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The Key To Your Child’s Heart

The Key To Your Child’s Heart

Gary Smalley was one of my favorite teachers and writers. Actually, just one of my favorite people. I got to be around him and interact with him a few times and always felt he believed in me more than I believed in myself. I think he was this way with most people he connected with. I was sad when I learned that he had gone home to be with Christ, but thankful that he was finally released from the many physical things that had been holding him back and making his life very difficult for several years. His gain was heaven. How could I be sad for that? But His gain was our loss.

He wrote a book many years ago entitled The Key to Your Child’s Heart. It was a short book, but it carried a very powerful message. On a thumbnail, his message was that the key to your child’s heart is them hearing that you love them in language they understand. Simple, right? Simple, but not easy. If you’ve been trying to tell your kid that you love them, but not connecting, the simple-but-not-easy advice I’ll offer here (by the way, none of this is original with me) could breathe new life into your relationship with them, and give them the one thing they most need. I’ll tell you the one thing they most need later.

Here’s what usually happens: a parent tells their kid(s) that they love them in terms that they (the parent) understand.  and then when the kid doesn’t respond, the parent gest frustrated because they’re not responding. 

You see the problem with this immediately.  It doesn’t work!  Your kid isn’t you.  You get what you’re saying.  Completely and instantaneously.  You’re speaking your language.  So you expect your kid to get it.  But what if your kid doesn’t speak your language?  You get your meaning effortlessly, but what if your kid just doesn’t connect with it, even if they try to (which they probably won’t do)?

When this happens, most people eventually react out of their frustration.  They’ll say it again, usually just like they said it the first time.  Maybe the kid was distracted and just didn’t hear you.  So you give it another shot.  When the kid still doesn’t get it, you repeat it again, this time with a little more intensity.  Still no connection.  So you move into full “you’ll hear me and you’ll understand” mode.  What started out as an attempt to say “I love you,” can become a really ugly memory for both you and your kid(s) of you saying, “I love you, you idiot!  Why aren’t you getting this?!”

I don’t have any pixie dust to toss on this, so I can’t just make the problem go away.  But I have a suggestion that has helped millions of parents begin getting this life-changing message of love across to their kids.  It’s a message that gives a kid the one thing he or she most needs.

A very wise man named Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, back in 1992. Our three daughters were all in high school and college by the time I came across it. My wife, Debbie, and I both wish we had known what Dr. Chapman wrote in his book when our girls were little. It would have made us way more effective parents, and it would have been so much better for the girls. I’m so thankful that by God’s grace they all three got that we loved them, but not without struggles.

Dr. Chapman’s thesis is that there are five ways people give and receive love. These are called Five Love Languages. It’s hard to imagine, but these five languages really do cover the subject. They cover it for you, your spouse, your kids. Even your boss.

All of us have a primary love language. Most of us have a secondary one, too. In fact, most of us have a little bit of each one of the five, but they’re not all equally strong for and in us.

So here are the five:
Quality Time,
Giving & Receiving Gifts,
Words of Affirmation,
Physical Touch,
Acts of Service.

The question to ask yourself is, “How do I most often show love to my wife, my kids, etc.? Of these five things, which one am I most likely to do when I want to show love?” Here’s another question: “Which of these captures what I most appreciate when someone does something from one of these categories for me?”

Usually you’ll get a pretty good idea of which your primary love language is by answering these questions about yourself. It’s a little harder to answer them for your spouse and kids. Do the best you can by thinking about them as you answer these same questions.

Then after you’ve spent some time thinking about this, get on the Internet and go to this website: You can fill out an inventory for yourself, each of your kids and for your spouse. The results I’ve gotten every time I’ve done it are accurate. So go ahead. Click it up. I’ll wait.

After you do the online inventories, I have a feeling you’ll want to read the book. Actually, Dr. Chapman has written a variety of Love Language books. You saw them when you clicked up the website I gave you. You can buy these in audio format, too. I highly recommend that if you have any kind of commute to and from your work, you buy the audio book and listen to it back and forth.

I’ll come back to the Five Love Languages in my next post with some practical ways to utilize what I think you’ll learn about yourself and your kids. When you leverage your understanding of your kids’s, your spouse’s, and your own love language, you can address the single greatest need your kids have. What they most need is…

I’ll tell you next time.

