The line between actions and consequences is severely blurred for a lot of kids because, by and large, they don’t understand the general principle of cause and effect.
They don’t understand cause and effect because the adults in their lives constantly come behind them to fix things when they screw up.
This problem is complicated by idle threats and equally idle promises.
An example: The promise, If you’ll be good boy (whatever that means) at the store, I’ll buy you a treat, is easily lost in the excuse: It’s too close to dinner; you’ll spoil your appetite.
Not fair! Sure, we have to be concerned for a kid’s nutritional well-being. So we’d better take care to not make idle promises in exchange for compliant behavior.
All right, that’s it! One more word out of you and we’re going straight home!
Really? You’re going to load everybody back onto the bus and go straight home? I’m not saying you shouldn’t do exactly that if it fits the situation. But please don’t threaten to do it if you know you can’t live with the consequences of following through.
If I say: Stop nagging! You kids are killing me! I should have the decency to die the next time one of them nags. Otherwise, it’s just an idle promise.
More to the point, our children falter in learning the connection between cause and effect when, not wanting them to experience pain, many of us are quick to rescue them from the consequences of their failures and wrongdoing.
When they’re young we easily replace a toy carelessly lost or broken in anger and shield them from the cost of their actions. Time passes and we drop what we’re doing to deliver an item thoughtlessly left behind so a middle-schooler won’t suffer a loss of face or miss a meal or fail to turn in a paper on time. Still later, we cover a negligently overdrawn checking account or pay a traffic ticket and insurance increase resulting from a moving violation, or hire a lawyer to rescue our beloved failure from a ruined life.
And they resent us for it. Maybe not in the moment, but soon and forever until we make things right.