I’ve been thinking about my use of consequences as I parent and lead children. Consequences are a powerful motivator for making right choices and avoiding the wrong. So they are needed for guiding children.
However, there is a word of caution for relying solely on consequences. Relying on them is merely behaviour modification. This is actually damaging because simply changing behaviour is self-reliant and exterior. As parents who believe in and follow Jesus we know that we cannot save ourselves or grow our character apart from his redeeming and sanctifying work. We are not self-reliant, but Christ-reliant. And the way Christ works is by transforming the heart not putting a vain polish on our appearance.
We reap what we sow. If you plant a fern you will grow a fern. Likewise, if you sow anger you will reap anger. So as parents we can help children recognize the implications of their choices with appropriate consequences.
Tedd and Margy Tripp have written a book called Instructing a Child’s Heart. In it, I came across a quote that provides a solid distinction between the worldly approach to parenting called behaviour modification and the Godly approach they call biblical correction. They write,
“We do not depend on consequences to alter behavior. We want to train the heart of the child. In behavior modification, consequences are the means of shaping or manipulating behavior. In biblical correction and discipline, consequences are a means of demonstrating, in a sensory way, the importance of the spiritual consequences that are accruing in relationship to God, to others and to ourselves.”
Therefore, communication is vital for parenting. We can’t slap down consequences and expect children to turn out right. We have to do the hard work of explaining what Christ wants to accomplish in our hearts. The consequences are a way to help make that conversation happen.