To Pay or Not To Pay

That is the question…

I wrote a little about the dilemma of whether or not to pay your kids to do chores around the house in my last post. There are a few different schools of thought on this, and, honestly, I’m not sure I know which one is always right. This may be because one may not always be right… But it’s worth thinking through the issue. So here’s some thoughts on it.

One school of though says kids should never be paid for pitching in and helping with family chores. Paying them for these things will set them up to believe that they need to be paid for everything they do, and we all know that’s not how life works. In the real world, you don’t get paid for everything you do. So don’t get this bad idea started with your kids. They need to learn how to contribute to the welfare and care of their/your family without some kind of monetary payment for it. Doing chores is just part of being a part of this family.

There’s merit to this.

Another school says that paying your kids for doing chores around the house is a way to motivate and incentivize them to be consistent in fulfilling their responsibilities. If they do the chores, they get the money. If they don’t do the chores, they don’t get the money. It’s a matter of planned consequences. It can get more complicated than this, but this is the heart of it.

A permutation of this says that says kids need to learn how to deal responsibly with money, and paying them for chores is a good way to help them connect work with income.

There’s merit to this, as well.

Another school says kids don’t need money of their own. For crying out loud, they’re kids, not Wall Street traders. So don’t worry about it. Just give them money when you’re convinced they need it. One advantage of this approach is that it keeps you in the driver’s seat.

And then there’s the school of thought that says you should give your kids an allowance and not connect it with work. Everybody in the family gets a share of the resources because they’re part of the family.

And there are probably another half-dozen permutations of these ideas. The subject is a little confusing. And the proponents of these various ideas are usually passionate about their proponenting…

My answer for this is simple and complex at the same time. Here’s the simple part: decide which method best matches your kids’ personalities and your goals.

Some kids are highly motivated by the altruistic value of service. They don’t need external motivation to do chores and pull their weight in the family. It’s just in them. They just naturally pitch in. In my experience, these are few and far between, but they do exist. They’re not quite in the category of Sasquatch, but almost.

Some kids need to be motivated to do chores and pull their weight. You can threaten these kids with punishment and negative consequences if they don’t do their chores, and that might work a little, but it won’t motivate them over the long haul to do these things on their own, usually. The carrot on the end of the stick might, though.

Look at your kids carefully and decide if extrinsic motivation (cash for chores) will be good for them or bad for them. This is the complex part. You have to make this call. Nobody else should. If they are best extrinsically motivated, then construct a system of payment that will help them grow more responsible. If not, then figure out how to somehow reward them for their responsible behaviors and contributions without using money.

What you don’t want to do is send them a very bad message: you’re valuable when you do what we tell you to do, but not if you don’t. Kids need to know that they are loved and valued no matter what. Getting a few bucks for doing their chores doesn’t make them more valuable. It only puts some money in their piggy bank.

For me, the target I want to hit, the thing I want to leverage with this whole thing, is helping my kids learn how to be responsible with money. They can’t do this without getting money, somehow. Whether it’s through an allowance that they get just because they’re one of us, or through income from doing chores that need to be done to make our household run smoothly depends on how they’re wired. In either case, I want them to learn how to steward resources. (I think nearly all of life can be summed up in those two words, actually.) This will not happen accidentally. Being a wise and faithful steward is a learned behavior and mindset. None of us come with that software already installed.

One of the things this means is that I don’t just toss a couple of bucks at my kids and hope they’ll figure out how to do something good with it. I have to guide them in the allocation and use of their income, even if it’s a tiny income.

I like the Wesley approach to this: give 10%, save 10%, spend the rest with thanksgiving. If a kid can learn this in their grade school years, and then carry it on into their adult life, they’ll have a much happier and more productive financial life. Imagine what this could mean for them if they do it from the time they first start getting an income, and continue it until they retire.

Teaching them to give 10% is actually a spiritual thing. This is what the Bible calls a Tithe. When I was a little boy, my mom gave me my $1 weekly allowance in dimes so it would be easier for me, her math-challenged son, to figure out how much to put in the offering. I’m 66, and although I don’t take my income in dimes anymore, I still figure out my tithe first thing when I get paid. Thanks, Mom.

