In my last post, I discussed the doctrine of logical consequences for motivating kids. In this post, I want to discuss the importance of low maintenance consequences that impact your child more than you. I have always had jobs that take a lot of my time, and many popular parenting techniques are simply beyond my ability. If I restrict a child from talking to a particular friend, I do not have time to check his or her cell phone every night. If I start waking a child up earlier than usual because he missed the school bus, then I (as a not-morning person) suffer along with him. The more time I have to spend enforcing consequences, the more irritated and snarky I get. Because of those pressures, I have learned to concentrate on finding logical consequences for my children that do not require much maintenance from me.
One example, and perhaps my most-used parenting technique, is to leverage allowances. I give my kids more generous allowances than the average, but in return I make them responsible for more expenses. Younger kids buy all of their own toys (other than birthday and Christmas) while teenagers get a larger amount that has to cover all of their clothes and entertainment. The arrangement teaches them both the logical consequences of going over their budget (thrift stores have plenty of clothes) and negotiation skills (a new computer is both a school item that is my responsibility and entertainment that is theirs).
My favorite part of the allowance system, however, is that it allows me to impose logical consequences that I do not have to spend much time enforcing. A low grade means an automatic corresponding decrease in the month’s allowance. I do not have to spend any additional time enforcing or explaining the rule. If a child misses the school bus, I do not have to spend time nagging them to get up or give up my own sleep time. I simply point out the cost of a taxi and then deduct from their next allowance a friends/family rate of $5 for my taxi services. The rules are clear and enforcement does not take much time.
Deducting from their allowances also has the important benefit of affecting my kids more than it affects me. Keeping my money makes me happy and lowers my stress level. I am much less likely to be snarky about rule infractions when I see some benefit.
We have successfully used this principle with our technically-but-not-self-sufficient adult children. We have long had a rule that our children have to be either in school or contributing to the household expenses. Charging actual rent simply creates a point of conflict and sets us up as a different kind of authority figure. So we give them one of the utility bills and make it their responsibility. Then, any failure to pay is between them and the utility company.
Of course, we have to be willing to run the risk of being inconvenienced by their failure, but that risk is just part of being a family. There also are ways to limit the risk. For example, I always hand over the cable bill first because that service matters more to the child than to us (we have hot spots.) We also develop backup plans. When one of our adult kids once failed to pay the gas bill, resulting in no hot water in the house, my husband and I never commented. We simply spent a week or so showering every morning at the gym while he dealt with it.
There are many other self-enforcing logical consequences. Your only boundaries are safety and creativity. The principle in play is, when thinking through consequences, always consider how much time and other resources you actually can devote to enforcing them. If enforcement takes a lot of your time and energy, raises your stress level, or creates another opportunity for conflict, then it will not work very well. Look for consequences that are self-enforcing, low maintenance, and harder on the kids than on you.
For more discussion about this principle, check out my book, Raising Other People's Children: What Foster Parenting Taught Me About Bringing Together a Blended Family.