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I'm a 30-something wife and mom. My boys are my pride and joy. Together, we are navigating being a forever family post international adoption.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Punishment vs Consequence - What's the Diff?

When Buddy gets really upset, he gets destructive. We discovered this shortly after getting home and, while he has gotten much better at controlling himself, it is still true today.

Buddy breaking things used to make me mad. Not upset, not frustrated, straight-up furious. It was one of those things that pushed me over the edge. Toy cars, pencils, books, clothes - I reacted like Buddy had spit in my face. And when he realized how upset his actions made me, it only gave them more power.

One of the things I am most proud of as an adoptive parent is I have learned to remain calm despite Buddy pushing my buttons. I finally realized that losing it when he displayed poor behavior only made the situation worse. It just isn't worth it.

The other week we had some kind of family argument. I don't even remember what about. Buddy went to play with the neighborhood kids afterwards. He was still upset but we thought it would be good for him to go out, have fun and blow off some steam.

He came home shortly after with a broken watch.

None of his friends were out so he decided to come home, but not before hitting his watch against a tree until it broke. This was the third time he had broken a watch, by the way.

Hubby and I didn't issue any punishment. No yelling, no lecture. Nothing.


The one stipulation we have about Buddy going off with his friends is he has to wear a watch so he can be home when we ask him to be. Normally he plays outside where there are no clocks and he doesn't have a phone or any other way of telling time.

The natural consequence to Buddy breaking his watch was that he wasn't able to go out with his friends after school and on the weekends until it was replaced. Neither Hubby nor I would lend him one of ours, due to his track record with his own. We also weren't going to buy him one, because the one he had was perfectly fine when he broke it.

We explained to Buddy that we can't control his actions. He is growing up and is able to make decisions for himself. But they have repercussions, and so when he makes a choice he has to live with the fallout.

After about a week, there came time when I was going to a store I knew had inexpensive watches. Buddy came along, took his time choosing a new watch and paid for it himself. The minute we got home he read his watch instructions, set it, and headed out for the first time for over a week to play with his friends.

Buddy didn't grow up in a traditional family and traditional punishments don't work with him. They re-inforce a tucked away "me-vs-them" mentality. Hubby and I have learned the best course is to have consequences that directly relate to the behavior in question.

In this case, we didn't once use the word "grounded" although that is basically what happened. Instead, we framed it as an aftereffect that related to the decision Buddy made to break his watch.

I doubt Buddy will break his watch again, but I can't say that he will never break anything in the future.

The point isn't to stop Buddy from breaking things. It's to teach him he is free to make choices, but he isn't free of the consequences of his choice.


  1. We may have once been a "traditional" family but I have always believed in the consequence fitting the crime. Your consequence was simple and brilliant.

    1. Sometimes it's more challenging than others, but it definitely makes a big difference in the long term.

  2. An excellent post, thank you for writing and posting it. "Punishment" is s trigger word for Ella since it was short for "take all you clothes off so I can better humiliate you" in her BFs nutty universe.
    We sometimes use disappointed with Nicola and Alice (coming up 3) - that seems to work well.

    1. "Nutty" is the most polite way of describing anyone who used humiliation on a child. Even at my most angry, I can't imagine doing that. I am so sorry to Ella, no one deserves to be treated that way.