One more financial skill (one which I unfortunately didn’t learn until much later in my adult life) you can/should teach your kids is how to save toward a goal. If they learn how to save toward a goal, they’ll learn how not to do much impulse buying, because it will ruin their run for the goal. Learning how to defer gratification is perhaps one of the most valuable skills for anyone. Learning it early in life is a huge asset.

So there you have a few ideas to filter through the grid of your own personality and background, and your kids’ temperament. There’s a lot more that can be said about it, but maybe this is enough to spark your thinking. It’s simple and complex.

One last thing. DON’T BE RIGID WITH THIS. Be experimental. If your first approach doesn’t work, switch it. You don’t have to be locked in. Give yourself and your kids grace to figure out what works best. Partner with God and do the best you can. Actually, this is part of your responsibility to steward resources…

When Rules Get Broken

Making rules is such a smart thing to do. If you’ve started the process, Way to go! It’s hard work that will pay off.

But rules are going to be broken. Even the best rules ever known to mankind. See the Bible book of Exodus from chapter 20 on… God gave the best, most life-giving, most well-thought-through rules ever. The Children of Israel broke virtually all of these rules many times. Umm, so have we. So rules, even good ones, are going to be broken.

What do you do when a rule gets broken? You’ve got a few options.

Some people get angry and react in their anger toward the rule breaker. It may be verbal or psychological or physical, but there will be a lashing out of some kind with this option. It’s nearly always excessive, and often brutal.

Some people give up on rules because, really, nobody follows them anyway. They just sit down and sulk because their rules don’t get followed. They live the life of a victim. “These kids. They’re just uncontrollable.”

Neither of these options will do what rules are supposed to do. Rules are supposed to establish boundaries so that there will be the safety and security that order provides.

The best option I know of when a rule gets broken is to respond out of a plan, instead of reacting out of pain and anger or just throwing your hands up in surrender. You’ll need a plan if you want to respond out of a plan, though. Right? I want us to think about making a plan for this third option.

The thing that will make the plan and the rules work is summed up in one word: CONSEQUENCES. If you’ve been following me very long, you know that I’m a fan of leveraging consequences for discipline.

It’s usually easy to think of the negative consequences for breaking a rule. There should be negative consequences for breaking a rule. And your kids need to know what the specific consequence will be. (You may want to refer back to Some consequences will be natural, and others will be planned by you. The responsibility for planning consequences is on you as the parent.

Probably the first thing I’d encourage you with on this is Let The Punishment Fit The Crime. In other words, one consequence for all infractions won’t work. In fact, the same consequence for the same infraction for all your kids will sometime not work. Especially if there’s an age spread of several years between your kids. You have to take your kids’ developmental stage and age into account.

I wrote it last time, very young kids discover consequences by experience. So with these little ones, you need to know what you’ll do when they disobey, and you’ll need to tell them when you see them about to break a rule (“we don’t throw our food”), but they don’t need any further explanation, because they won’t be able to get any of the logic of it. They will eventually get that they don’t want to do the thing they did any more when they experience the negative consequence associated with the behavior, because that wasn’t fun.

Young kids (from age 3 or so, on up through mid elementary school) need consequences that they can connect to the broken rule. One easy example: if they break a rule about their bike, the consequence should be connected to the bike. Don’t leave your bike outside over night would be the rule. If they leave it outside over night, the consequence would be that it has to stay in the garage for the next day. Connect the consequence with the infraction. Sometimes it’s easy, but sometimes it’s a little more difficult.

Subtlety is pretty useless with kids this age. The consequence needs to be clear and easy to understand. This will be challenging and require prayer, thought and creativity, but you can do it. One thing that’s often helpful is to connect with other parents who have kids the same age as your child and compare notes on what has worked and what hasn’t worked.

From this fairly early age on up, it’s a good thing to involve your kids in determining what the consequences should be for infractions. You make the rules, and you approve all the planned consequences, but you can let your kids have input.

