This is a question that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days. It occurred to me with our almost 15-year old. The consequences for bad choices are greater at this age, and it is also that much harder to allow them to fail, follow-thru with a consequence or watch them deal with the natural consequence. Now, don’t let your imagination run wild–she’s a great girl and her bad choices are fairly innocuous, but, I still find myself wanting to shield her and protect her from failing at all. But then–how do we learn to better if we never learn what it feels like to own our own mistakes and the pain that accompanies them? I’d like to think that she would learn the same lesson from my stellar advice and my experienced insight (eye roll), but, HELLO? Remember being 15? You already know everything, duh! And so, we watch, and cringe, and hug and hold when she comes back with the pain of the resulting consequence. Or we brace ourselves for the backlash and attitude of her resentment for our follow-thru on an imposed consequence. And we see that she will not likely be living with us when she’s 30, because she is struggling through, and growing and gaining in her quest to be responsible and learn from mistakes. Pain is a worthy teacher.
When she was a toddler, we would use the same language with her, “Is that a good choice?” Somewhere along the way we learned that it’s important early on to help our children realize that there are many circumstances that we are faced with where there is a good choice and a bad choice to be made. And as a toddler, we allowed her to make some bad choices, and we were right there to walk her through how her bad choice resulted in a consequence. I think that’s the key–helping them to associate the bad choice with the consequence. We haven’t changed our tactic very much as she is older. Although every fiber of my being wants to say, “STOP! DON’T! NO! YOU CAN’T!” We ask questions to help her walk through the process of how you apply character, judgement, experience, and advice. Process–it’s a loaded word! But there’s no way around it. The ups, the downs, two steps forward one step back.
Are your children allowed to make bad choices? And do you help them understand the weight of that choice by following through with a consequence? Even when you think it’s not working? Even when you’re tired of the same struggle? It’s no picnic. This is a long haul, with long, thankless stretches of road between those few golden breakthrough moments when you see, AHA! It is working!
And now, I cannot end without mentioning that good choices, beget good consequences! Hooray! “That was nice sharing! What a good choice you made!” Those little brains and psyches learn from the positive reinforcement, too! And, as busy parents, we can get a little lax on remembering to look for opportunities to reinforce the good behavior. We all like positive feedback!
In February, we celebrate LOVE! So, remember, tough love is love. Be consistent, be loving, be encouraged–you’re doing a great job!