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"Expert Advice" (consequences should fit the behavior)

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

This one comes up very often. I had someone the other day tell me they took their child's phone from them for disrespect, and back-talking. Their pediatrician had said to them they should not give out consequences that are unrelated to the misbehavior. The pediatrician, of course, did not offer an alternative consequence.


At first glance, this might make sense and is all well and good. Your child takes a crayon to your walls then they have to scrub it off. Your teen daughter wears your nice shoes to play in outside and messes them up; they buy you new ones. Your child rides their bike on a busy road; then you take their bike. If you can find discipline tailored to the infraction then, yes, all the better. But what about the all too common infractions that do not lend themselves readily to natural consequences, such as disrespect and back-talking, as the example, I provided above? You are left with nothing. This is the problem with the elaborate parenting advice out there. The pediatrician took a concept and ran with it, leaving no consequential options for the parent to discipline the disrespect. It was taken as expert advice based on an appeal to authority and left at that. Unfortunately, many therapist give the same advice and leave parents with nothing to go on when they wish to hold their children to a certain ideal for their character formation.


My advice is to view all parenting advice as recommendations that may or may not align with your goals and values, including my own. In fact, when I work with families, I present several options and choices so parents can determine which line up best with their values before moving forward in therapy. I never give orders to behavior as if there is one size fits all.


In reality, no one knows what is best for your child other than yourself. You may need help brainstorming with ways to implement what you value and a good therapist will help with that. Determine if these recommendations line up with the values you wish to instill in your children. If not, then let it be. If it does not make sense, it is not for you. Not all parental advice fits your family dynamics even if written in Parents magazine or Psychology Today.


Consequences should fit the behavior is a concept. It does not mean, as some say, that discipline which does not fit the behavior should never be handed out. It does not mean, as some say, they will not learn from consequences that do not fit the behavior, or your child will become confused about consequences to a specific behavior, even if the professionals say it is so. G.K. Chesterton once said, ''without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.'' Parenting has been way over psychologized, and much parenting advice is far too elaborate for parents to remain consistent enough to actually work. Do not take the experts, the specialist, and the professionals so seriously. Sometimes simple parenting advice is truly the best advice.


Lastly, some would have you believe disrespect, arguments, and tantrum behaviors that do not lend themselves easily to natural consequences are normal age-appropriate behaviors and in actuality, do not render the need for discipline. Well, yes disrespect, arguments, or tantrums may be common to specific age groups, but it does not mean it is desirable behavior that should be tolerated and not addressed. Unfortunately, many parents overlook certain behavior because the experts have told them it is age-appropriate. Remember to ask yourself the values you wish to instill in your children, reflect on that. If your children stray from these values you are faced with how to go about teaching them. Don't underestimate the powerful teaching component of discipline even when it does not fit the behavior.



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