Call a Family Meeting and ask them what they think the penalty for breaking each of the specific rules should be. You’ll need to guide them to connect the penalty (the consequence) with the rule that was broken, though, because they don’t have much background with consequences yet. This dialogue is one reason you don’t want a ton of rules. You’ll never get finished with this Family Meeting if you’ve got lots of rules. So keep your list concise. Decide which rules are most important and go with them. If you try this and get nowhere with it, it’s plenty fine for you to construct the consequences and then tell your kids what they are. Come back to this when they’ve grown up a little more and you’ll likely have more success.

But you MUST tell them what the consequences and penalties are. Being punished for a rule you didn’t know existed, or getting a penalty you weren’t aware of sets a kid up for anger and eventually resentment. It works this way for adults, too, by the way.

There’s another side to this consequences coin, though: the positive consequences for following the rules and for doing extra things for the benefit of the family. For lots of parents, a monetary reward comes to mind first. There are lots of ways to do positive consequences, though, and not all of them involve money rewards. Getting to do something special, or getting their favorite meal or treat. Or simply getting a very affirming word from you can be a non-monetary positive consequence. (There are also lots of different views on whether to pay your kids for doing chores or making good grades. I’m not going to get into that right now. It would take too many words. I’ll write about it later. Sometime. Maybe.)

What you want to do is set up a dynamic principle for your kids to take with them into life, that when they do good things, they’ll get good consequences. This isn’t always 100% the case. I know there are times when doing the right thing actually costs you, and there’s a penalty for what there should have been a reward for. But when these things happen – when there’s a negative consequence for a positive behavior – you can use these disappointing times as opportunities to teach your kids how to cope with it when unfair things happen. Most of the time, though, we get good consequences from good behaviors. Maybe I’ll write about that later, too. Sometime.

Once you get the rules and consequences in place, then the task on your part is two-fold. First, you need to follow the same rules (within reason – if 8:00 p.m. is your kids’ bedtime, you don’t have to go to bed at 8:00 p.m., even if you’d like to; but if the rule is we make our beds, then you need to make your bed). If you’re exempt from the rules, what message does that send to your kids?

The second part is BE CONSISTENT. I don’t think I can overstate how important this is. I’m tempted to say nothing is more discouraging to kids than inconsistent consequences. “Nothing” may be too much. Almost nothing is more discouraging to kids than inconsistent consequences (but I can’t think of what that would be).

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul writes, ” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (It’s legitimate to read “parents” for “fathers” in this context.)

He wrote similarly in Colossians 3:21. ” Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Again, read “parents” for “fathers.”)

Inconsistent consequences exasperate kids. If it happens very often, it will embitter them. And once a child is embittered, their relationship with the parent(s) to whom they are embittered is usually badly damaged. Sometimes to the degree that it will never heal, even into adulthood. So don’t exasperate your kids. Don’t let your inattention to details and consistent enforcement of planned consequences lead them to be embittered.

So are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Like you’ve got to be vigilant 24/7 and have eyes in the back of your head? Like you’ll never be able to live up to this standard?

Well, the truth is, on your own, you won’t be able to. On your own, you’re toast. You’re right if you’re feeling inadequate on this. But God’s Spirit in you, working to make you more and more like Jesus, isn’t inadequate in any way. He can and will give you everything you need to pull this off. But He can only do this if you ask Him to, and then permit Him to be in control. Then you partner with Him. You join Him in His work in your life and family.

That starts with saying “yes” to Jesus on His terms, and then yielding your will to His, moment by moment. It’s not rocket science, but it’s challenging. If you have questions about this, or would like some help with it, I would love to hear from you and interact with you. Just connect with me through the comment button.

Making Rules that Work

This is a follow up from Rules Without Relationship…

You making rules doesn’t automatically make things work out well. Making rules is essential. It’s the starting gate for raising kids who will grow to be healthy, whole, contributing adults. You’ve got to have boundaries, and that means you’ve got to have rules. They’ve got to be good ones, though, or they’ll never do what rules are supposed to do, which is provide security, consistency, order. Sometimes, how you make the rules is as important as the rules you make. So let’s do some thinking about how to make good rules.

