Do Consequences Have a Place in Redemption?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
In yesterday's post, When I Resorted to Punishments, I discussed redemption versus retribution. 

Redemption: The act of redeeming or the condition of having been redeemed.
Redeemed: To restore the honor, worth, or reputation of:
Retribution: Punishment for doing something wrong 
Do I want to seek to restore his honor, worth, and reputation, or do I want to punish him? 
The world says children need punishment. I think children need redemption. 

They will grow and mature and come to naturally understand how the world works. They will come to understand laws and consequences without being "primed" for them with smaller punishments now. We think if we punish them for little things, they'll want to avoid punishment for the big things later, but that's not really how it works. Punishment highlights their faults. Punishment eats away at their self-concepts. Punishment is retaliation, not teaching.
Redemption restores honor and worth. How do you redeem a wayward child? By highlighting their strengths, not their weaknesses. By shining a spotlight on their rights, not their wrongs. By believing in their goodness and making sure they believe in their goodness. By ensuring that "kind," "helpful," "compassionate," "responsible," and "good" are part of their self-concepts because humans behave according to what they believe of themselves, and children believe of themselves what their parents believe of them.  
Correction is necessary, but shining that big light on their mistakes only makes them grow. Correct gently, shining the light always on their decency, listening to the communication of the behavior, and seeking always to redeem them. 
It's been a popular post, and I'm thankful that the philosophy of positive parenting is reaching so far. There have been some comments after that post about the need for consequences, which I'd like to address today.

I've discussed consequences several times on this site.
What's the Deal with Consequences?
Consequences that Teach
Alternatives to Spanking
Biggies and Smallies
What's the Deal with Consequences When They're Older?

As I stated in "What's the Deal with Consequences When They're Older?"
First, I think it's important to define punishment and consequences.
pun·ish·ment noun \ˈpə-nish-mənt\: suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution
Punishment is making your child suffer, experience pain, or experience loss in order to serve as retribution. So, obviously spanking (causing pain), grounding (causing suffering or loss), or taking away toys or privileges (causing loss) are all about one thing, you intend to make the child suffer because of her behavior. The thing about punishment is that "serving as retribution" doesn't last. That's why the majority of offenders who get out of jail repeat an offense. Retribution doesn't really teach us anything valuable. In most cases, it serves to just make us angry and vengeful.
con·se·quence noun \ˈkän(t)-sə-ˌkwen(t)s: something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions
That sounds more helpful, except we have an uncanny knack for turning these into punishments, too. This is where the line gets blurry. I fought with myself over the semantics of consequences and punishments for quite a while, and I came to the conclusion that intent is really what separates the two. There are 2 keys in turning from retribution to teaching: INTENT and EMPATHY.

So to answer the question of "Do consequences have a place in redemption" the answer is "yes." Sometimes consequences can help redeem the child by righting their wrongs. An example that comes to mind is when my son once wasted a can of compressed air at the bank while I chatted with friends. We problem-solved and he decided to do chores to earn the money to pay for the can. He did the chores and took the money back to the bank. This consequence was something we agreed on mutually as a result of the problem-solving process and didn't harm his self-concept but actually improved it as he felt a sense of responsibility. It taught him that he has the ability to make things right again, and that he is the kind of person who fixes his mistakes. Redeemed.

Another example was given in "What's the Deal With Consequences When They're Older" of a young lady who broke a window with a ball. It was decided that she'd earn the money to pay for the window. Again intent and empathy are keys. A consequence delivered with a harsh or demeaning tone and enforced with grit is going to feel like a punishment, which will focus the child more on his or her feelings of anger or irritation at the parent than on righting his or her's wrongdoing. However, when delivered with empathy, working with the child to fix his or her mistake and maintaining and conveying belief in the child's goodness and ability to make things right, the consequence can aid in redeeming the child.

It's important though to not go straight for the consequence every time your child makes a mistake. It can be easy to get stuck in that rut as it seems to "fix the problem" quickly, but we need to remind ourselves of what I was unable to see in the problem I discussed in yesterday's post, that behavior is communication. Rather than a consequence, the child may need taught a skill or helped with a problem they're dealing with.

Finally, whether a consequence is needed or not, it is invaluable to our children to convey to them our belief in their goodness, in their value, and in their ability to overcome whatever they are dealing with and shine. Our consistent belief in them is how they build a consistent belief in themselves, and that will benefit them for a lifetime.

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