I’m driving on the freeway and I see the same rule posted every few feet: 65 MPH. It is posted often so every driver sees and knows the rule. Every driver also understands the consequence for breaking the rule: a speeding ticket complete with loss of time and money.
I know that it is my choice to follow the rule or break the rule. If I choose to follow the rule, I do not get a speeding ticket. If I choose to break the rule, I do get a speeding ticket.
So while I’ll probably feel angry and disappointed with the ticket, I have only myself to blame. I knew the rule and the consequence, but I made my choice. And hopefully, the next time I drive on the freeway, I will make a better choice.
The most valuable life lesson we can teach our children is that everything they do is a choice, and every choice they make has a consequence. I want children to grow up understanding that when they make a bad choice they get a bad consequence, and when they make a good choice, then they get a good consequence.
Despite the fact that the ability to stop, think, and make good choices is not fully developed until about age 25, it is our job as parents to begin teaching this concept to our young children.
When our children break a rule or do something that is not ok, and we send them to their room or take away a toy or ground them without letting them know in advance that that might happen, we are not giving them the chance to make the right choice. We are simply punishing them without their understanding of what might occur.
My pre-schooler throws his ball in the house. I say “If you throw the ball in the house again, I will take it away until tomorrow.” My child then throws the ball, and so I take it away. He might cry and he might whine and he might complain. But I simply say “I told you what would happen if you threw the ball. You chose to throw the ball, and so you lost it until tomorrow.”
My teenager asks, “Can I go to a movie Friday night?” I say “Yes, but you need to be home by 10 o’clock. If you are not home by 10 o’clock, then you will not be able to go out Saturday night.” My daughter then comes home at 10:30, and so I tell her she is grounded for Saturday night. She might yell and she might whine and she might complain. But I simply say, “I told you what would happen if you were late. You chose to come home late, and so I hope next time you make a better choice.”
Having the ability to make good choices is what separates successful adults from unsuccessful ones. So let’s all start teaching our kids today, no matter their age, to make the right choice. Remember that people, including children, learn by making mistakes. They learn by making the wrong choice, by facing the negative consequences of their choice, and then having the chance to make a better choice the next time.
So set a rule, state the consequence, and follow through with the consequences that your child earns by their choice.
It really does work, and it really is a valuable life long lesson.