I learned an important lesson about fast food, focus, and the finality of many decisions we make. Rushing to my car, I placed the takeout package on the roof, unlocked the car, and pulled into traffic. Perceiving the honking of other drivers as pure road rage, I proceeded upon my way. It was amazing how long that meal clung to the top of my car before it flew under the tires of the F-150 behind me.
Our lives are full of decisions… and their consequences. They aren’t punishments. Nobody took my lunch, attempting to make me pay for my lack of focus. It was just a simple result of my lapse.
A few years ago, a tragic event occurred near our homes in Colorado. Some teens thought it would be fun to race around our mountain roads, taking turns “surfing” on the roof of their car. Is it possible these kids didn’t learn enough about the finality of consequences when they were younger?
Some who see themselves as more enlightened in the arenas of caring and compassion experience semi-aneurisms when they hear someone say, “allow kids to experience the consequences of their actions.” These are often people who care very much about kids who have experienced trauma and equate consequences with punishment. They also believe kids with trauma are capable… but not capable enough to learn from their actions. We’re confused. Do we want kids who’ve been hurt to remain victims, or do we want to empower them toward victory and self-esteem?
We agree that punishment, sarcasm, guilt, anger, and other negative practices do not work. We disagree that consequences (or “results”) aren’t appropriate for kids who’ve had trauma. Their effectiveness just depends on how closely attached they feel toward the adult.
Positive relationships form the foundation of all effective discipline. The safety and security this provides allows all children to begin seeing the connections between their choices, actions, and resulting consequences. Kids who’ve experienced trauma need to experience the results of their actions… even when it doesn’t appear they are making the connection. As they experience the calmness and trust of loving attachment relationships, this cause-and-effect learning will begin to happen.
When delivered with love and empathy, logical consequences help provide accountability. In many cases, an element of restitution can give a child the chance to feel like he or she “made it right.” Loving accountability can help kids feel the following:
I can solve problems.
All kids thrive when they embrace these beliefs.
So, we’ll charge ahead, continuing to upset those who view themselves as superior to most folks in the areas of compassion and intellect. We’ll keep holding kids accountable with plenty of empathy and grace, and we will treat them as if they are capable of learning from life’s results. We’ll just keep helping more families raise kids who feel good about themselves and their ability to thrive in this challenging world.