All parents struggle with flashes of anger at the irresponsibility or disobedience of their children. You left all your toys out to get under my feet again? That irritates me and can make the even the most patient parent a little angry. Finding yourself saying, “How many times have I told you…?” You might need to cool down before you deliver that consequence.
Love and Logic parents know that research does not support the idea that a consequence delivered in response to an unwanted behavior has to be immediate in order to be effective. Dr. Charles Fay likes to remind us about those times we promised to go and get ice cream on Saturday. Do our children have a problem remembering our promise when Saturday arrives no matter how many days and hours separate the promise from the event? The delay does not cause a lapse in memory at all!
Delayed consequences can actually amplify a consequence. When we are dealing with a particularly chronic behavior, there might be value in delaying our response—even beyond cooling ourselves down. Amplifying the consequence by allowing a little dose of dread to accompany it for a few hours or even a few days helps our child remember it better.
I noticed this over the past week while my grandchildren were visiting from Colorado. Spending time together with their local cousin meant a sleepover the first night. I asked them to gather what they needed to be away for a night or two and meet me at the car. After coming home that evening, I received a call about something that would be needed before going to bed…that was still at my house. My first response was to handle something forgotten with, “Oh how sad,” and tell them I would see them the next day. But the contact solution was necessary to prevent a financial loss to parents far, far away. I decided on this rare occasion that I would make the extra trip to get the needed item to the right end of the road. When we dropped off the contact solution, I said, “I’m not happy about getting back out after 10 o’clock because you didn’t pack properly; I’m going to have to do something about that. Later. Have a nice visit!”
Days went by. A couple of times during their visit, I reminded our grandson that I was still thinking about what would be done about the extra late night trip to rescue him. I wondered aloud about whether it would cost money or a special chore that could be done to repay me for getting out again after a long day when I was tired.
Simply connecting the consequence with the mistake helped solidify the lesson. There was no anger needed and it actually increased his cooperation to delay the consequence. We got to talk about how our irresponsibility costs other people and how to remember what we need when we try to pack.
The day came to repay the inconvenience with a chore. A closet had been cleaned out at work and needed to be restored to its original condition. Several items had to be carried and placed in the right spot on the shelves, according to the picture taken before the items had been removed. It was tedious and an inconvenient interruption while the other cousins got to play.
Delayed consequences can help us cool down while connecting the mistake with the remedy we design over a few days of careful thought. Lessons can be reinforced without anger multiple times while we wait. It’s an effective way to transfer the inconvenience of irresponsibility back to the one who needs the lesson most of all.