibility to someone or something else. I’m going to trust that this is for Your glory. I don’t need to go do that thing I was going to check off of my list today. I need to nurture this child and raise him up to have ample opportunity to choose Jesus.”

…or maybe I’m the only one who has these kinds of conversations with God? Haha!

God, help me to see that You have chosen me for these kids, especially for the tough times. Those are my training hours in the faith. I pray that not only will I grow in faith and submission to You, but that my children will somehow see that and desire to give their lives to You as well.

Nice Mommy Strikes Back!

Sigh. I have learned this lesson before. Being a mean mommy doesn’t get you anywhere with your kids. But sometimes I don’t learn very well.

And let’s face it; it just feels good to raise your voice and yell and huffily point and say “Arg!” and stamp your feet. Hmmm… I think I just described a 3-year old, but I’m talking about me!

It feels good in the moment because it’s of the flesh. All of that nastiness in my heart just flies out of my every pore.

And if you let it come out once, it just creates a tidal wave of mean momminess. Those little tiny cracks that you think aren’t a big deal? All of a sudden they break open completely and mean mommy takes the lead.

Well I sure don’t want her to win! Thank you, God, for giving us the Holy Spirit to remind me when I’m being a mean mommy to ask for forgiveness from my kids, to accept grace, and to take on the fruits of the spirit when raising my children.

And for the power – because  you know what – nice mommy better have a full-fledged arsenal to beat down that nasty lady.

My tool belt is loaded with:

– truth. Having God’s word at hand goes a long way at conquering that mean spirit.

– grace. For myself and for my kids. Giving “mercy” when punishment is deserved. After the “I’m sorry”s, big hugs and love and fun times being had.

– a beat. I need to take a pause before deciding on that punishment. What is really deserved? Am I giving punishment because I’m angry or because it is what’s needed? Is this offense better handled with a conversation?

– a quiet voice. Instead of yelling, “Go to time out RIGHT NOOOOOOOWWWWWW!” let’s try “Go to time out.” in my regular ol’ voice. It accomplishes much more, let me tell ya.

– Mommy time out. When I feel angry and out of control, I go sit in my room for a minute and pray, “God Help me with these children. Give me wisdom. Show me what to do and how.”

Lord, help us who are mommies to view our role as the outpouring of your goodness that it is. When we’re weary, give us the strength to love and to draw from you for our words and actions. I pray our children see you in us. I know we can’t reflect that, so let us instead always reflect the gospel.

What tools do you use to beat down that mean mommy?

How to Show Your Son Respect

One of my most popular posts of all time – the one that brings the most traffic to my blog – was one I wrote the second month that my blog was live. It’s called Don’t Treat Your Husband Like a Child, and it’s all about respecting your husband and avoiding the little ways we undermine the respect our husbands are to receive from us unconditionally.

…and I know I haven’t written a marriage post in a long time (but I haven’t written in a long time period. I am averaging about 20 minutes per day to myself which I’ve been using to read the Word)… so here is another mommy post – sorry!

But I read (and pinnedthis post on the Resurgence about respecting your sons, and it got me thinking about the little ways that I undermine the respect I can show to my not-quite-3 year old.

Now you might be thinking things like

Um… he IS a child, so isn’t it OK to treat him like one?

You’re not called to respect your son per se – you’re called to respect your husband.

And you’re right, but I still think it’s important for our sons to know what Godly respect looks like. For several reasons:

  • Boys/men yearn for respect, and they seek it out in all avenues of their life. I want my son to see what true respect looks like rather than a worldly, perverted form of it (e.g., always winning an argument because you have instilled fear in someone or belittle them, etc.)
  • Most likely, our sons will one day marry. If we teach them now what true respect looks like, they will be better equipped to choose a Godly wife who will respect them – which aids their daily choice to love their wife – which dramatically improves their marriage – which is one of God’s primary tools to show Himself to the world!
  • Also, most likely, our sons will have children. I want them to respect their children, not exasperate them or bully them. I want them to be a man worthy of respect.
  • Our sons, Lord willing, will be men who call other men to Jesus. They need to do that in a way that also respect other men in a Godly way. How will they know how to do this if we don’t show them what it looks like?
  • I want my son to respect and honor my husband, who is the only hero he knows since he’s not a Christ-follower.

I could go on. Respect is an important intangible that our boys need to see modeled.

The primary way your son will learn respect is in how you treat your husband and other male leaders in your life.

Yup. It hurts. Let the hurt lead you to action.

Beyond that, how do you respect your son? A child? One who needs much discipline?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about and experiencing:

Let the consequences come.

My little guy is a busy one. And he’s almost 3. Which means (hopefully) that he’s in the stage of his life where he will need the most discipline – especially for the little things.

