I had lunch with an old friend recently and as we were catching up on everything our now young adult children were doing, she shared a particularly bad decision one of her kids had made. The decision resulted in a large medical bill. She said he was slowly paying off the bill each month. I loved how she said it: “We don’t pay for your bad decisions.”
As I was driving home, I kept thinking about her words. It’s vitally important that our kids understand that their decisions have consequences.
I get to counsel with kids when they want to be baptized. One of the ways I can tell if they really understand salvation is when I ask them about sin. If kids talk about sin using plural pronouns like “we” and “they”, instead of “I” and “me”, there’s a good chance they don’t understand their personal sin. Kids must understand that they are responsible for their own decisions and sinful acts. Sin has a severe consequence – death. Until we understand those basic facts, we can’t fully appreciate the free gift of grace and forgiveness offered to us through the death of Jesus.
As parents, we need to make sure our kids learn this by suffering natural consequences for their decisions.
We can start teaching that at a young age. Here are a few examples:
- Bop a friend on the head with a tube of Gogurt to make people laugh. The tube opens and Gogurt spills all over the floor. The natural consequence is to clean up the mess – themselves. It’s easier for a parent to clean it up, but cleaning it up is the natural consequence.
- Texting and driving and you get a ticket. The natural consequence is to pay the ticket themselves, as well as the increase in your car insurance.
- Goofed off and didn’t do a school assignment. The consequence is the bad grade, but you could also require your child to do the project anyway even if they don’t get credit. The goal of the assignment was to learn and the learning should still happen.
- A child won’t get up and get dressed in the morning and misses the bus. The natural consequence could be to walk to school. If it’s really far or not a safe route, follow them in the car to ensure their safety.
- Your child forgot their homework at home and calls for you to bring it to them. The natural consequence is that they just can’t turn it in that day.
It’s important for us to differentiate between bad decisions and accidents. You can also exercise grace by giving them a second chance on decisions that may not have had really clear ramifications. Make sure you are explaining cause and effect to your children so they are aware of consequences that may arise.
It’s also important to point out the benefits of good decisions. Make a point to tell your child you see the good decisions they are making and what the results are.
I am so thankful for the grace of God and forgiveness of our sins, but we still have to deal with the consequences of our decisions. Life will be easier for people who learned this lesson in the smaller situations as a child than in bigger decisions later in life. Make sure your child is prepared to make their own decisions and deal with the outcomes.