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Rules are made to be…

September 19, 2019

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.

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From → Marriage, Parenting

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