I remember the first time one of my children did something that led to a serious outcome.
Our child started a fight with another child and we needed to get to the summer camp immediately. We later received word that the other camper’s parents had filed a report with the police. A few days later we drove to the police station and met with a detective for about 45 minutes. It was serious. We were both scared. I wanted to rescue my child, but I also really hoped that the experience would make an impression.
Many children who have experienced trauma either during childhood or before birth, struggle with impulsivity. They often put themselves into dangerous situations. As parents we spend much time redirecting, explaining, setting up safeguards and trying to control the outcomes. Our children may need support for a life time but we can’t always control the world around them. Sometimes they make choices that will have an undesirable outcome. Trying to support our children while they continue to put themselves at risk, can feel exhausting and defeating.
How do you find the balance between protecting and teaching our children to live in the real world?
The Friendship Of Natural Consequences.
A few years ago we were interviewing our good friend Ruth Graham, who is a trauma-trained therapist, for a Live Q&A segment we host bi-monthly for our virtual support site Oasis Community. One of the questions that came in from a member, centered around a child who was now in her late teens/early 20’s, had an FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), and was out on her own. “What if my daughter melts down at her job, and starts to do the same things she did when she was at home?” the person asked Ruth. Her answer back surprised us.
“Our children are going to have to learn to live in a real world, with real consequences. And when that day comes, there’s little we can do to stop their choices. We can pray for them, guide them to the best of our ability, but at the end of the day, if they choose to do what they want, or say what they want to someone in authority, they are going to face the music.”
In an odd sort of way, this reality releases us to have a sense of peace when it comes to our children’s choices. Our kids will grow up and live and (hopefully) work in a real world, with real boundaries, real rules, and real consequences, that are out of our control. I don’t hope for natural consequences to happen to my children, but I can’t keep natural consequences from happening if they make the wrong choice.
If you continue to reject the healthy foods and instead, eat junk when you’re not under our supervision, you’re going to gain weight, feel sick, and potentially have diabetes down the road.
If you choose to take something you didn’t pay for from a store, you are going to get caught and prosecuted.
If you choose to sleep all day during class, you’re going to fail and not move on to the next grade.
If you choose to not bathe properly, you are going to stink and other children may say something that hurts your feelings.
Natural consequences are hard but they can be our friend, teaching our children things first hand that are difficult for them to understand in the abstract.
We can’t bubble wrap them but we can be there to catch our children when they hit hard because of a natural consequence. We have an opportunity to love them and support them while they walk through the fire.
You Can Only Control What You Can Control.
A few months back, I had a shift in my own thinking when I was in the thick of a battle with one of my children. My child had an appointment but was refusing to go. I suddenly realized, I couldn’t force the child to move but I could control the environment and myself.
I can only control what I can control.
Instead of continuing to argue, I removed the remote to the television. I didn’t wave it around as a threat, just slipped it into my backpack and went to wait in the car. I can’t make the child get into the car, but I can remove myself as the audience and I can remove the fun things that might tempt them to stay at home. My child came out to the car a few minutes later and we made it to the appointment nearly on time.
This one realization has released me from the stress of feeling like I have to control every single choice my children make all the time. Because, simply put, I can’t! It may feel out of control at first but in the end, keeping control of yourself and your environment helps both you and your child.
I can no longer bubble wrap my kids, but what I can do is build trust, love them, care for them, continue to show up for them, and work to connect with them on a daily basis.
Are you in this season with your child? Have you struggled to control their choices? Share your story with us in the comment section below.