Dear 1-on-1 Coaching,
We have two sons, ages 15 and 13. My 13-year-old is struggling in school. He is an athlete and I seem to always hold this consequence over him: “If you don’t get good grades, you are not going to play baseball.” But, now that I have read many of your articles, I don’t think that I am doing the right thing. Good grades and baseball don’t match according to the rule of “the punishment should fit the crime.”
We hear from lots of families who wonder how to make the consequences fit the crime. Consequences become effective tools when they are related to the behavior you want to see change, so you’re right – threatening to take your son out of sports isn’t likely to help him improve his school performance. If your son is having a hard time in school, he needs to come up with specific ways he can improve his performance. Kids often engage in wishful thinking – thinking things will get better just because I say they will – but that kind of faulty thinking blocks effective problem-solving. He needs specific behaviors he can practice in order to turn things around. Consequences help keep him on track, and encourage him to learn new ways of solving the school problem.
Here’s an example: if your child is behind on homework assignments, he may need to have a homework folder initialed by his teachers each day in order to keep his assignments straight. He then needs to spend a couple of hours each day doing his homework in order to improve his grades. With the daily homework folder initialed by the teacher, and his homework completed, he is then free to use the computer, or play video games, or whatever a suitable privilege would be in your family. If he does not bring that homework folder home, he loses privileges for that day. As part of his consequence, he might also need to make a list of things he will do tomorrow to help him remember to bring it home. The next day, he gets to try again.
Remember, your role as a parent is to help your child learn more effective problem-solving skills, not threaten – or even reward – him into compliance. Keep your consequences time- and task-specific, and you’ll go a long way in helping your child learn.
–Megan Devine, LCPC, 1-on-1 Coach