Consequences and Crickets: Do You Hear Them, Too?
“He's refused to go to school for the past six weeks. And yesterday he got so angry he punched a hole in our basement wall.”
I listened on the phone and scribbled down the information as fast as I could while the discouraged and desperate mother on the line described her 15-year-old son's difficulties. She wanted him to attend the adolescent day treatment program where I worked.
I stopped writing and asked, “So, what were the consequences?”
Finally, she confessed what her silence suggested: there hadn't been any consequences for her son's rebellious and disrespectful behavior. I could understand her frustration — her son was using intimidation and anger to get whatever he wanted without having to take responsibility for his actions. The payoffs he got from his angry outbursts and defiance (feeling in control, getting his way, avoiding school) needed to be eliminated STAT.
The first consequence for Paul (his name has been changed) was attending an intake session with his parents and me. We talked about the issues that brought them there and reviewed the program structure, goals, and policies. Knowing that Paul had a history of aggression and refusing to get out of bed in the morning, I firmly informed him that if he was unable to get to the program on time, or if he continued to act aggressively, it would indicate to us that he needed an even greater level of support, such as treatment in a residential setting. Paul arrived on time the next morning without incident.
In fact, Paul enthusiastically attended the program every day for two months. He was a little slow to warm up, but revealed his intellect and wonderful sense of humor after only a few days. He actively participated in the therapy groups and got along well with his peers. He showed respect for others and always followed directions. He turned out to be one of my favorite clients ever.
While Paul and I worked on other goals, such as learning how to cope with anger, I supported his parents to deal with their challenges setting realistic expectations and clear limits ahead of time, so that Paul could become fully responsible for his choices. Paul helped his dad patch the hole he had punched in the wall (a very logical consequence if you ask me).
There was one day that Paul refused to get out of bed to come to the program. Setbacks are normal and an important part of the therapeutic process. As a result, he and his parents had to show up for a “re-entry” meeting, at which we reviewed his treatment goals and clearly laid out the consequences (both positive and negative) of meeting them. Paul was motivated to go back to school now that he had daily structure, positive interactions with peers and adults, and some additional coping strategies, All these things contributed to his feeling better about himself. The positive consequence of consistently showing up to the program would be returning to school sooner.
Paul made a quick transition back to high school. I heard from his mother about a year later that he was doing well at home and school. I hope his story illustrates the importance of using both positive and negative consequences to motivate kids, and of allowing them the opportunity to learn the effects of their behavior.
If I asked you about consequences in your family, would I hear crickets? What's your biggest struggle when it comes to setting and enforcing them? Leave a comment below and I'll answer any questions you have.
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Less Drama More Mama will donate to Kaboom, an organization dedicated to creating safe and handicapped-accessible playgrounds across the U.S.
Over half of you said you'd find it helpful to read a blog post about surviving the holiday break from school (I hear ya barkin'), but many of you also wanted a post about dealing with family drama during the holidays. So I'll be sure to write both of those for you in the coming weeks. No one voted for the post about fun ideas for holiday gifts and parties, but you can find that sort of stuff on Pinterest.
Finally, this holiday season the majority of you are giving yourself the gift of time with your kids. I wasn't sure whether to be impressed or skeptical, but I'm going with impressed. Kudos, mamas!
Thanks to everyone who participated in the voting!