Why You Need to Let Your Kids Punish Themselves
Parents. Yes, you and you. Gather round. I have a little trick for you that’s going to blow your Parenting Mind!
In my hand, I’m holding the power to dole out punishment. Closing this hand I say the magic words: waka waka kersplunken hooey!
Now, open your hand. Go ahead, check it out. You now have the power to dole out punishment!
Now for the amazing part of the trick. Grab one of your kids, the one that just got into trouble. Have them close their hand. Now say your magic words (whatever they are) and have them open up their hand. Boom! Now the power to dole out their own punishment is in their hands!
Thank you, thank you, make sure and tip your waitress…
Why Choosing Your Own Punishment Matters
Why would you ever hand this power over to your kids, especially your teenagers? Buy-in. This gives them an investment in the punishment and buy-in to their consequences.
Asking your child what their punishment should be is handing over a sense of autonomy to them. Done right, they will either suggest a consequence well beyond what is necessary or come close to what you think should happen.
Putting the power to choose into their hands shares a sense of respect. Respect for the importance and following the rules. Respect for you as the parent. And respect for them as an individual.
Letting them start with the “type” of punishment is usually a clue to what is important to them.
This Punishment’s Too Soft
If they come up way short, you can tell them to try again and put them on a sort of “time out” while they work on it (you can determine what this time out looks like to you).
This Punishment’s Too Hard
If they come to you with an overblown punishment, this gives you the opportunity to tell them you appreciate their choice, but you think that it’s too harsh. Lessen the time/degree of the punishment and work toward the buy-in again. You look like a rockstar, fair parent and they have a punishment which they instituted and signed up for.
This Punishment’s Just Right
If they come back to you with a punishment that sounds remotely in the ballpark of what fits the offense, you can always tweak it a little. When doing this, talk through the punishment and give the “why” as to the need for a certain level of recompense.
One little tweak that I’ve used is having them “sleep on it.”
It goes something like this, “We need to come up with a punishment for what you did. Here’s what I would prefer to do, you tell me what you think. Sleep on it tonight, then in the morning before I leave for work I’ll listen to what you think the punishment should be. Deal?”
You’d be amazed at how powerful this is when patiently done right. The bottom line is this lets them really think about what punishment is worthy enough to keep the control in their hands.
Hope this helps. I wish I would have learned this a little earlier in life, like when my eldest was a teenager. Live and learn. Good luck!
Also published on Medium.