Parenting Tip: If It Doesn’t Hurt ’em, Let ’em

I’ve read a lot of parenting books over the last couple of years, thanks to the most stubborn child in the world.

One of the greatest pieces of advice I have read was this:

If it doesn’t hurt your child physically, emotionally, or break any moral rules that your family holds…let your child do it.  Yes, even if it’s a mistake.  It’s called “realistic consequences.”

It’s a hard one to do.  And you, of course, need to use some common sense while teaching your child this way.  But here is what it would look like:

Charlie has a shoe/sock “thing”.  He doesn’t like to wear them.  Ever.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times we have fought with him over it.  Summer time is fine because he loves flip flops.  But once the chilly weather came this year, we knew we were in for it.  I spent so many days fighting with him to wear shoes with socks.

So. Many.

I didn’t want his feet to get cold or wet.  More importantly, I couldn’t stand having another parent stare me down in the grocery store with that “Look at that poor baby in flip flops, his feet must be freezing, what was that Mother thinking?!” look.

Then one day, I read this book and I decided, that was it.  Charlie was about to learn some realistic consequences and the judgy ladies at the store could go fly a kite.  Would going to the store in flip flops on a cold, rainy Fall day physically hurt him?  Nah, he wasn’t going to get frost bite or anything.  Would it hurt him emotionally?  Nope.  Would it break any moral rules in our family?  The last time I checked, we didn’t have any cold wet feet policies.  SO, this was it.

Realistic Consequences.

“Charlie, it’s raining out and it is quite chilly today.  I would prefer it if you wore shoes and socks today.”

“Nope.  I don’t like them and I’m not going to.”

“Ok, that’s fine, it’s your choice today.” (notice, I said TODAY)

(looks at me like I must be possessed with the soul of another, more easy-going, Mommy)

So we go to the store.  Charlie, in all of his four year old glory, walks right through a puddle.

Wet. Cold. Feet.


“Hmmm, why are your feet wet, Charlie?”

“Because I walked into that puddle!”

(trying super hard not to be sarcastic, but instead, very matter of fact)
“Oh, I’m so sorry that you got your feet wet when you walked through the puddle in your flip flops.”

The End.

I didn’t rub it in.  I didn’t pull out the I told you so that hung on my lips just waiting to be spit at anyone who would listen.  I let him feel those realistic consequences.

He whined.  He complained.  I ignored and said it again and again.

“I’m so sorry…”

Then when we got home, we had a little chat.  You know, after his toes were warm and dry.

“Charlie, how did it feel today when your feet got wet and cold after you walked through the puddle in your flip flops?”

“Uh, I hated it!  YOU should have carried me! YOU should have…”

“I did not choose the flip flops.  You did.  I gave you the choice and you chose flip flops.  What can you do next time to avoid getting wet and cold feet on a rainy day?”

“I don’t want to talk about that, Mom.”

“Ok, that’s fine, but if you ever do, I will be right here.”

The next time we went to the store (and I made sure to go on a wet, cold day).  I told him:

“Charlie I would prefer it if you wore socks and shoes today because it is cold and rainy.  But today, I’m going to let you choose.”

He stops, he thinks….I can see it happening.  The remembering…the wetness, the coldness of the toes, it was all coming back to him.

“Ok, Mom.”

GASP…it worked.

Now I hear a lot of your concerns already.  What about the times when I really do need my child to do what I ask?  That is the beauty of this.  When you give a little to your kids, they learn that when you “demand” something, you mean it.  When we are going to Church and I tell him he can not wear flip flops today.  He knows I’m serious.  Because all of the other days, I let him choose.

That conversation would sound like this:

“Charlie, we are going to church today.  Your choices for shoes are these brown sandals or these shoes with socks.”

“I want flip flops.”

“Sorry, that is not a choice today.  Your choices today are these brown sandals or shoes and socks.  Maybe you can wear flip flops tomorrow.”

They may not get it right away, but they will get it eventually.

Some people might say, “That kid needs to be bent over the knee and do what he’s told, none of this choices garbage!”  I respectfully disagree.

I don’t want obedient robot kids who do what they are told because they are afraid of me.

I want to raise responsible children who choose to do the right thing because…it’s the right thing.

Life is all about choices.  And when we teach our children, through realistic consequences, they learn what it means to make a good choice and a bad choice.

This kind of thing takes TIME.  CONSISTENCY.  PATIENCE.  But if you can just wrap your mind around the results, results that will last your child a lifetime, it is so worth it.

For more advice like this, check out Love and Logic.  I love this list of one-liners to get you off the hook in an argument with your kids and get the kids thinking!

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