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When Kids Don’t Care About Their Consequences

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

There is nothing more concerning (or infuriating) than when our children don’t care about the consequence we give them. There are a few different reasons why children might act this way. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get to the bottom of it all.

The very first thing we need to do is ask ourselves:

1. Is it a punishment or a consequence?

What’s the difference, you ask? Maybe not much as far as semantics are concerned, but we need to take a moment and distinquish between the two to help us figure out why kids might not care about their consequences. Here are some differences:

Consequences seek to train.

Punishments seek to get back.

Consequences have a purpose.

Punishments make us (the parents) feel “even.”

Consequences help a child work toward something.

Punishments help a child work OFF something.

Consequences address the heart and future behavior.

Punishments address past behavior.

2. Is your response too soft?

Maybe they don’t care because your consequence really isn’t a consequence at all. Threats are not consequences. Saying, “Keep it up and we’ll leave” isn’t a consequence. It is the threat of a consequence. Follow through is key.

3. Is your response too harsh?

Out of anger we can become extreme in our response to our kids’ misbehavior. Six weeks of no X-Box is a lifetime for a kid. There is a point of diminishing returns in parenting and economics. If you stretch it out too far, your intervention will lose its desired impact. And furthermore, if you hand out punishments like this, your children are not being trained in the process – they are just buying time until they get their beloved game back.

4. Does the consequence have an objective?

What is the purpose of the consequence? Is it tied to the misbehavior or problem? What am I trying to teach my child with this consequence? Asking yourself these questions will help you determine if the consequence has a purpose or if you are just trying to “get back” at them for what they did.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your child has developed a pattern of speaking disrespectfully to you in response to an instruction. A punishment would be, “That’s it! I am tired of you speaking to me like that when I ask you to do something. Say good bye to your cell phone for two weeks!”

A consequence would be: “You may not speak to me like that. This is becoming a consistent problem. I am going to take your cell phone away. You can have it back when you have spoken respectfully to me for 3 days in a row.”

5. Are their hearts too hard?

Kids may not care about their consequence because they have hardened their hearts in response to correction. It’s not your job to make it soft. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. You can pray that your child will be trained by the consequence and you can be on the lookout for signs of a soft heart. That is your chance to really make an impact.

Consequences are an effective tool in a Christian parents tool belt. But they are most effective when paired with a curious conversation to get to the root of the issue and subsequent training and positive reinforcement of what you would like to see more of.

[Photo credit: talesin from morguefile.com]

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers individual and parent counseling to individuals in Connecticut. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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