A very important parental role is warning our kids about the consequences that come from bad choices and wrongful behavior. You may think that this is unnecessary and that kids will just learn from their mistakes, but if we continue to look to God as our role model in this, we will see that He often provides us with warnings of impending judgment if we stray from His ways (see Deuteronomy 28 for an example). We can provide this same framework for our children as well.
You will notice that the following list of consequences are not punishments but are more the natural “fallout” that comes from bad choices. Often misbehavior will require an additional applied consequence but for this post, we are going to simply look at the warnings we can give our children. Again, these warnings need to take place during times of peace – when your children have soft, teachable hearts. Trying to impart a warning in the midst of misbehavior is like trying to warn someone that the sidewalk is icy when they are already slipping – it’s too late. Here are a few natural consequences that you can work into your daily conversations with your children.
1. Broken relationships. Disobedience builds walls, obedience breaks them down. Increase your children’s ability to notice this by pointing it out when it happens in their environment. If they come home from school and tell you about an incident with another child, you can point out how easy it is for people to hurt a relationship with their bad choices.
2. Mistrust. Misbehavior makes it very difficult to be trusted. You can use the story about The Boy Who Cried Wolf to illustrate this concept. You can also tell stories from your childhood (I know you have some!) of when your poor choices led to a decreased level of trust by your parents. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to work these teachable moments into your child’s day.
3. Feelings of regret and guilt. Bad behavior always leaves a wake of bad feelings. Some children are more sensitive to these feelings than others but the feelings are there in some form (sometimes they are masquerading as anger toward you). Use story time to illustrate these concepts in a non-threatening way. You can point out something like, “Wow. Look how that character’s mood changed after he told that lie. He seems really ______ now. Bad feelings often follow bad behavior.”
4. Feelings of loneliness. Three Dog Night was right – one is the loneliest number. Because of those broken relationships, isolation and loneliness are often the results of bad choices. If you use time outs, your children will have first-hand experience of this concept. Again, books or movies that illustrates this idea are good jumping off points to explore with your children.
Use whatever you can in your environment to imprint cause and effect on your children. If you can weave these building blocks (family values, rules, blessings and consequences) into the fabric of their day, you will be providing them with a solid foundation from which they can develop both roots that will ground them and wings that will help them explore their world.