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When Rules Get Broken

October 8, 2019

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.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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