The first thing to consider is the age of your kids. Young kids need a different process than older kids. Very young kids don’t need a formal process. Because very young kids don’t really get language yet. So it does no good to sit them down and tell them what the rules are. They won’t get it no matter how compassionate and articulate you are. They learn the rules by what happens to them when they violate them – by experience. This is one of their primary jobs in the first year or two of life. They are designed by God to be explorers and experimenters. This is how they learn what they can and cannot do. Usually, they learn this without any language beyond the one word, “No.” So don’t list the rules on the fridge for them, and don’t explain why the rule is there and in their best interest. It’s a waste of your breath and their time. And they’ve got stuff to do.

But once they can engage in conversation (not just talk; actually engage in conversation), they can begin to “get” rules. Before that time, they need to hear, “No! We don’t do that,” when they break a rule. They may need to heart it 200,000 times. A day. But once they can begin to reason well enough to have a conversation, you can start talking about rules. Not a hundred rules. A few. Keep the list manageable for them and you. There’s no golden number. Just remember that the best number is probably less than you may want to have. In this, less is more.

When your kid is at this stage of development, where you are routinely having conversations with them, engage them in a conversation about rules. “Who makes the rules in your house?” The answer should be, “Mommy and Daddy,” or, “Mommy does,” or, “Daddy does,” in a single parent home. Start there. Who gets to make the rules is YOU.

There is a broken school of thought that believes the child should make the rules and the parents should figure out how to guide the kids toward acceptable behavior through the use of these child-made rules. The premise is that it’s just so mean to make rules and enforce them on kids. Won’t that make them angry and rebellious? No. Not if you do this thing right. If you’re still making all the rules and handing them down from your parental authority when your kids are 9 or 10, the anger and rebellion thing will come into play. But young kids aren’t benefited from making their own rules. Generally, they can’t make good rules. They don’t have the background, experience or neurology for it. They can benefit from having input into the process, but don’t expect more of them than they’re capable of coming across with.

Before you attempt this conversation, you and your spouse need to decide what the rules are going to be. Even in a divorce situation with shared custody, it would be wise for both parents to have a talk about what the rules are going to be. This will be difficult in many situations, impossible in others. But if you can do it, it will be so much in the interest of the kids(s). Living under two sets of rules, one at one parent’s and another at the other parent’s produces confusion at best, and at worst, sets the kid(s) up to learn how to play the system.

Whatever your marital situation, you need to talk with your spouse or ex-spouse about what you will agree on for the substance of rules at your house before you have a talk with the kid(s).

Boil it down to the most basic rules that will provide safety and security for everybody in the family. What falls into the category of, “That will never be OK”? You need a rule for what that thing (or those things) is/are. You may have several in this category. What falls into the category of, “This will always happen in our family”? There’s got to be a rule for those things.

Make rules that are about behaviors, not attitudes. You can much more easily (and accurately) judge a behavior than you can an attitude. So don’t make rules about the kind of attitudes you require your kids to have. That’s a backfire waiting to happen. Make rules about behaviors.

Many rules will be connected with chores. These are behaviors, so they can be measured, and that’s good. I found a good resource on the interwebs for this: I like how they’ve broken things down by age development.

But please don’t lay out 200 chores for your kids and make a rule for every one of them. Decide what you think they’re capable of doing (even doing poorly), and make a rule that we all do our chores. That should be enough.

When your kids begin to develop more cognitive skill, about age 9 or 10, (“about” being the operative word) the conversation changes. There’s more dialogue. The kids should begin to get more input. Be open to their suggestions, but come to the table with rules that you will introduce into the conversation.

When your kids are teens, you’ll need to be creative, thoughtful and non-combative. That last compound word is really important. You don’t want this conversation to become a fight. You don’t want it to spark more friction. You’ve already got plenty of that. So be calm and non-combative. This conversation about rules isn’t a chance for you to punish your teen with another rule. If you can’t be calm and non-combative, you probably shouldn’t have the meeting. Strike “probably.” If you can’t be calm and non-combative, you shouldn’t have the meeting.