Lately, I noticed that when I told Samuel not to do something, I would then force that action. For example, I would say, “Don’t touch that,” while removing his hand from whatever it was.

That is not respect.

It’s been really hard, but unless he or someone else is in some danger, I have been restraining myself, providing the order, and letting him choose whether or not he wants to obey. He might be choosing punishment or some other pain (a broken item maybe), but he gets to make the choice. I have been surprised since doing this how he has increasingly made better choices.

This also comes into play in education, moms. If your son is doing homework, I don’t think it’s wise to go back and correct every mistake. Perhaps help him correct a couple and advise him which problems to re-work based on those corrections. Beyond that, it’s OK to let him get some bad grades. He earned them, not you. And you should be proud and honor that he does his own work. I have been practicing this idea when helping Samuel play educational games on the computer. I will tell him to “Try it.” (And you can’t just say that on the ones he is going to get wrong. They are pretty good at figuring out what you mean.)

Apologize to him as you would have him apologize to you.

If you have wronged your boy in some way, don’t say, “I’m sorry, BUT…” or simply ignore your offense. Look him in the eye, with true emotion, and tell him “I’m sorry that I … It was wrong for mommy to… Do you forgive me? I will now try to … ”

I started going down the slippery slope of ignoring my own sin against him. Bad idea, moms. That’s not respect.

Vocalize your respect.

Boys need to see respect, but they also need to hear it. When you are talking to him – about him – use words like proud, strong, Godly, honorable.

These are just a few ideas I’ve been trying and thinking about. I would love to hear how you would add to this? Could you comment below with more suggestions for me?

A Smile Goes a Long Way in Disciplining

With a 2-year old in the house, there is definitely a lot of discipline going on. Thankfully, timeouts do the trick pretty well with Samuel. Before he gets out of timeout, he has to:

  • tell me why he got a timeout
  • apologize for whatever he did
  • give hugs in forgiveness
  • and sometimes, I ask him to say something to reiterate the message, like “No more hitting.” Or, “Next time, I will obey.” Or, “No more yelling.”

At this point, I don’t do a lot of lengthy explanations for why things are wrong. I try to keep it concise. “Hitting hurts mommy.” “Disobeying hurts daddy’s heart.” “Mommy said not to…” Haha – sometimes that’s all the explanation they get!

It’s quite tempting to discipline in anger. When something spills or breaks that I have told Samuel not to play with, the fact that I – with a 2-year old’s help – have to clean up the mess, gets under my skin. Everything in me wants to yell at him: I told you not to play with that because it would spill/break/whatever!

And of course, there have been times where my sin nature took over, and I lost control to this desire. Do you know what Samuel does? My rough and tumble little man takes one look at me and busts out in tears. Not just Wah I’m in trouble!, it’s this completely helpless cry that he only has at those moments. It says Mommy is scaring me!

When I’m in a good place – relying on the Lord to give me patience that I just can’t muster up – I channel those feelings to something else. I actually get quieter and maybe more calm. I say even less than usual. Like “Timeout for hitting.” And in he goes to timeout. While he’s in timeout, I’m in timeout too. I’m evaluating my emotions and calming down from any anger that I had. Sometimes I have to go to my room, sit down, and pray for strength for a minute before I come back.

And then there are other times where I need to give Samuel warnings or directions – hoping that a timeout doesn’t result in the end. These should be neutral times, right? I might be saying, “Don’t throw that ball.” Or, “I want you to turn around and come in the house.”

But for some reason, my angry mommy voice wants to come out. I realized a while ago that I was talking to him expecting him to fail. I was being stern with him before he could make a bad choice.

So I tried to change it up. Instead of saying, “Don’t you dare throw that ball!” Or “Get back here RIGHT NOW,” I use my nice mommy voice. The one that I use when I say, “Do you want a snack?” I change my words to make the instruction clear but not threatening. I ask with “please,” just like I teach him to do. “Please don’t throw that ball.” “Samuel, I need you to please come in the house with me.”

When I started doing this, he would just pause and look at me, maybe waiting for Mean Mommy to come out. So I smiled. And all of a sudden, he was more compliant. It’s as if he saw, Hey, this isn’t a big deal. It will be a good thing if I listen to mommy.

I was floored by how much smiling to my son changed his behavior – pre-emptively!

Now I know that he will go through phases where a smile doesn’t do anything, and I will have to keep relying on the Lord in those times. But a smile!? That’s it!? If that’s all it takes – I can do that!

I’ve been trying it more with everyone. And you know what? It makes me a lot more calm and peaceful, too.

Discipline is a Team Sport

When we started disciplining our son, it was as if someone just said, “Go! Discipline!” What I mean is, his behavior was disobedient all of a sudden. He was always exploratory and a risk-taker, but there was a sharp turn in him to willfulness.

