Saturday, November 1, 2008

Handling Habitual Breaking of Rules and Routines

We have been looking at 5 different types of misbehavior: disobedience, attention-getting, breaking rules and routines, deliberately hurting others, and wrong behavior rooted in real problems. So far we have covered disobedience and attention-getting behaviors. We now come to the third of these: breaking rules and routines.

Rules and routines are expectations of family members that are clear and have been taught over the years. We keep some of ours printed out and posted at strategic locations throughout the house (we did this even before the kids could read!). These are things that kids know about, but tend to ‘forget’ over and over again. Examples are: not finishing school work, not cleaning up toys, leaving a bike out, leaving a mess in the kitchen, forgetting to feed the pet, and not taking out the garbage. These can often result in a power struggle between a parent and a child that builds tension and can be very damaging over time. To begin to eliminate these behaviors, the parents need to set up an environment where the child can experience the natural or logical consequences of such behavior. In this article, we will focus on logical consequences. These accomplish a main goal that we have mentioned many times: put the tension where it belongs: between the child and the behavior, rather than between the child and the parent.

Here are some tips for developing some natural consequences to address this type of behavior:

1. Decide which behavior you want to change. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Pick the one that is causing the most problems and work on that, then move on to other things. Recently we had an issue with leaving a Kool-aid mess in the kitchen, so we will use that as an example. (This is obviously for older children, the same core concepts would be applied to younger children.)

2. Determine the most logical consequences for the action. This should be as fair and reasonable as possible, otherwise it will be perceived by the child as punishment or personal revenge. It should be set up so the inherent logic and life experience will do the teaching. For our example, we would say, “If we find powder on the counter or Kool-aid drops around the kitchen, you will not be allowed to make Kool-aid for a certain period of time.” My tone of voice and demeanor communicate that “I am not mad and you’re not in trouble, this is just the natural order of things.”

3. The consequences should put the discomfort on the child not the parent. If my child has a habit of leaving his coat on the floor by the door every day after school and I choose to remind and nag him to hang it up, then I am taking on the burden and putting the tension between me and him. If I simply set up a logical consequence: “If your coat is left on the floor, you will lose a certain amount of allowance,” then there is no argument or anger or tension. If I see the coat, I just write on the dri-erase board, the child’s name and “-$1 coat”. I don’t want to take away allowance, I am on his side, I am his greatest cheerleader in getting victory over “forgetting to use the coat-hook.” But I don’t say anything, I let the consequences do the teaching.

4. Follow through. Be consistent. Not carrying out the logical consequences teaches the child that your word is meaningless. Even if a child seems very sorry and promises never to do it again, the consequence should be carried out. If a child can avoid consequences by being cute, they will practice charm instead of appropriate behavior and grow up to expect others to absorb the results of their poor choices.

5. The child should be able to “earn back” freedoms and privileges. “When we see that you are able to clean up your mess, you can starting making Kool-aid again.” This also teaches them the natural and logical order of things in the real world. When you are responsible, you are allowed to have freedoms that are given to responsible people.

Logical consequences give children the gift of experiencing a taste of life in the real, grown up world in a controlled environment, mixed with the patience and love of someone on their side.

In the next article, we will be looking at how to handle hurtful and destructive behavior.

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