The nature of rules changes as your kids get older. Older kids should generally need fewer rules. Especially if you’ve been working rules with them for the previous years. Even a few previous years. The rules still need to be about behaviors, but you don’t target the same behaviors for a 5 yr. old and a 16 yr. old. Their needs and their capabilities are vastly different. In fact, you may want to consider reviewing your rules about every 6 months to see if they’re still worthy and valid. If you discover they’re not, can them. Kids outgrow rules like they outgrow sneakers.

You’ll notice I’m not including any specific rules you should make for your kids. Here’s why: I don’t know your kids. Rules are best when they’re forged with specific kids and specific goals in mind.

I’ve got one more big thing to talk about, which I’ll leave until next time. But there’s this one thing to close with, that should have been at the front end. P R A Y. Ask God to make you wise. He wants to. Ask Him to help you work in productive ways with your kids as you set rules. He wants to do this.

Don’t start any part of this process without prayer. It’s way too hard for anybody to do on the basis of their innate senses. No mortal is that smart. No offense, but that includes you. And me.

Outraged and Heartbroken

My favorite blog is Church and Culture by James Emery White. In the 5 or 6 years that I’ve been getting his blog, he’s had maybe 2 that didn’t deepen my well and provoke me to think. He’s a deep thinker and a brilliant mind.

This morning, his blog outraged me and broke my heart. I recommend you read it for yourself at:

If it doesn’t outrage you and break your heart, let me know.

In our 24/7 linked and connected world, White raises an issue that should be making every follower of Christ outraged and brokenhearted. In fact, Christian or not, every person who has an ounce of concern for the world and the future of our kids ought to be put on high alert by what he writes.

In case you didn’t break away when you came to the web address, I’ll give you a thumbnail sketch of what he wrote, and then you need to click on the address and read it for yourself. “Ready for the Millstones” is about child pornography and child sexual abuse. It’s not the kind of thing most of us look for to read over breakfast and enrich our day. And it’s way not what I’ve come to expect from the New York Times. (Sorry. That was political.) You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

The section that most disturbed me is what Sarah Chang wrote in an article she wrote for the NYT about her first child pornography case. Her coworkers warned her to view the videos with the sound off.

She turned the volume up as high as she could, but all she heard was silence. The five-year-old girl said nothing; she didn’t even sob. And that’s what she found in video after video—silent suffering.

She later learned that this is a typical reaction of young sexual abuse victims. Psychiatrists say the silence conveys their sense of helplessness, which is also why they are reluctant to report the incidents and why their tendency is to accommodate their abusers. Their helplessness is rooted in the complete breach of trust they’ve experienced because, all too often, their abusers are people they expected would protect them. 

I’m struggling to extend grace to the perpetrators. It seems so heinous, so inhumane, to do this to a child. Unthinkably so. These are often children as young as age 3.

White doesn’t just raise an alarm. He gives some useful commonsense steps for Christians (anyone, actually) to take toward responding to this abhorrent and now pandemic issue. I leave you to read them (and then act on them). Go back up and open Church and Culture and read it for yourself. It will take you less time than you give my normal posts. And I think it may ignite your heart in an uncommon way. It did mine.

Rules Without Relationship = Rebellion

Dick Day and Josh McDowell teamed up to write one of my favorite books on parenting about 25 years ago, entitled, How To Be A Hero To Your Kids. You can get it for peanuts as a Kindle e-book, or you can get it in print for quite a few more peanuts. It would be a really good addition to any parent’s library.

In it, they use my favorite parenting phrase: Rules without relationship equal rebellion. That one phrase is worth the cost of the book. There’s a ton of other good ideas in the book, but this one phrase, for me, is the crown jewel.

I’m part of the generation that has been taught (and then have taught our students and kids) that rules are old-fashioned and repressive, and should be eliminated. From somewhere in the 1950’s, this theory began to saturate educational psychology in universities, and by about 1968, it had made its way into secondary schools, and shortly after, it passed through the educational percolator to the kindergarten classroom.

Let’s call them guidelines. “Rules” just seems so, well, harsh and repressive. Shouldn’t we guide our students instead of commanding them?

