Habits have consequences. It is a fact of life that we witness every day. If you have a habit of doing the laundry regularly, you will have clean clothes to wear. If you have a habit of saving money from every paycheck, you will acquire a buffer for unexpected or future purchases.
On the flip side, if you have a habit of throwing your dirty clothes on the floor of your closet, you will soon run out of clean ones to wear. If you habitually spend every dime you make, you will quickly run out of money for unexpected purchases and maybe even necessities.
Consequences play an important part in habit-training—whether you’re working on a habit for yourself or seeking to instill a habit in your child’s life.
As an adult you can trace an action to its related consequence, and many times you keep that consequence in mind to help motivate you in your own habit-training. But often those consequences aren’t experienced until later down the road; many are long-term. And some are so life-changing that you wouldn’t want your child to experience them. For example, the natural consequence of his not completing assigned schoolwork is that he won’t be educated. It’s probably not a wise approach to let your child discover that fact in real time in real life.
So a parent steps in to adjust the consequences—either good or bad—and make them more obvious or less devastating for the child as needed when habit-training.
If young Joey pitches a fit because he doesn’t want to go to bed at the appointed decent time, you might use the consequence that he goes to bed earlier the next night (because he must be exhausted and overdone to lose control like that).
If Lydia puts forth the effort to pay full attention and gets her schoolwork done in good time, you might take the extra time to visit her favorite park.
Consequences can be powerful motivators. Natural consequences are the most powerful, but often you have to adjust and give your child a substitute consequence in order to keep him encouraged along the way or prevent him from ruining his life.
Ultimately, the final decision is your child’s; he chooses what he will or will not do. But there are many things you can do—including consequences—that can support his will and encourage him to make good choices. We’ll talk more about supporting your child’s will next time.
(You will find more about habit-training yourself in Laying Down the Rails for Yourself: Good Habits Are Not Just for Kids, a new book from Simply Charlotte Mason.)