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  • Writer's picturePeter Bogart LPC, NCC, BC–TMH

Does Everyone Know the Speed Limits in Your Family? Use These 4 Rules to Create Perfect Consequences

Should we take the phone away? Sure, but for how long? A week? No, that’s too long. No, it’s not long enough!

Let’s take the car away instead. But, then we will have to drive him all over town. Nevermind, let's just ground him next weekend. But next weekend is homecoming and we can’t ground him from that!

Have you and your spouse or co-parent recently engaged in a similar conversation about disciplining your child? When our children misbehave, it’s completely normal for parents to respond with strong emotions. We raised our children to behave better! We need to teach them a lesson and show them that this behavior is not acceptable. But we also need to be proactive with our consequences in order to help our children make better, informed choices when the moment temptation to break the rules presents itself.

Parents often disagree on consequence severity - one parent is accused of being too soft and the other is too hard. We are constantly searching for the “Goldilocks” of consequences that are “just right.” But perfect consequences do not exist if we are searching for them reactively, instead of proactively.

The perfect consequence only exists when it is:

  1. Predictable - well known ahead of time by everyone in the family.

  2. Consistently Enforced - no free passes are given and no last minute negotiating.

  3. Emotionally Neutral - no emotionally fueled overreactions are piled onto the consequence, making our children feel unloved or unworthy of our love.

  4. Not Excessive - anything longer than a couple days, or the following weekend is almost always too long. Children will give up before the consequence even begins.

A helpful analogy to think about is our ability to adhere to the speed limit signs while driving. The speed limits are clearly posted for us to see in plain view (Predictable). If a police officer sees our speeding car on his or her radar gun, we get pulled over and issued a traffic ticket (Consistently Enforced). The police officer doesn’t scream at us or blame us for ruining his or her life while writing the ticket (Emotionally Neutral), and we are not arrested or banned from driving for a month (Not Excessive). These “perfect” consequence guidelines significantly help keep our roads as safe as possible.

However, these consequences don’t prevent all accidents or dangerous road rage. Drivers are allowed to determine their own risk assessment regarding speeding. If I am running late to a job interview, I can weigh the pros and cons of speeding to get there faster. I can choose to follow the speed limits (rules) or not. I can use streets that are less likely to be patrolled by police officers. Under these circumstances, I might have an heightened awareness of my surroundings and really focus on my driving and the road ahead.

I should clarify that I am not advocating for children to break the rules, or speed without getting caught. But let me ask you this question: when you drive your car, do you always stay at or below the speed limit? I’m a pretty safe driver, but I can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question. Sometimes I take calculated risks to save time. Sometimes I suddenly notice that I am driving 10 mph over the limit and slow down. As adults, we have enough self-regulation and insight to bend the rules without breaking them.

This is the exact situation we want to create for our children as they grow older and gain more awareness of themselves and the world around. We want them to know the rules or speed limits in our family system, so that they can navigate their own path and conduct their own behavioral risk assessments when they are invited or tempted to break the rules. This is the perfect “Goldilocks” formula for healthy emotional and behavioral growth to occur. We don’t want to blind side our children with strict punishments - that will only teach them to resent their parents. Instead, we want to provide a container full of clear expectations and consequences that will allow our children to mature and develop responsible independent life skills.

If you want an expert to help establish the speed limits for your family, contact me today to set up a family therapy or parent coaching appointment.


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