When I Can’t Think of a Positive Consequence, This Always Works


Yesterday my 4-year-old stopped to take her shoes off before entering the house and I was overcome with anger and frustration. Why? Because! She just pulled the whole shoe off without even opening the Velcro strap! And whether or not you actually care how your child removes their shoes, I’m sure there’s some habit (or a few) that you have reminded your child of countless times and yet they still do it.

This moment drove me crazy because my daughter learned at a very young age to put her own shoes on and take them off. She’d carefully undo the strap and line up her little red Mary Janes in their assigned spot. If we were out somewhere, strangers laughed at how adorable it was and how they just could not believe she put her own shoes on.

So why was she suddenly pulling them off the lazy way? Well, I think it’s obvious that she discovered a faster way and I am honestly glad she is thinking in terms of efficiency. But I would rather she treated her $50 sparkly sneakers with a little more care, so I had been encouraging her to revert back to carefully undoing the strap.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening. First thing out of my mouth? “Let’s just throw your shoes away if you can’t take care of them. And then you’ll just have to stay inside forever.”

Face palm.

“OK, Mommy.”

Double face palm.

I get overwhelmed when I feel helpless and like I can’t control a situation. If it’s something I should not expect (like her being able to write her letters or calm herself in a very stressful situation) it’s much easier for me to let go. But when I know she is capable of doing something but it isn’t happening, I feel compelled to do something.

So then I sit and think,

What is a positive consequence I can use? 

I do not use punishments or rewards in my parenting. I don’t use arbitrary consequences and I believe that discipline, which comes from the root words disciple, is intended to teach.

If you use a toy dangerously, it goes up on the shelf for a while. Then we review how to use the toy when it comes down. If you hit your sister, you play separately for a while and we talk about how you’ll make amends. So what about the shoe Velcro? Just wait for it to break and you can’t go outside again until the next time I buy shoes? Well, no. That doesn’t make sense.

But if I really believe that discipline is teaching, the answer becomes obvious. You need to practice taking off your shoes the right way.

So we practiced. Five times. It happened again the next day. Ten times. And because we had to practice, time to play with her dollhouse was a lot shorter than it would have been otherwise (that was sad).

Practice rounds are one of the best ways I have found to discipline (aka teach) children of all ages. It works, and you don’t have to act mad or grumpy. You can even smile and make it fun.

Here are some other situations where practice has made perfect:

  • Learning to stop when I say stop
  • Putting away books and toys properly
  • Learning to sit quietly during church

Whenever I feel like I’m mad at my child, I’m usually just feeling out of control because I don’t know how I should respond to the situation. When this happens, practice rounds are almost always the answer!


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