Sometimes young people need motivation to help them do the things they should

Getting ready for school every morning was a huge battle with my two oldest children. I would spend a full hour reminding, giving warnings, prodding and pushing them to get ready, only to have them run out the door and down the street at the very last minute, often reaching the bus stop just as the bus was pulling up. One morning they came home after missing the bus. I was beyond irritated, because I had a morning meeting at work, and driving them to school would take me off my route and make me late. I told them I would compromise with them – I would drive them as far as the exit off the highway, and then they had to walk the last mile to school. They would have an unexcused tardy, and that would come with additional consequences, because I would not write them a note. They got into the car, believing I was bluffing. When I got off the highway, I pulled over and told them to get out. They both sat and looked at me in horror. “Is this allowed?” my son asked incredulously. I explained to him that it was very much allowed, since there was a safe sidewalk upon which they could walk the rest of the way to school. It took them a full minute to realize that I was completely serious and to get out of the car. They started walking toward the school. I watched them for a while and then turned around and headed to work. When I got to work I checked that they had arrived at school safely. After that experience, they moved quickly in the morning, and were out the door with plenty of time to catch the bus. They remember that lesson to this day.


I decided soon after I became a single mom that I needed to establish a set of clear rules around the house which, if not followed, would result in logical consequences for the offending family member. I did this mostly because I needed to survive the crazy evenings and the packed weekends. I decided that being a Martyr Mommy (a mother who is so at the beck and call of her children that she neglects her own needs) taught my children that the world revolved around them. At the time, I was working with several millennials who were often shocked when the entire department did not bend to meet their needs. This attitude created significant problems for the young people and their colleagues. I often wondered how much their parents had bent to accommodate them during their upbringing and resolved that I did not want to raise children with that type of entitled attitude. Children need to learn self-discipline in order to function successfully as adults, and it is our job as parents to teach them. I found that my children learned very early to accept responsibility for their own actions, and to apologize quickly when they were wrong. At times, the natural consequences seemed harsh, but I found that the infractions were rarely repeated when there were natural consequences, whereas when I scolded and nagged, my children would appear to listen to me, but would very soon repeat the behavior.


Parenting with natural consequences requires courage. Parents must consistently follow up on infractions, which takes a lot of energy. It is so much easier to just sigh and roll our eyes when our children are irresponsible or careless, but remember that these same behaviors in a workplace could cost your child his or her job in the future. That's real motivation! Here are some tips for establishing natural consequences:


  1. Decide ahead of time some consequences you will use for specific behaviors you see regularly in your children. This way, you will be prepared in advance and ready to apply them.

  2. Tell your children the consequences which will follow behaviors. For example, you might explain that if she leaves her ice cream bowl on the counter after eating, and you have to pick it up for her, you will deduct $1 from her allowance for your time and energy. You can do the same thing with chores left undone.

  3. Resolve to follow through with natural consequences. The worst thing you can do is set a consequence and not follow it. Your own self-discipline is perhaps even more important than your child's.

  4. Be calm and businesslike when applying consequences. The more calm you are, the more your child will understand the gravity of the situation.

  5. Do not scold, nag, yell or remind your child about their behavior if you are using natural consequences. Don't threaten your child in the hope that you won't have to apply the consequence. Just apply it and explain that you have done so. Your child's boss will likely not scold, nag or negotiate before firing your child for being late to work every day. Maintain the same type of businesslike approach.

  6. Increase the severity of the consequence if the behavior continues. For example, if your child has to pay you for undone chores, set a schedule of increasing costs for the first, second, third time and so on. When your child finds that he has lost his entire allowance to undone chores or because he had to buy back items he left around the house, he will begin to reconsider his behavior.

  7. After the consequence is applied, take a moment to calmly check in with your child to make sure she understands why the consequence was applied. Discuss with your child what she might have learned from the experience. Brainstorm strategies for doing better in the future, e.g. laying clothes out and packing lunches the night before so that morning preparations run more smoothly.

  8. Leave room for compassion. There are moments when our children are not at their best for many reasons, including illness, stress, etc. Make a determination about whether your child has an extenuating circumstance that requires a pass just this one time. Discuss with your child why you are making an allowance and problem-solve together how to handle the issue in the future. Reinforce for your child that his health and well-being are your primary concern.


Leave me a comment about natural consequences you have used with your children. We are all learning together!



Updated: Jun 28, 2018


Parents raising children of color fear that their children will not receive the same opportunities as their peers. For single parents, this fear is magnified.

"He always points out whenever I do the math problems wrong on the board." The teacher said, tossing her blonde hair. "He's the only one who points it out. I don't know why he always has to argue with me. He's so intimidating." My heart froze. She was calling my small-for-his-age 11 year-old son intimidating because he insisted on excellence in the classroom? Why wasn't she calling him precocious, observant, detailed-oriented? Why wasn't she saying how good he is at math? How could she see him as intimidating? How will people like her see him when he's 15 or 20? How will the police see him? I wondered if I should tell him to stop pointing out when the math problems are wrong. Maybe I should tell him to toe the line more. But what would that do to his excitement about math? Is keeping him safe more important than letting him be himself?


These are common concerns for parents raising children of color. For single parents, the fear for their children's futures is often magnified. In fact, for single parents, it often seems that almost everything bad is magnified. The sense of being overwhelmed is more intense. Poverty is deeper. Loneliness is more profound. Reminders about the loss of a dream relationship with the child's other parent is ever-present.


News and social media are constantly filled with messages that single parents are more likely to raise troubled kids. If the kids are black or brown the message is more certain. "Well, you know she was raised by a single mother. That's why she's on the street." or "You know, there was no father in the home. That's why he acted up and the police had to shoot him." There is almost an acceptance of the idea that single-parenting equals failed parenting. In some ways, being raised by a single parent seems to excuse society from its mistreatment of and fear toward young people of color.


In response to these messages, many parents tighten their reins on their children - vowing not to allow them to make any mistakes - vowing to keep them from fulfilling society's prophecy of their future lives. Yet, in many ways, tightening the rope can create the very same outcomes parents are trying to avoid, by causing children to rebel. Parents need to parent smarter, not harder by considering the following steps:

  1. Developing a strong, trusting relationship with your child is the first step in smart parenting. Take the time to verbally admire your child's integrity, thoughtfulness, creativity.

  2. Set clear rules and explain to your child why the rules exist.

  3. Use consequences, and not punishment. Consequences are a natural result of your child's behavior and teach life lessons that will be valuable in adulthood. Punishment is about making your child feel bad, and is potentially damaging.

  4. Calmly follow through on consequences every time.

  5. Avoid scolding or nagging - it diminishes your child's self-esteem and causes him or her to stop listening to you. Instead, make sure you are calm, and have a conversation with your child about why you were disappointed by his or her behavior - not the child herself. Children want to please their parents - they do not want to disappoint.

  6. Talk less - listen more. When you talk, ask questions about how your child feels, thinks, sees the world. This will help your child understand that what he or she has to say is important.

  7. Help your child understand how important his or her individuality is. Help him navigate the line between advocating for himself and being disrespectful to the adults around him. Make sure she knows you are her biggest advocate, and are willing to fight battles for her when necessary.

  8. Pour back into your child messages that contradict what he or she hears about black and brown young people. Make a point every day to help your child see how very valuable she is, and what great contributions he will make to the world in the future.