I believe in a natural consequences approach to parenting — within reason, of course. Don’t want the little stinkers actually touching a hot stove to learn that it burns!
Dirk and I took a Love and Logic course a few years ago, and it was really helpful. It taught us to celebrate (internally) when our kids make small mistakes, because they are learning opportunities without the stakes being too high. For instance, it’s better to let the child use his money to buy a cheap toy airplane, see that it breaks, and learn early that you get what you pay for. Savvy?
Love and Logic is all about natural consequences. It’s also about not lecturing, or saying, “See? See? I told you so!”
The Love and Logic parent says things like, “Oh, that’s a bummer!” when the toy airplane breaks, resisting any possible opportunities for sarcasm. It’s about sympathy … followed by natural consequences.
My sister told me about a family she knows who is big on this approach. Their teenage daughter had suddenly decided it was not cool to work for good grades in school, and when she brought home a bad report card, her parents tried to think of a natural consequence.
That night, the family sat down to dinner. Food began to be passed around, and when their daughter was about to serve herself, her mother stopped her. “Wait, I have something else for you,” she said. She went to the kitchen and brought back a package of store-bought bread.
“What’s this?” her daughter asked.
“Well,” said the mother, hopefully in a sympathetic voice and not a neener-neener voice, “I was pretty bothered by your report card. It’s hard to see you not trying. So, I thought, if you aren’t going to do your best, I just don’t feel like doing MY best for your dinner. I’m sorry. This will keep you alive.”
After a few days of bread and water for dinner, the young lady began bringing home assignments that reflected a better effort. The parents were excited for her.
What do you think? Effective? Too much?
Here’s one that happened at our house: Last year, Jacob was having trouble getting ready for the bus on time. Dirk and I sat him down and told him that it was getting expensive driving him to school, as well as taking lots of my time, so if he couldn’t get ready for the bus, he’d have to pay me back for driving him — in chores and money.
“What?!” he asked.
We were sympathetic.
“I know, it’s kind of a bummer. Well, hopefully you’ll make the bus.”
The very next day, I had a phone call while the kids were getting ready for school. When I hung up, it was time to go, and Megan was at the door waiting for me.
“Jacob!” I called upstairs. No answer.
“I was just up there, and he’s still in his pajamas, playing with blocks,” Megan said.
“OK. Bye, Jacob!” I called in a cheerful, unworried voice. “I’m going to run Megan to the bus stop. I’ll be back.”
I carefully shut the door behind me to keep our hyper, 60-pound puppy in the house, and then we drove the half-mile down our dirt road to the bus stop. Megan and I sat and chatted in the car for a few minutes, until we saw the bus coming. When Megan opened the van door, I heard a tiny voice in the far distance:
“Wait for meee!”
There, in the rear-view mirror, I could see Jacob running down the road.
I got out so I could be there when he reached me. He was dressed; his coat was half on, and that and his backpack were bouncing around behind him like a cape. He was running like mad, and flanked on either side of him were our two enormous dogs. Their ears were flying, their tongues were flying; they were galloping like crazy and in heaven!
I just stood and waited. When they reached me, I snagged the two dogs’ collars and as Jacob flew past to the bus, I said in a cheerful, unworried voice, “Have a good day! I’ll see you after school!”
When I drove home, I found the front door wide open. Pretty impressive, though, getting dressed, putting on shoes, and running a half mile, all in five minutes. Amazing what a little natural consequence will do.
He didn’t miss the bus for a long time after that.