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Choices and Consequences

Your response to negative behavior can bring positive results

If your kids are in elementary school, by now you've given literally hundreds of negative consequences. That's a lot of groundings, time-outs, and early bedtimes. Not to mention headaches. And what's worse is that you've got hundreds more still to give. So, if you're stuck dealing out negative consequences, you might as well get the most out of them.

The purpose of a negative consequence is to teach your children that a different option would've been better. You don't want them to conclude mistakenly that they will benefit from negative behavior. As Galatians 6:7 reminds us, "A man reaps what he sows." You want your children to learn that obeying God and treating others respectfully works out the best. Anything else is a bust.

When Johnny doesn't listen to you (or whatever other negative behavior you'd like to insert), keep in mind that this was not an accident. It was a choice. Johnny made this choice, hoping that it would bring a positive result.

But alas for Johnny—you want him to learn that his negative choice will never bring a positive result. Instead, Johnny must learn that bad choices provoke consequences from you that will be: 1. negative, 2. quick, and 3. consistent. Let's look at each of these in order.

1. Negative. If Johnny's poor behavior works out well, then he will conclude that it was a good idea and be certain to try it again. By providing an immediate redirection or an effective negative consequence in a calm way (such as a time-out or loss of privilege), you help Johnny realize that his behavior did not bring the desired result and instead lost him a valuable privilege. The end result (from Johnny's point of view): bad.

2. Quick. This is an area we all can improve on. If Johnny's behavior takes a long time to work out badly, then initially it is working out well. For example, if you ask Johnny to turn off the TV and he ignores you for the next 60 seconds, then his negative behavior earned him an additional minute of television. When you ask Johnny to do something, you should expect a response within about five seconds. If he ignores you, repeat your request and wait another five seconds. If Johnny still doesn't respond, you must intervene. But notice: only 10 seconds have transpired. This is a fast response. It doesn't allow Johnny's negative behavior to bring him a positive result.

3. Consistent. If Johnny notices that sometimes he gets away with a negative behavior, you can bet he's going to keep on doing it. Those are better odds than he'd get in Vegas! But, if he learns that his bad choices work out negatively, quickly, and consistently, then his decision becomes a no-brainer. Who chooses to do something that ends badly for them time after time? Nobody. Read carefully: If Johnny continues his poor behavior, it is because he still doesn't really think it will work out negatively, quickly, and consistently. For some children, it takes many repetitions before they learn that there will be no pay-off from a certain misbehavior. This is why your response in each instance is vitally important. It will help Johnny learn the right lesson as quickly as possible.

You don't control Johnny's decisions. He can choose the right road or the wrong road in any situation. Your job is to help him learn the correct lesson at the end of each road. The road of treating others respectfully will bring many rewards, just as God intended. The road of disobeying his parents and treating others disrespectfully will work out badly, quickly, and consistently. Your response to misbehavior will help your children learn that God's road is the best road.

Todd Cartmell is a child psychologist and popular workshop speaker. He is the author of Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry (Zondervan) and Project Dad (Revell). Visit his website at www.drtodd.net.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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