by Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton for Jewish Reconstructionist CommunitiesWhen it comes to parenting, I confess to being a slow learner. I should know by know that my almost-seven year old does not respond well, in general, to declarations of causality. Despite this general self-awareness, whether due to stubbornness on my part or just plain fatigue, I still find them tumbling out of my mouth.
She probably hears them as threats, which, I suppose, they really are. It doesn't seem to matter if I try to soften the blow, as in: "If you don't do "x" now, there will be consequences later." She needs to hear, right away, that if she doesn't get those dolls put away, and her sneakers put on now, that she will not get the orange sticker on the chart to earn the.. chosen reward of the moment.
But in my experience - and with just two children of my own, I confess that this is not a scientific sample - the "if . then" approach just doesn't work very well. Alternative approaches, such as sharing the decision-making or offering choices bring better results, as well as happier children, and a more sane Ima.
There is also the "natural consequences" approach. When I am willing, and able, it's often best to let the child's choice, even if it's not the "best," win the moment. As long as it's safe (and not too costly in terms of replacement items!), allowing the effects of that decision to be experienced turns into a more deeply integrated learning. So, when she wears that long sleeveless dress with party shoes out to play, and finds out that she's uncomfortably chilly and can't hang upside down on the swinging bar, it's unlikely she would make that choice again.