The Importance In Following Through When Punishing Your Kids

It's easy to dole out a punishment to your kids, but it is even more important to actually follow through

I remember the time my mother told me a particular consequence she doled out to me was harder on her than it was on me. I remember not being able to imagine how that could even be possible. But like all things I’ve learned as a parent, being a parent is hard. It’s hard in the way that I feel the need to call my mother on a regular basis to say “I get it now. I get it.”

As a kid I thought my mom must have loved punishing me. Her discipline of choice was the threat of a consequence I’d find undesirable. If I didn’t listen I wouldn’t get the ice cream we planned on having that weekend, or I wouldn’t get books at bedtime. Every once in a while the consequence could be severe enough to keep me in line for months. “If you talk back like that again we won’t go to Wonderland this summer,” she once threatened in March. Very rarely did I call my mom’s bluff. I knew she meant it.  My brother and I learned that the hard way on the rare occasions we didn’t take the threat seriously.

And those occasions, even though they were rare, must have been so hard on her.

As a mom to a 4 and a 6 year old I now understand how much it seriously sucks to have to follow through on consequences. It’s why I never threaten a consequence that I won’t follow through on and why it becomes necessary to follow through, even if it’s no fun for anyone.

This past weekend my 6 year old called my bluff, and it sucked. It sucked for her, it sucked for me. It sucked for all of us. Punishments suck!

Parenting is a tightrope walk of discipline and guidance, positive reinforcement and encouragement. It is knowing when to pick what tool to use, and when it’s time to change course and choose a different tactic. Very rarely are negative consequences the desired go to. Not because I generally prefer positive reinforcement, but because, quite frankly, punishments always suck.

The thing about negative consequences is that the only way for them to be really effective is for them to be something that’s worth caring about. So when you have to follow through, the end goal is that your child is, well, miserable. And seeing your child miserable sucks!

The consequence this past weekend was staying home from the Santa Claus parade, to which our entire family was looking forward. It was a harsh consequence, and one that I wish I didn’t have to use—and when I had to follow through, we were all let down. No one was happy.

That’s the other thing about negative consequences. Once the threat is out there, it’s out there. There is no turning back. That’s why screaming “you’ll never watch T.V. again!” is wasted breath. You’ll never follow through on that. You know it. They know it. The reality is that you will never follow through on such a sweeping punishment. And what does that teach anyone other than that your words carry no weight and aren’t worth heeding?

The Santa Claus parade comes but once a year. I could have picked something else, but I didn’t. Standing by my word was a lesson in determination, it was a lesson in parenting, and it was a lesson in realizing how sad it is to dole out consequences, even when they’re absolutely necessary.

My mom was right. Punishments are no fun, for anyone. 

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