I am the somewhat terrified senior occupant of an increasingly maniacal household of cat-fur-pullers, food-tossers, electric cable pullers, and table-top bungee experts.
My beautiful daughter, the oldest, is about to turn 6, and then there is an awesome 4 year old and his two adventurous sidekicks, the twins aged 20 months. Don’t get me wrong, life is 100% joy and privilege, but painting the above picture gives you an idea of an average day – and that’s just my evenings after work. It’s truly astonishing what my wife copes with.
Occasionally the behaviour is not just cute or adventurous, and it crosses a line that we have drawn in the sand. We have decided that the simple framework we will create for ourselves (not our idea originally, but very wise) is to create “family-centred children” as opposed to a “child-centred family”. The simple way we express this to our children is with the words “In our family, we…”
This is the guideline by which we regulate behaviour and on occasion, exercise discipline. As a family, we have set certain values, and when behaviour does not align with these values, we explain the problem using those words as a prefix.
It’s important to clarify the tone of that statement. The tone is absolutely not “in our family…” the tone is very much “In our family…” It is so easy to sound judgemental, and I ask you not to hear that in the tone of these words.
Our goal is to give our children a clear place in the world that in a simple way reflects accurately the reality of the real world – the existence of values such as respect, responsibilities, boundaries, consequences, teamwork, privileges, social acceptability, and behavioural absolutes.
We don’t believe you can start too young with this – the later you start, the more there is to unlearn!
For example, when a child refuses to eat dinner, the statement goes something like “In our family, we eat what is put in front of us. If we don’t, it shows disrespect to mommy and to our family. If you show disrespect, you will…” and then the potential consequence is laid out.
Anyway, eventually order is restored, and as part of restoration, in our family an apology must be offered. Naturally the child is seeking full and immediate restoration of intimacy – which is guaranteed – but ALSO the immediate restoration of full privileges and rights. This is more of a debate for us.
There are consequences to actions, and forgiveness does not necessarily undo the consequences of actions. Consequences are crucial for the learning of lessons. For example, I have seen children who have learned that as long as you apologise, you get out of trouble AND you get the treat.
The other day a young kid attacked one of my much smaller twins because my little guy was in the toy car that he wanted. He pulled his hair and pushed him over, before I could get there to stop it. The father of this young kid came over, told him it was wrong and the young kid then said “Sorry”.
My little man was in my arms getting a comforting hug, and the bully then took the toy car and rode away on it? And his father was OK with that! Not 30 minutes later I saw him very deliberately pull exactly the same trick to bully another toy off another little kidlet. And he was again successful, without any consequence other than the required apology.
This is the effect of an apology resulting in forgiveness, and forgiveness resulting in the annulment of consequences. I believe firmly that in specific situations, consequences should endure after the granting of forgiveness, and the child must learn that although love is unaffected by behaviour, and forgiveness is complete and instant, there are still consequences to be endured. Those consequences make the wrong-doing unpleasant enough, to discourage repetition. Without consequences, all there is, is the reward of getting what you want by any means necessary!
It is a fine line, and unless the concept of forgiveness is well understood and well communicated, intimacy is not a weapon; and restoration is immediate, the danger is that forgiveness can be viewed as conditional. Which it should NEVER EVER be.
But there are consequences for everything. And a failure to learn that is as damaging as anything else in the young life and mind of a child.