Umm. The short answer is, “No.” A large body of reliable research confirms that children who grow up in a vacuum of rules are insecure. Often, profoundly so. Their insecurity shows itself in a wide variety of ways. Everything from fear and anxiety about every potential and perceived threat (what has come to be called “snowflakes”), all the way to the other end of the spectrum, where they’ll talk smack to an approaching atomic warhead, because they think they’re bulletproof. On the one end of the extreme kids grow up believing they’re fragile and always at risk; on the other they believe the universe revolves around them.

Rules are essential in every society, be it a geographic country, or a nuclear family. Rules help provide consistency and safety and order. The right rules applied in the right way provide security.

That last sentence is essential. Especially in a family. The right rules applied in the right way give security and confidence to kids. Applying rules without also intentionally building relationship won’t work, though. Even if the rules are “right.” Dick and Josh are absolutely right, rules without relationship equal rebellion.

I’ve been asking you to think about the role of consequences in discipline for the last couple of installments. Utilizing the tool of consequences is the best way I know of for building a robust and healthy family. Consistently letting natural and planned consequences teach your kids is the path to them growing up knowing how to effectively relate to life in the real world and change it for the better.

One critical aspect of this process is that inconsistent consequences produce confused and angry people. If it’s right on Thursday, but wrong on Monday, or if you get one severe consequence on Sunday and a soft one on Wednesday, all sorts of bad things start to happen in a kid’s heart. Resentment begins to grow, and the end result is very ugly. If you feel like one sibling gets all the breaks, not only will you have resentment about the system, you’ll have resentment toward the sibling. Sometimes, this resentment will last for a lifetime.

Don’t misunderstand me, here. I’m not saying every child should be disciplined in the same way. That won’t work. Every child is different. How you apply the consequences and discipline needs to account for this fact. But if the rules are different for each kid, you’ll set them (and you) up for certain failure.

If the rule is that leaving their bike in the driveway means they have to leave it in the garage for the next day, except Johnny leaves his out and still gets to ride it the next day as if nothing happened, Jimmy will notice. And unless he’s an exceptionally merciful child (the odds are about 1 in 1000), he’s likely to be resentful about it. If it happens very often, Jimmy will probably start making his discontent known in some unhappy and ugly ways.

The rules need to be consistent, and they need to be applied consistently. But if you don’t have relational equity, you won’t be able to apply them effectively to each child, accounting for their individuality, even if you’ve got the right rules and you’re trying to be consistent in enforcing them.

So which is more important, consistently enforcing the rules or nurturing your relationship with your kids? Well, that’s like trying to decide which wing of an airplane is more important, the left or the right? They’re both essential.

Don’t give up consistently enforcing the rules. AND don’t give up nurturing a healthy relationship with your kid. It’s both/and. Because rules without relationship equals rebellion. But relationship without rules equals chaos. You don’t want either rebellion or chaos.

Next time, we’ll think about how you formulate your rules. How you do it is almost as important as that you do it.

Rules are made to be…

Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” His art demonstrates that he practiced what he preached.

Anybody here have a 3 year-old (or 13 year-old) who seems to follow Pablo’s philosophy effortlessly? The truth is, some of us never really grow out of this. We dress it up in more socially acceptable ways, but we still have this thing for breaking rules artfully. Or is that only me? I blame it on growing up in the 60’s. And, by the way, Facebook’s right, as hard as it was growing up in the 60’s, it’s way harder being in my 60’s.

Breaking rules would be more fun if there weren’t so darned many consequences involved. Who’d a thought? Well, the Apostle Paul, like 2000 years ago. Here’s what he wrote: “You reap what you sow.” A timeless concept. It doesn’t matter when you grew up. There is no generation in which this doesn’t apply.

Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that when you pick up one end of the stick you pick up the other. Meaning when you choose a behavior, you get a consequence, whether you like it or not, or whether you feel you deserve it or not. Most of our world hasn’t figured this out yet. Part of your job as a parent is to help your kids learn how to factor consequences into their choices. It’s harder than it sounds.

Last time, I wrote about consequences and just started tugging at the edge of using consequences to discipline. I believe nothing is more useful and effective for discipline than using consequences appropriately.

The world of consequences is the world of if/then. If you do X, then you’ll get Y. This is a hard concept for us to get. Sometimes it takes several (or several hundred…) encounters with consequences before we associate them with our choices. This is one reason your kids need coaching (discipline) from you. You want them to grasp this sowing/reaping, if/then, cause/effect concept while you’re close and can help them figure it out.

