Be firm but fair

Parenting Principle #3: Define fair boundries

You’re the first source of knowledge for your kids. It is your job to prepare them for success in the real world. Part of this process means teaching your kids that there are consequences for all of our actions.

You may see your child be friendly to someone and then make a friend. This is a teachable moment where you can show your child that when you are kind and respectful, good things happen. Valuable teachable moments also come about when children do not meet expectations.

Hold the Line

If your child fails a test, you can implement consequences. Consequences are most impactful when they have a direct relation to the action. For example, it might not make sense to make your child do the dishes every day for failing a test. Instead, it may be more appropriate to limit free time and increase study time.

This is a good time to teach your child another valuable lesson: we must take responsibility for our actions.

Holding your kids accountable for their actions will teach them to own up to their mistakes in the future. It’s helpful to talk through the reasoning behind these consequences so your child understands why she is expected to meet expectations, and what happens when expectations are not met.

This prepares kids for the real world, where consequences can be much worse than getting a bad grade in class for not studying.

Consequences in the Real World

  • Putting in minimal effort leads to less opportunity. When kids are still living at home, they may get bad grades. You can show your kids that these bad grades will close them off from future opportunities to grow mentally, personally, and professionally. If your kid doesn’t apply himself to work in the real world, he may lose his job or miss out on a promotion.
  • Being disrespectful invites disrespect. If your child doesn’t take on the value of respect, he may be careless with others. This will not produce positive relationships. It may lead to your child not being respected professionally or personally. Teaching your child that you get what you give is a powerful lesson that he will carry into adulthood.
  • Irresponsibility leads to loss. If your child is irresponsible with objects, money, or commitments, they’re likely to struggle in the future. Being inconsiderate of money could lead to financial struggles in the future. If you teach your child the value of a dollar, he will grow up understanding the importance of saving and spending responsibly.
  • Missing commitments leads to unreliability. In the real world, if your child does not follow through on what he says he will do, people will likely deem him unreliable. So, when you’re teaching your kid to follow through on commitments, you are also preparing him to be available and trustworthy in future endeavors.

Reward Success

Addressing your child when she doesn’t meet expectations will help her be more successful in the future, even when she doesn’t like the consequences. It’s valuable to teach your children about real world consequences. We often jump to the negative when we think of the effects of our actions. However, many of our actions have really positive effects.

Provide specific praise when your child does something successful. You don’t have to praise him every time he makes his bed, as that is an expectation. However, you could express genuine appreciation when he takes initiative and cleans the whole house so that you don’t have to. Being considerate like this benefits your child in the real world.

Giving rewards for positive behavior is more effective than punishment. It feels good to get praise. Happy brain chemicals such as dopamine are released when we receive praise. Our reward center lights up. This leads to a desire to continue doing good things.

The need for kids to receive praise doesn’t mean that you need to overly compliment or coddle them. You don’t need to give praise every day (unless your kid is on a real winning-streak). In fact, giving praise constantly makes it less valuable. Your child may begin to expect praise.

You don’t need to give praise every day, and you don’t need to wait six months between each time you express appreciation for your child’s behavior. Instead, give praise when it’s appropriate.

For example:

  • When your child has gone above and beyond expectations
  • When he has taken initiative for himself
  • When she has completed a particularly challenging task

This type of encouragement is motivating and will help your child believe in his capabilities. The praise you give should be intentional and specific. For example, instead of saying, “You got an A, good job.” You can say, “Wow, I see that you worked very hard to achieve this. You asked for help and you persevered through the obstacles. You have a strong work ethic.”

Talk About it

Using positive action as a teachable moment leads to more positive actions from your kids. When paired with natural consequences for negative actions, your child will have a better idea of how his actions affect his world and the world of those around him.

Having conversations in these moments is valuable. You can think through your child’s behavior with her. It may even give you a better understanding of why she behaved the way she did.

Have the difficult conversation

If your child failed a test, you may have noticed that he had hardly studied. The instinct is to say, “Well, you need to study more.” That’s probably true. However, having a conversation about this could broaden your understanding of a larger issue.

Maybe his math class is really hard to understand and he feels embarrassed. Fear of failure often leads to less effort. Children are afraid of trying something and failing anyway. Instead, they can put forth little effort and say, “Well, I failed that test because I didn’t study, not because I’m not smart.”

Once you’re able to have a conversation about this issue, you can have a better idea of how to proceed. Instead of punishing your child, you can teach him what to do when he needs help. Require that he meet with his teacher once a week or get him a tutor.

Punishing a behavior that a child doesn’t know how to fix can lead to confusion and resentment instead of progress.

Remaining firm but fair requires clear expectations and boundaries. Natural consequences are implemented because that’s how the real world operates. Similarly, outstanding behavior merits positive praise and acknowledgement.

Having a conversation about the consequences at hand can teach both you and your child something new. It can even lead to a better understanding of the needs of your child.