Father teaches his son golf

When establishing the expectations and rigor in our homes, what do we use as our guiding principles, and do our children know what those principles are? And are there times when we get side-tracked into focusing more on rules or achieving certain outcomes of behavior, and we have then missed the opportunity to teach and learn together?

I learned a valuable lesson about this when my son was younger. As much as our family believed in character and attitude, we also could get busy with life and choose expedient ways to handle discipline.

My son was 12-years-old and having difficulty with honesty. He would make a mistake, which was fine, but then he would lie about it. Each time he was caught lying, he was given an accountability. At the time, my ‘go to’ discipline was to have him grounded. His friends lived close by and were at the house constantly, so this seemed like the perfect tool to get his attention. And it was a quick response to his infraction.

Before we knew it, we were on the third lying incident and consequently the third reprimand that took away his time with friends. I was perplexed. Why wasn’t this working? We were taking his dishonesty very seriously and not sweeping it under the rug, but our efforts were still unsuccessful.

My husband and I decided it was time for a sit-down talk. Our son sat somberly in front of us, knowing that we were disappointed in him. We reviewed each of his infractions, pointing out that his dishonesty was breaking our trust and respect for him. Surely he knew how important truth was in our family and in life; by losing his free time, he had ample opportunity to give serious thought to his lapse of character.

Expecting a poignant revelation, we asked our son if he had learned anything from being grounded three times. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, grounding doesn’t work.”

As I thought about what he said, I realized there was a lot of truth in his words. I was more focused on the consequence than on the principle behind it. I wanted my son to learn a lesson about the value of truth, but I didn’t create a classroom for that lesson. I gave him an accountability but didn’t teach. I didn’t share with him any of my struggles with telling the truth, which were frequent since I was a people pleaser and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I didn’t ask him how he felt when he told a lie or talk about the courage needed to listen to conscience. These were opportunities to connect, and I had missed them.

I know many parents struggle with consequences. We don’t want to be too harsh, or unfair, or see our kids unhappy – or we react out of frustration and impatience, and become overly controlling and authoritative.

Focusing on the core principles in our family will help us create a powerful setting that inspires our best and guides our character growth when we inevitably struggle with living up to that best self.