Lying: The Developmental Truth

I stared at the toast lying on top of the trash in disbelief. I was ticked. My four year old told me he had eaten all of his toast and wanted something else to eat. I went into the dining room where he was eating his peaches.

“I thought you told me you ate all your toast?”
“I did.”
“No, you threw it in the trash.”
“No, I didn’t. I ate it all.”

I took him by the hand and led him to the trash. “Look, there’s your toast.” He looked at me like he really didn’t know how it had gotten there.

This wasn’t the first time I’d caught him in a lie and I was frustrated. I couldn’t understand it. I don’t punish my children. I don’t reward them either. What do they have to fear by telling me the truth? My 7 year old had never lied to me. I really believe he’s physically incapable of it. It would alter his universe of science and order too much. But my 4 year old was born with his own personality and had no qualms about chaos. I felt connected to my youngest child. Our relationship was good. From all of my research and involvement with AP, I naively believed that if my parenting was focused on relationship, things like this wouldn’t happen. So why was he lying to me?
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Part 2: What Makes a Consequence Logical?

In Part 1, I talked about the differences between natural consequences, logical consequences, and punishments.  In positive discipline, natural consequences are appropriate and effective in helping children learn.  They are the preferred method of discipline (yes, it’s still considered discipline even if we don’t DO anything) for giving children valuable learning experiences.

Logical consequences are a popular discipline tool, but they are risky.  As stated in Part 1, a logical consequence is one “that ‘fits’ with the circumstances”.  However, this leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  When parents experience difficult behavior from children and their emotions are running strong, it becomes very easy to turn what is intended as a logical consequence into a punishment. 

So what makes a consequence truly logical?  As a general rule of thumb, if you have to think too hard about what to do to a child so that he learns a lesson, the logical consequence is most likely a punishment in disguise.   To ensure that logical consequences don’t become punitive:

First try to figure out what the natural consequence is.  We can do this by taking ourselves out of the situation.  “What would happen if I stepped out of this and let my child handle this problem?”  Would there be a natural challenge she would have to deal with on her own?  That might be a valuable learning experience for her.

Sometimes, though, a problem requires a parent’s involvement, in which case we can focus on solutions.  Think of difficult behavior not as a lesson to be learned, but a problem to be solved.  Consider, “What do we need to do to solve this problem?” rather than, “What do I need to do so that my child learns a lesson?”

When coming up with possible solutions to a problem, make sure that they follow the 4 Rs: 

  • Related—the consequence must be related to the behavior.  A child tries out his new markers…directly on the kitchen floor. A related consequence is that he must wash the marker off the floor.  An unrelated consequence would be if he were required to clean up the whole toy room.
  • Respectful—the consequence must be kindly enforced; no blame, shame, or pain.  Respectful: “Here’s a wet rag so that you can wipe the marker off the floor.”  Disrespectful: “Look what you did!  I can’t believe you colored marker all over the floor!  You better clean this mess up NOW.”
  • Reasonable—the consequence is in proportion to the problem.  Reasonable: The child needs to wash the marker off the floor.  Unreasonable: The child needs to wash the entire kitchen floor.
  • Revealed in advance—allow the child to know what will happen if a certain behavior occurs.  “Please keep the marker on the paper.  You’ll have to clean up any marker that gets on the floor.”

Something else that helps keep a consequence from becoming punitive is to give a child choice in the matter, and to ask for their input in solving a problem.  The choices a child is offered should always follow the 4 Rs above.

You can either get a spray bottle and a rag, or use a wet sponge.  Which would you like to use to clean this?  Do you have another idea for how you could clean this up?  Would you like me to help by getting a wet towel for you?

When using positive discipline, we try for natural consequences first, and approach the use of logical consequences conscientiously.  We can ensure that these “consequences” are truly relevant and respectful and not an arbitrary punishment in disguise by instead approaching them as “solutions”.  Our relationships with our children will benefit from the kindness and firmness of this positive discipline style, as well as from the cooperation and respect we demonstrate to our kids.

Kelly is an API Leader and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor in Portland, Oregon.  She blogs at Parenting From Scratch.

Part1: Rewards, Incentives, Consequences, and Punishments (Oh, My!)

At a recent API meeting, a few moms asked questions about the differences between rewards and punishments which I thought was very useful.  We hadn’t specifically discussed them before, and it was helpful to define our understanding of the words we often hear regarding discipline.  Based on attachment parenting, positive discipline, and unconditional parenting, here is the break-down:

Rewards vs. Incentives:

A reward is something that is given conditionally; you only get X if you do Y. An incentive is letting someone know of an enjoyable activity that is soon to come.  As soon as Y is done, X happens.  The difference here is that enjoyable thing (X) happens even if the behavior leading up to it wasn’t perfect.  It’s unconditional.

For example, a mom always gives her son a snack when they drive somewhere, but sometimes there’s a struggle actually getting him into his car seat.  Because having a snack in the car is something they do every day, the snack is not the reward for getting into the car seat; it’s the incentive. She reminds her son that, “After everyone gets buckled in our seats, we have a snack.”  That’s the order of events, and something he can look forward to after getting in his seat.  She wouldn’t withhold the snack if, despite her best efforts, there was still struggling and crying about getting into the car seat.  Her son is hungry and he needs it; it’s snack time.
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