Children who avoid or refuse to do the daily chores of their lives are engaging in routine not-minding behavior. Not finishing school work, not cleaning their room, continually leaving the bicycle out in the rain, leaving their snack mess in the kitchen, not being responsible for feeding the pet, not taking out the garbage, “sneaky” behaviors like getting into off-limit items and stealing are common examples. The child knows the behaviors that are expected, knows certain behaviors are to be done on a regular basis, knows he or she will encounter strong negative attention from adults if the jobs do not get done, yet does not follow the rules or do the tasks until pushed. This kind of misbehavior causes parents to shake their heads and wonder, “Why on earth is that kid so irresponsible?”
One of the reasons children do not do their chores is that they know that the worst that can happen is either they won’t have to do the chore or someone will remind them. One reason that they don’t follow the rules is that they know that they will most likely get away with it. The rules and expectations are not consistently enforced so there is no motivation.
One way to sabotage the child taking responsibility for the misbehavior is by giving the child incredible amounts of negative attention. The child’s routine not-minding behaviors make him or her the focus of vast numbers of social interactions, both verbal and nonverbal. The adults try to gain control of the situation by reminding, scolding, reasoning, threatening, and punishing. The child tries to gain control of the situation by not doing what the adults want done. In order to keep his or her sense of independence and integrity intact, the child refuses to be "bossed around."
Children caught in this dilemma believe that if they finally give in and do what the adults want, they will lose their inner integrity and independence. These children begin to feel justified about their irresponsible behavior. Some children even come to believe everything is the fault of the adults and blame them for all problems.
The Logical Consequence
We have already talked about offering a choice as part of giving a command, and giving an either-or choice as part of the correction for self-indulgent behavior. For the logical consequence correction, however, choices become not just a part of the correction, but its central core.
The correction for Routine Not-Minding behavior is to set up a situation that gives the child an opportunity to experience the natural or logical consequences of his or her choices.
Providing logical consequences consistently is one way to motivate children to do their chores and follow the rules. However, to know when consequences are necessary, you will need to consistently inspect what you expect. Check on your children often to make sure they are doing the things you asked them to do and not doing the things they know they should not do. This is lots of hard work for the parent early on, but the payoff is great. Over time, the need to inspect and enforce consequences lessens significantly.
Practice in making choices and living with the consequence of choices is the foundation of developing responsible behavior patterns. Once children learn what “yes” and “no” mean, what “this one” and “that one” mean, they have begun the process of decision making. Teaching children responsible decision making is a long-term effort. Choice by choice, consequence by consequence, like water dripping on a stone, children learn to take responsibility for their own behaviors. In the process, children are empowered and strengthened from the real life experience of living with the consequences of their choices.
Natural Versus Logical Consequences
In learning how to use the logical consequence correction, it is important to understand the difference between “natural” and “logical” consequences. When the natural consequence occurs, life itself provides the consequence without anyone having to plan it ahead of time. For example, if a child goes out without a coat and it starts to rain, the child will get wet. If teenagers drink and drive, they are likely to have an accident, or will perhaps get arrested and lose their license. If a child does not do schoolwork, the natural outcome will be failing grades. If you don’t wear sunscreen in the sun, you will get a sunburn. If you stay up to watch movies, you will be tired when you get up next morning to go to work or school.
Natural consequences arise naturally, either out of nature itself or from the culture in which the person lives. The major problem with natural consequences is that they are often delayed until the consequences are extremely severe and sometimes, even life threatening. A consequence is natural, but too severe, for example, if children are allowed to fail at school work until they fall so far behind they have to repeat a grade. No parent or teacher wants a child to be dealt with in as harsh a way as the natural consequence may eventually provide.
Logical consequences, on the other hand, are real life situations that an adult plans for the child ahead of time. The situation needs to be as natural as possible, yet with consequences that are not really harmful or life threatening to the child. Even though the logical consequence should cause discomfort to the child, it is not as severe as a natural consequence might be. The logical consequence is also different from a natural consequence in that it always provides a way out for the child. At any time, the child can improve the situation by making a different choice.
Logical consequences need to be perceived by the child as reasonable and fair, as part of the natural order of things. The inherent logic of the situation, the life experiences themselves, will do the teaching. If you sabotage yourself, especially by talking about the misbehavior, the consequence will most likely be perceived by the child as punishment or personal revenge on your part. Any such perception will fuel a power struggle between you and the child. If you or any adult helping you sabotages in this way, the logical consequence correction will not work.
Giving Children Choices
1. Give your child practice in making fun choices
Even a two year old can make choices like, “Do you choose orange juice or apple juice for lunch?” or “Which of these two books do you choose for me to read to you?” One mother said she always allowed her preschoolers to choose which of two outfits to wear for the day. It helped speed up the dressing process each morning. As they got older they chose clothes all by themselves. “They didn't always match, but they were so proud.” As children grow older you should increasingly provide more and more areas of their lives in which they can make choices.
