Saturday, June 20, 2015

The “No Consequences” Confusion

There is a book I highly regard called, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, written by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post.  Here’s my interpretation of the basic principle:  “Our children’s alarming behavior is rooted in fear, and they feel further threatened when parents give them consequences.  In fact, the result of consequences [for our children] is generally worse behavior.”

Unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot of great parents read the above book and other similar resources and explain to their friends and family:  “We don’t give consequences because they don’t work.”

And, that’s it.

Frequently, the “no consequences” explanation is met with bewilderment, frustration, and completely freaks family members and friends out.  They have seen the child’s dangerous behavior (and heard of his violence, perpetual lying, and stealing). So, they [understandably] jump to the conclusion… This child is going to end up in prison!

Here’s a confession:  I’m not a “no consequences” kind of parent.  I’m more of an “I-don’t-give-consequences-but-I-will-keep-you-and-your-siblings-safe” kind of parent.  

[Disclaimer: When our boys came home, we desperately needed to simplify our parenting ideas so we could be on the same page. Prior to simplifying this thing, we lived in a constant state of stress, and there was tension around each individual intervention. So, the following is a description of what the "no consequences” principle looks like in our [very simple] family.]

Our children experience consequences; however, we do not “give” them consequences.  We set limits to keep them safe.  

The limits we set are according to our individual child’s emotional ability (not chronological age) and that limit is adjusted according to circumstances and external stressors.   

For example:

When my son hit his brother with a wiffle ball bat, I did NOT say, “You lost the privilege of playing wiffle ball.”  I calmly pulled him aside and said, “I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling safe enough to play with your brothers  right now.  My job is to keep you and your brothers safe.  You can come sit with Mom and Dad and watch your brothers play for now.”  

He still was NOT playing wiffle ball.  

And, in the moment, he was too stressed for a deep discussion.  Being close to Mom and Dad was regulating for him.  

Later that day, I asked him about how he was feeling before the wiffle ball incident. I wanted to see if he felt safe enough (and had processed enough) to put words to his feelings.  He hadn’t gotten to that place, but because I had some idea of what might be going on I offered, “I think you may have felt sad when you were having a difficult time hitting the ball, and it was hard to watch your brothers hit more balls than you. Am I right, or was it something else?”  He said I was right and I could read from his expression he was telling the truth and he was relieved I understood.  I said,  “I completely understand. We’ll keep practicing when you are able to be safe with your body.”

If problems persist with a particular activity, we will remove the activity (setting a safe limit) until he is ready.  He tells me with his behavior how safe he is and, when I’m reading his behavior well, I am able to set the safest limits for him to have opportunity for success.  Eventually, he develops a higher tolerance, and we can adjust the limits according to his new ability.  

When I sense he is ready to do something he has not been safe to do in a long time, I preface with this, “Your brothers are about to go play wiffle ball.  Are you safe to play with them?”  [Believe it or not, he has responded, “No,” in the past.  Then, he asks if he can watch.  Most of the time he decides he is safe, and he has never told me he would be safe when he wasn’t safe.]

So, my children do “experience consequences”, and yet what they are feeling is Mom and Dad are keeping me safe.

It is a feeling that is free from shame.  And, it is non-threatening.  

When our sons feel safe and less ashamed, they are able to connect with us.  They can trust us.  They can “feel” loved, and they are proud of their success.

And, they are able to connect with others’ feelings and give love.  

So…. here's to never saying, “You lost the privilege of…” and to doing our best to help our children feel safe.  

And, in our family, safe children aren't violent and they don't lie and steal.  


{A secondary reason I wrote this post is because, for a long time, our children were too scared to respond positively to the majority of specific interventions mentioned in The Connected Child. We realize our children came home with more fear than most (so we've been told) and yet it is important for us to share that when we focus on helping our children feel safe, they are still able to make incredible progress.}

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