By Sarah Evans
As adults, we learn best from our mistakes when we experience ‘natural’ consequences that come as a result of our words and/or actions. For example, if we were to forget to set our alarm one morning and as a consequence we were then late for work, and our boss would then express his or her displeasure about our tardiness, we would likely be more careful to ensure that it does not happen again. In fact, we would make doubly sure that our alarm is set for the morning after, and may even plan for a backup alarm.
And yet, in order for us to learn from ‘natural’ consequences it is important that we first have the capability of making the connection between our choice i.e. not setting the alarm clock, and the related outcome of our choice i.e. being late for work. If this connection is not made it is fair to assume that we would not learn from our mistakes and would continue to repeat the same tardy behavior.
When looking at our children and the choices that they make on a daily basis, it is important to recognise that often they are not mature enough developmentally to make the connection between their choices and the subsequent outcome. This is because they are ‘adults in training’, meaning that they are not adults yet, and so their brain is still in the process of fully developing.
And so when we keep in mind that we want our children to eventually make these connections i.e. learn from their mistakes and become responsible God-fearing adults, it is our job as parents to help guide and teach them, by pointing out the connection between their behaviour and the ‘natural’ consequence, in a loving and supportive way until they are able to see it on their own.
‘True natural consequences are automatic and unpleasant outcomes that happen as a direct result of kids’ choices, for example, when older children regularly leave their bicycle outside it may be stolen, hit by an adult driving down the highway, or get rusty from the rain. As a result, children lose the ability to ride their bikes because they are ruined or lost. Children will then learn to take care of their bicycles and their property. This is the major love-motivated purpose of disciplining children in the first place; so that they will grow up to be effective adults’ – (Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Jan 16, 2008)
It is also important that we make use of every occasion, when our children make unwise choices, to teach our children about sin. In love and patience, and with a non-judgemental attitude, we must discuss with our children about God’s love and expectations for them.
‘When our children make mistakes, we need to let them know that God is patiently waiting for them to practice making better choices’.
This is the perfect time to teach our children about ‘saying sorry’ to God (repentance), and to pray with them. And as we teach them about God’s unconditional love and acceptance, as well as His readiness to forgive us whenever we stumble, we must be a living example to them of these God-given qualities. Remember our children often come to know who their Heavenly Father is through the experience of their earthly parents. If we are teaching them that God is patient and forgiving, we must also be patient with our children and quick to forgive their short-comings.
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
When helping our children to see the connection between their choices and the subsequent outcome, it can be challenging because not all ‘natural’ consequences are immediate. When this happens it can take time before we are able to help our children make this connection. Also, the longer the period of time between their choice and the ‘natural’ consequence, the harder it is for young children to even understand.
(And so, when looking at guiding very young children it is better to help them avoid the potential potholes that they usually fall into. We can begin teaching the word ‘NO’ but prevention and re-direction is the most effective way to handle these little wandering hands and feet. It is important that we know what our young children can handle i.e. whether they are ready or not.
If we know that our young children are not ‘ready’ for a particular situation, it is better to avoid the situation until they are a little older and have the maturity to handle what is being expected of them.
Another way is to increase the expectation slowly, in small increments of time, and as soon as we see that they are not successful we pull them back away from the situation, and try again at another time.)
And so, as we prepare our children to learn from their mistakes through these ‘natural’ consequences (as this is the best way for us to learn) we must realise that sometimes we will need to give our children an ‘unnatural’ consequence. In this way, we can provide a consequence that is immediate and more effective, until they are mature enough to learn from ‘natural’ consequences. I will discuss this in more detail next time.