2. Never give a choice if there is no choice
If there is no choice, simply describe the facts of the matter. “Now it is time to go home.” The sun goes up and the sun goes down. Nothing can be done about it. In the same way, “Now it is time to go home.” If an adult initially offers, “Want to go to bed now?” and the child says “No,” the adult is left in the uncomfortable position of having to switch tactics, either cajoling or forcing the child into going to bed. If the adult insists on bedtime as a personal and emotional issue, “I said you are going to bed right now!” it invites rebellion and a power struggle. If instead, from the very beginning, the adult uses the inexorable, unemotional needs of nature and society as the reason for going to bed, “Now it is time to go to bed,” the personal power struggle can often be avoided. No one, not even mother and dad can go against the natural order of things.
3. Keep the choices limited and appropriate to the child's age
4. Once the child makes the choice, let the child live with the consequences
Some adults are also prone to let the child have “one more chance,” especially if the child is properly contrite and promises, “I won't do it any more.” Allowing children to evade consequences because they are cute or because they say “I'm sorry” in a sincere tone of voice only teaches them that if they learn to be charming enough they can always do pretty much as they please. This is a sure-fire formula for raising irresponsible adults. Allowing children to do whatever they want, as long as they apologize sweetly afterwards, teaches them to cultivate charm instead of responsible behavior. A charming but irresponsible adult has not learned basic survival skills for living cooperatively within the human family. We have all met adults like this. No one likes living with them, because they go through life expecting others to suffer the consequences of their own poor choices.
Setting Up a Logical Consequence for the Child
The choices and consequences described above form a basic prevention plan for keeping a child from ever developing irresponsible behaviors in the first place. But what if the child has already established a specific routine not-minding behavior? If the basic prevention plan is not enough to change an old behavior pattern, here are some guidelines showing you how to use logical consequences as a correction.
1. Decide which routine not-minding behavior you want to change
You cannot change everything at once. Choose the one routine not-minding misbehavior that troubles you the most. It may be that the child is never ready for school on time, or perhaps never finishes school work on time even though the school has done testing and found him or her to be capable of doing the work, or maybe the child will not give the dog food and water on a regular basis. Focus on only one routine not-minding behavior at a time.
2. Choose the situation you want to change. Enlist another adult, if possible, and make a plan
Planning a logical consequence requires flexibility, creativity, and, sometimes, a sense of humor. The possibilities for designing logical consequence plans are endless and depend somewhat on your own personality, the child's personality, and whatever seems comfortable to you. It is important to brainstorm ahead of time with your spouse or a friend to decide on what your specific plan will be. If you are not sure what you are going to do ahead of time, the consequence may turn out to be more punishing than logical. Sometimes, of course, the consequence may occur to you on the spur of the moment and you will not be able to resist “just doing it.”
3. Ensure that the child, not the adult, will feel uncomfortable
If children can begin to experience discomfort because of a choice they made, their misbehavior will have been magically moved from a misbehavior that gave the adult a problem to a situation in which the child is having a problem. Once the negative behavior becomes the child's problem, he or she may sometimes need help from you in sorting out his or her feelings about the matter, but mostly the child will have to deal with the problem by making some different choices. In other words, if you have set up a true logical consequence situation, the child, not you, should be the one feeling unhappy about the situation. It is now the child who has the problem, not the adult. It is the child who will have to start thinking about how to make some different choices so the situation can improve.
4. The consequence should follow logically and naturally from the misbehavior
Every logical consequence situation should give the child the gift of experiencing what it is like to live in the real world. Consequences that do not follow logically from the social or natural order of the situation would be perceived as punishment and invite a power struggle.
5. Be cautious about taking away a privilege
If, on the other hand, you are convinced that losing a privilege makes sense because it arises directly from the misbehavior, set it up so that the consequences are uncomfortable for the child, not for you. Any consequence you can think up will be most effective if the adult concentrates on what the adult can do without becoming a prison guard and forcing the child to do something. The idea is not to force the child to behave. The idea is to set up a situation that makes the child uncomfortable enough to see the sense of behaving in a different way. “I will not loan you my car” and “I will not take you to the store” are consequences that are logical and are relatively easy for the adult to carry out.
6. Loss of privileges should be short-term
One example of a logical consequences is that if a child does not do their chores or continues to leave their coat, shoes, back back and personal belongings around the house they simply lose allowance. When our school age children do not do their chores we simply go to their accounts without a word and subtract an appropriate amount of cash. When they leave their things around the house we write -.25c on a sticky note and stick it to the item left out, and then subtract that amount from their account. A new sticky note is added each day until the item is put away. Another example of a logical consequence is if a child repeatedly misses the bus after school we will require that child to walk home rather than be rescued by us. Rather than yelling or lecturing, just let the consequences speak for themselves.