This morning I was thinking about boundaries, consequences, and cheap grace. I was thinking about the importance of the right person suffering the consequences of actions and decisions. Natural consequences are a valuable teacher. As parents and educators, when we allow consequences to be felt, we allow our children to grow and learn from their mistakes. When we do not, the consequences are still felt, but instead of being felt by the perpetrator of the action, the consequences are felt by others.
As parents, we do not like to see our children suffer. Unfortunately, this often leads to us interfering with the law of sowing and reaping that God put in place to help us and our children learn to be responsible, loving citizens of His kingdom. Here are some typical examples of natural consequences for what has been sown. Keep in mind that we are talking about natural consequences that result from the child’s behavior, not situations that may appear similar but are not a consequence of the choice the child made.
- a student rushed through the assignment and didn’t check it over, received a poor grade because of careless mistakes
- child repeatedly says unkind things to other students, no one wants to play with him
- a student didn’t study for a test, received a poor grade
- a student didn’t get up when the alarm went off, missed the bus/ride and was late for school
- child treats others with disrespect, he/she is not respected
- child leaves their bike in the driveway, it get’s damaged by weather or by a car backing over it
You get the idea. I think, in theory, we all understand this principle. However, when it comes to my child, everything changes. Did my child rush through and get a poor grade? I think the teacher should let him do it over (we expect the loss of consequence). Does my child say unkind things to others? Well, he didn’t mean it, or it’s because they said unkind things to him first (we try to excuse the misbehavior and make others play with them, removing the natural consequence). Did my child get a poor grade on a test because he didn’t study? He should get to take it over. Did my child oversleep? I will wait for him, beg and cajole him until I can get him out the door, and drive him to school even though it makes me late for work (he has no consequence and you now suffer the consequence by being late for work). My child’s not disrespectful. You just don’t understand him. What about the bike? This one happened to me and my siblings. Of course the child may regret their carelessness not putting their bike away and we might feel sorry for them. Do we reward it by replacing it with a new one, or allow them to suffer the loss and to learn the value of a bike by making them save up their own (earned) money to replace it?
Especially when we are assessing a situation based solely on the child’s report of what happened, we are likely to draw erroneous conclusions. We immediately transform to “mama bear” before all of the facts are in because my child doesn’t lie! Really? Even the most honest children lie sometimes. But regardless, even when they are being honest in reporting a situation, what they are reporting is their interpretation of the situation and we parents need to remember that. Always take time to find out the full story; don’t jump to conclusions or react too quickly.
As a parent, it is hard to see our children suffer, even when they have brought it on themselves. However, if we remove the natural consequences from our children’s actions, we are failing them. We think we are acting out of love, and there is no doubt that we love them, but we are not training them in righteousness. We are not preparing them to take responsibility for their actions and to make wise choices based on their past experiences. The elementary years are critical and wonderful years to learn life skills. If you have a child that rushes through or didn’t study and receives a poor grade, it is not the teacher’s fault! It is the child’s fault that they did not study, or they did not take their time and work carefully. I can assure you, the teacher probably reminded them to several times. The natural consequence is a poor grade.
For some children, a poor grade may not be a motivating consequence to do better in the future if the child perceives you don’t care. What are you doing to ensure the child knows you expect them to do their best? Some natural consequences at home to ensure they understand the importance of their effort in their school work may be that you have the child redo the assignment at home because they did not put their best effort into it at school, but you do not expect or allow the grade to be changed (otherwise they learn they do not have to do their best the first time – they will always get another chance). They will soon learn it is better to do it right the first time.
There can be an opposite problem for some students. Some parents are so concerned about their child always getting an A, that the child is not internalizing that they should do their best. Instead, they think they have to get an A at all costs. Often these students are driven to cheat ; they think the grade is more important to their parent than their character. Do you realize that colleges do not ask for elementary transcripts? Elementary is the perfect time to focus on the child doing their best, learning good study habits, and devloping a strong work ethic, rather than achieving a particular grade. You may believe that an A is reasonable to always expect from your child, but every student has the possibility of “hitting a wall” academically. If you tend to be a driven parent, for your child’s well-being, learn to let their best be enough. Don’t make it about the grade. Make it about them doing their best “heartily, as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).
If a child is having trouble making friends, it may be that they are bossy or unkind. If it is a natural consequence of their own actions, you can help by teaching your child some biblical principles of relationships such as: being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32), loving and praying for our enemies (Matthew 5:43), treating others the way we would want to be treated and developing a sense of empathy (Matthew 7:12), and not giving up. Sometimes it takes a while to reap what we sow (Galatians 6:9)!
The relationship help can also be applied when the child doesn’t like their teacher. Parents, have we forgotten that the teachers we didn’t like when we were growing up often turned out to be the best teachers we had because of the life lessons and responsibility we learned in their class? It’s okay for a child to not prefer the teacher they have. They will have a boss some day that they don’t care for and they need to learn to work under authority and personalities that are different from their preferences.
As an elementary principal, I often hear parents lamenting that we should give their child grace. Certainly, there are times that it is appropriate to give grace. Grace, by definition, is not a right and is not earned. Too often, “grace” is expected or given at times and in ways that remove the natural consequences that God intended, so that the child could learn to avoid that choice in the future. Especially in the elementary years, when consistency is a critical component helping a child learn (every time I touch the stove, I will get the same result – I get burned), grace should be carefully and sparingly measured out. When a child is unrepentant or does not demonstrate any real understanding of the significance of their actions, it is not the time for grace. It is the time for appropriate consequences. Giving “grace” in these instances only serves to confuse them. They begin to realize we don’t really mean what we say. No is not really no. Wrong is not really wrong.
Dietrich Bonhoffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, describes this as “cheap” grace. Here is what he says, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” When we dole out cheap grace, doesn’t it affect our children’s view of God’s grace as well? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! (Romans 6:1b-2a) If a child always receives grace, then they don’t value or even understand it. They just think they are “off the hook” for whatever they did. When a child appropriately receives grace, you will witness a humble, thankful, and repentant heart. When grace is “cheap” you will witness a careless and ungrateful attitude. The child may take no responsibility for what they did, and frequently, the action will soon be repeated.
As you are feeling your child’s pain, it is okay to be empathetic. Love and Logic, http://www.loveandlogic.com does a great job teaching parents how to have empathy while allowing their children to suffer natural consequences. This is a great resource if you would like to learn more.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction;whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:7-9