Parenting and the Psychology of Consequences
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  • Post published:13/05/2021
  • Post last modified:13/05/2021

Teaching consequences, says Mary Rose, is not only one of the prime lessons of good parenting, it’s important for the development of the human species.

A consequence is a conclusion derived through logic; something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition.

The concept of consequences, from a purely physical standpoint, is rooted in Newtonian law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The notion of cause and effect is pragmatically evident in all aspects of life, from the behaviour of the smallest quantum particles to the largest astronomical phenomena.

In addition to the direct and easily observable phenomena and behaviours in life — like wind making the leaves move or water making things wet — there is the kind of effect that is caused as a result of intentional pre-meditation. This ability is unique to pre-cognitive, sentient beings. Sentient beings have the unique ability to intentionally cause and therefore affect outcomes.

Ripples: cause and effect

The concept of intentionally causing results is enticing. The physical universe, although it does have an element of predictability, is relatively chaotic. This is good news to any parent. We can’t control gravity or the weather, but we can make an “if, then” environment for our children, which in turn makes our lives as parents seem a little more controlled and predictable.

From birth, babies learn about their world by doing. If they cry, hopefully mom soon feeds them. If they eat, they feel good. If they poop, they smell stinky. If mom giggles with delight after they say a word, they will say another word. Positive reinforcement is a great way to teach a child what kind of behaviours they wish to adopt. This is an example of intentional cause and effect.

Children learn by mimicking the behaviour of their caregivers.

By setting up simple “if, then” parameters, parents can create predictable and secure guidelines for children to follow, Thus, they establish a feeling of safety and comfort for their children. This method of teaching allows a child to feel safe while he or she grows and learns. The safety factor greatly increases a growing brain’s ability to develop new neural networks, which in turn aids in the future development of the child.

It’s like laying down a stable and solid infrastructure on which a future “brain city” can be built. The stability of the child’s brain city will depend completely on the stability of the infrastructure upon which is it laid, and the foundation will only be as good as the tools and materials which were used to create it. Ironically, I have found that the more solid the foundation is, the sooner the child will begin to assert themselves in the world, which is when things become amazingly complicated.

Child learning about nature

Sometimes, our well-founded offspring seem as if they are programmed to disagree with us, to push our boundaries to the limits. This is not because they are trying to make us mad. Humans are biologically motivated to push boundaries in order to create stronger foundations with each successive generation. In line with Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, all living beings are designed to push boundaries in order to become more than they were.

The notion of survival of the fittest is biologically motivated: In order for each successive generation to survive, it is predetermined that they be better, faster and perhaps more able to problem-solve than previous generations. In other words, what was optimal for us might not be optimal for them — the process of evolution conducts itself based on what worked and didn’t work in the past.

The psychological ramifications of this are apparent in everyday life. Sometimes people think better means bigger, more money, faster cars and all the ridiculous things we like to think we can hold and own and take with us when we die, but what it really means is establishing better means of co-existing with ourselves, our loved ones and the planet which sustains us. The best way to create this divine alignment is to teach our offspring how to do this. This involves some Newtonian cause and effect parenting, and the inception of this process begins at conception.

David Haig, who worked on genetic conflicts in pregnancy in 1993, argued that fetal genes would be selected to draw more resources from the mother than it would be optimal for the mother to give, a hypothesis that has received empirical support. The placenta, for example, secretes allocrine hormones that decrease the sensitivity of the mother to insulin and thus make a larger supply of blood sugar available to the fetus. The mother responds by increasing the level of insulin in her bloodstream, and to counteract this effect the placenta has insulin receptors that stimulate the production of insulin-degrading enzymes.

This co-dependent relationship is established in order to give each new generation the ability to communicate what it needs in order to become fitter. As a child grows, parents must set aside their egos and acknowledge that their job is to give the child what they need, which is not the same thing as giving them what they want.

Without necessary consequences to accompany their actions, to a child it will feel as if the very laws of physics have been yanked out from under them.

The indisputable laws of physics — gravity and relativity, for example — give us guidelines, starting points and rules that allow for everything else in our physical lives to follow some sort of predictable guideline. We take them for granted, but without them, we might be floating around terrified in a random and chaotic universe.

There is no way for children to gauge whether or not what they are doing is right or wrong. They are born as blank slates with absolutely no ability to discern between what is appropriate and what is not. We — their parents — are like the laws of physics to them. Of course, we do not control the laws of physics, but to a child with new eyes and no idea of the difference between God and mom, we are responsible for teaching them these basics.

If we do not, then we are performing a terrible disservice to them.

Consequences are like an emotional barometer for children. They use this barometer to recognize how their actions result in specific consequences. The more consistent and predictable these consequences are, the safer the child will feel. Children need life to feel like a logical algorithm (if A then B). It gives them a sense that there are boundaries. As they grow up, the walls of the boundaries grow and stretch, as they themselves grow and stretch, but with each new set of boundaries, their sense of grounding and safety grows as well.

With a well-established sense of boundaries, children can flourish. The most rewarding thing a parent can give to his or her children is a sense of safety, because this feeling enables a child to feel confident to try anything. And this, in turn, is what allows a child to become a success in every way possible.

The consequences of thoughtful and intentional parenting are ultimately what children need most, and they are what every loving parent wants most.

Photo Credit

“Water Droplet” Stacey Lynn Baum @ Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

“Kids Collecting Pinecones from the Tree” D Sharon Pruitt @ Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

Recent Mary Rose Articles:

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