It’s important to make sure that a punishment fits the crime, and that whatever we threaten, we must follow through. Otherwise, your message will be lost. Consider the story of Trevor.
Trevor was a child in our class who figured out very quickly that his father’s threats were usually idle. One day, we went to the grocery store on a field trip. Trevor was very excited and just wanted to touch everything he saw. First, he grabbed an apple from the shelf, which caused several more apples to roll to the ground. His father reminded him that he wasn’t allowed to touch the food. A moment later, Trevor grabbed a cucumber. This time, Trevor’s father raised his voice and told his son that if he touched one more thing they were going home. Five minutes later, Trevor nabbed a candy bar off another shelf. Again, his father told him to stop touching things or they would go home.
And yet again, Trevor took another item from the shelf. Though his father got angrier, he continued to threaten to leave without having any intention of doing so. There was no incentive for Trevor to stop touching things because he knew there would be no consequence.
Trevor’s dad had two choices. He could have threatened to leave and then actually left, or he could have used another punishment that he could follow through on. For example, he might have told Trevor that if he touched something else, they’d have to sit for five minutes and miss out on the class visiting the lobster tank in the seafood department. Once he followed through on that threat, Trevor would be disappointed to miss seeing the lobsters, but he would know that his father meant what he said.
Parents need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. You have to let your children know that you mean what you say. If you follow through the first time, the kids will be less apt to challenge you the next time.