Anybody else have this happen with your kids? 😉

Since he loves people and being the life of the party, time outs work awesome for Samuel. There do come times where just time outs are not working, but for the most part, being separated from what he wanted to be doing is quite a punishment for him. Even to the point of crying over it.

He wasn’t too old when we started doing time outs in a pack n play; he really hated it and would cry and flail his hands, as if to say “Take me out, please! Anything but this!”

Our hearts sort of broke for him, but at the same time we had to laugh. I remember one time when Grandma was here. Sammy got a time out, and she said, “I’m never going to give him a time out.” You have to understand – her heart is all grandma’d for Samuel. 🙂 We responded with, “OK, but that means he will never respect you.” (She has since given him time outs, by the way. But she’s still gracious like Grandmas should be!)

Now that he’s 2, there are times where he looks you in the eye, and his face tells you, “I’m doing this because you told me not to, and I want to be in charge.”

Surely, your child has never looked at you this way? 🙂

His time outs are no longer in a pack n play, and sometimes we have to take toys and privileges away, and there are wretched times where a rare spanking is in order.

And those are the worst for a mama’s heart! Even if I’m the one providing the punishment – I just want to melt on the floor and cry with him.

The real test always comes for me when Brad disciplines Samuel. Even if he’s just getting a simple time out, it’s like a *flinch* inside me wants to stop him: No! That’s my baby! He’s just hungry/tired/needing attention!

But I have to stop myself from making excuses for my son. I have to let my husband follow through with what he told Samuel.

Otherwise, Samuel will learn that daddy has no say-so, and mommy will always rescue me.

These are not the makings of a man – or a grown up if you have girls.

But we are not perfect parents. We will discipline incorrectly sometimes. Which means sometimes we need to admit our wrong to our children and ask for forgiveness from them.

Now, there are times where Brad and I have disagreed about punishment, but we have talked about our plans as a team quite extensively so that we’re on the same page. We know what punishment we plan to do for what kind of behavior, etc.

The most important thing here is that one of us is not undercutting the other. And to avoid that, we actually need to talk about discipline before we take action!

It’s also a good idea to evaluate your discipline methods:

  • Are you still on the same page?
  • Is something not working?
  • What else, particularly if you’re spanking A LOT, should you be trying instead?

Talking about discipline like this will unite you as a couple, which in turn shows your kiddos that you are a team, even during the hard stuff.

Have you had these conversations with your spouse? If not, will you plan on making time for it this week?


How to Stop Being a Mean Mommy

I noticed something strange about myself recently: When we are in public, I am much more harsh with my son, Samuel.

When it’s just the two of us, I seem to talk more gently, give more explanation, offer another chance, or take into account the fact that he’s tired or hungry or two years old.

But when we’re at someone else’s house or we’re at the grocery store or even if my mom or in-laws are at our house, Samuel gets a mommy who is much more likely to be angry and frustrated. A mommy who is going to discipline with swiftness or roll her eyes or make huffy noises.

Why is this?

It has nothing to do with Samuel.

It’s because of me. My insecurities as a mom.

I have bought the lie that my worth as a mom is directly related to how well my children behave.

Repeat with me: It’s a lie.

I have worth as a person because God bestows value on me! {Hallelujah!}

And yet I become psycho mom when my 2-year old decides he should see what happens when he hits a friend or screams or throws his toys on the floor – again.

Aren’t you thankful our Father in heaven doesn’t treat us like this? When we’re in public, trying to throw our toys around, smack-down on our friends, or let our boisterousness take over like a gong, He doesn’t look at us in frustration. He doesn’t need our behavior to be perfect for Him to be holy – he is holiness 100%. However, it’s interesting that how we act does have an affect on the world – we who claim Jesus as our Savior – the more Christ-like we are, the more we have an audience to share the gospel of Jesus with the world:

…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16a, NIV)

So when I am losing my cool with Samuel, I can turn to my Father. I can:

  • Ask God for strength and patience – relying on Him to provide when I am weak.
  • Pray for my son more often. That he would come to know Jesus at a young age.
  • Give myself a timeout: Pause for a minute before disciplining, and ask myself if my harshness is really merited and sinless.
  • Model God’s grace to Samuel more. I can discipline in love, but I can also offer forgiveness that isn’t deserved.

And in all of this, I need to pray for myself:

  • That I would stop trying to gain the approval of others.
  • That I would let God’s grace act in my life more, instead of trying to “do it all”.
  • That I could be more like God, and that that would point others, including my children, to Him

Do you struggle with this temptation? How has the Spirit equipped you to fight it?

Daily Deals in Your City