“My husband puts our 13-year-old daughter in time out.” That was the title of a Dear Abby question that caught my attention. Dad was clearly at his breaking point. Mom was frustrated with her husband because of the inappropriate punishment he doled out. And they were both at a loss for how to discipline a child who doesn’t care about consequences.
Put yourself in his shoes. If you were 30 minutes late to work and your boss restricted your access to the office coffee pot, you’d be annoyed and maybe rebellious, too. When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, it’s hard to respect it. A consequence, on the other hand, connects to the misbehavior. If your boss made you stay 30 minutes to make up the missed time, you’d be more likely to oblige and eventually change your ways because all the dots connect. iMOM’s Consequences Calculator is a great tool to help choose the right form of discipline.
Wait ’til things cool off.
A big ah-ha moment in figuring out how to discipline a child who doesn’t care about consequences is when you realize he actually does care but he’s just reacting to your anger. It’s similar to the dramatic breakup line, “I never loved you anyway!” Sure they did. They’re just hurt and angry. So take some time to cool off after the incident. You’ll have a more level head and your child will respond more reasonably as well.
Say no to negotiations.
This doesn’t mean you plug your ears and refuse to listen to his side of things. It does mean that if a clearly-set rule is broken, he has to pay the price. Later, you can revisit the rule. Think of it this way: If you run a stop sign, the police officer who pulls you over might be willing to hear your excuses, but you will still get that ticket. Put on your police officer hat!
Allow your child to pick the consequence.
When things are calm, talk to your child about the recurring misbehavior. If she chronically misses curfew, allow her to decide what happens if she’s late again next Friday. She might suggest a loss of car privileges or having to wash your car. The consequence needs your approval, but this puts the control in her hands so she’s more likely to remember. You might think the consequence is too soft, but if it leads to success, who cares?
Consider abandoning consequences for solutions.
Some kids are mindful of the past when they think and act. For those kids, consequences work. They remember what happened the last time they messed up. For others who are more future-minded, the week they spent on iPad restriction is long forgotten. For them, a solution is a better approach than a consequence. A solution might feel like wimpy parenting because we’ve been trained to punish as a result of bad behavior. But I think we’d all agree that the end game is to nip the bad behavior.
Here’s an example:
If your child doesn’t pitch in to help around the house, instead of yelling and taking away his video games, work together on a solution that will help him contribute. You could designate 20 minutes after school to getting jobs done. Or you could let him have more say. When I was a kid I hated emptying the dishwasher, but I didn’t mind cleaning the sinks. List the chores and let him pick three he wants to be in charge of. Solutions are proactive instead of reactive and could be the key to successfully parenting a kid who doesn’t seem to care.
Solutions are proactive instead of reactive and could be the key to successfully parenting a kid who doesn’t seem to care.
How have you tried to discipline a kid who doesn’t seem to care about consequences?