There are essentially two kinds of consequences: Natural and Planned.

Natural consequences are predictable outcomes from choices and behaviors. One of the natural consequences that snagged me a few times when I was a kid is a good illustration. I loved to play baseball as a kid. In the summer, my friends and I would play in the vacant lot next to Rodney Evan’s house from the time we got up from the breakfast table until my dad whistled me in for supper. If you’re thinking Sandlot, you’re pretty close, except that none of us were really very talented, and James Earl Jones didn’t live in our neighborhood. But the rest was pretty similar.

I had saved and worked and bought my own baseball glove. It was my most treasured possession. But I was a grade-school boy, and sometimes I would accidentally leave it out in the back yard when I came in at the end of the day. And, although we weren’t in a very rainy part of the country, occasionally it would rain while my glove was laying out in the yard. There was always a consequence. A predictable and natural one.

When I found my mitt the morning after I’d left it out, when rain came the night before, I’d find my mitt soggy and more or less useless. I’d have to work with it to get it dry, and rub it with oil, and tie a ball in the pocket, and then wait for it to be usable. Usually, I couldn’t use it for a couple of days. It wasn’t the end of the world, but if it happened too often, it would be the end of the ball glove. And that would have been a very bad deal for me.

Nobody had to arrange that consequence. It was natural. If you leave your ball glove out and it rains, then it will mess your mitt up. So bring it in with you when you’re done. If…then…

There’s a gazillion natural consequences in the world. Some of the “thens” are obviously more serious than others. If you run in front of a car in the street, then you may get hit by it. When a toddler starts for the street, you don’t ask them to think through the natural consequences. You scream at them and grab them, and pull them back. You get fewer and fewer chances to grab them and pull them back away from natural consequences as they get older.

Look back into your own life’s story and identify the consequences you experienced. Not all of them will be natural consequences, but I’m guessing lots of them will be. Nobody has to engineer a natural consequence. It comes naturally.

Planned consequences,on the other hand, are outcomes that are, well, planned. You don’t have to plan for a mitt left in the rain to get temporarily (or possibly permanently) ruined. It’s a natural outcome.

But there could be a planned consequence associated with the baseball glove – an outcome that has been pre-determined. My mom or dad could have said, “OK. This is the 5th time you’ve left your ball mitt out all night. From now on, if you leave your mitt out and I find it, I’m putting it in my closet and you won’t be able to have it back for 2 days.” That would be a planned consequence. And for me as a boy, it would get my attention. And that’s the point of the planned consequence. The purpose for getting my attention was to teach me how to not leave my ball glove out over night.

One very important thing about planned consequences is that they have to be enforced. A planned consequence isn’t a threat, it’s a promise. If you leave your mitt out and I find it, I promise I’ll put it in my closet, and I promise you won’t be able to use it for 2 days.

Then, as the parent, I have to be strong enough to follow through with this. Even when my kid whines and cries and pitches a fit. Even when they give me half a dozen excuses for why they couldn’t bring it in last night. Even when they’ve got an important game the next day, and I’ll look like a schmuck because I’m making them borrow somebody else’s glove to play in it.

You have to FOLLOW THROUGH with a planned consequence. If you don’t, there’s no consequence. And with no consequence, there’s no discipline/teaching.

Planned consequences can be more inconvenient than natural ones. Somebody will have to do something to enforce a planned consequence. In most cases, if you made the rule, you should enforce it.

For this use-of-consequences thing to work, you’ve got to have lots of Vitamin C – Consistency. Almost nothing hinders consequences doing their best work as inconsistency does. When rules are made and not held, or enforced sometimes but not at other times, or when a kid gets punished for breaking a rule they didn’t know about, bad things happen. At the top of the list of bad things is resentment. In fact, resentment is a natural consequence of inconsistency. If you are inconsistent, then your kid will come to resent you. And that’s just a breath away from rebellion.

You won’t be perfect. That’s not even the goal. But if you can discipline yourself to be consistent with your use of natural and planned consequences, there’s a big, good pay-off.