5 Reasons why warnings backfire

Adults love to give kids warnings when a rule is broken. We would love to believe warnings are a highly compassionate facet of parenting and a reflect of our loving and kind humanity. But guess what? They may be the furthest thing from true compassion…and though always well-intentioned they will almost always jump up and bite you on the nose by making things worse.

Here the main reasons why:

  1. Warnings are highly confusing to the child. If mom is having a great day the child may get a handful of warnings and if she is having a crummy day the child may get few, if any. The essence of the confusion leads a child to not take rules seriously. A rule apparently is not really a rule.

  2. Any way you slice it, a warning is still energy and more specifically, it is the energy of YOU. So many children are drawn to ways the most significant connection with important people in their lives can be obtained, and annoying mom while she’s on the phone or other such things, can be a ready made inroad to strong connections through warnings.

  3. Children, especially intense and challenging children, are looking for clarity. We can state that our rules are clear all day long but the proof is in the pudding. Clarity can only be conveyed, as in sports, by way of exceedingly clear lines and limits, in conjunction with very clear and unenergized consequences. Warnings muddy that water in a hurry.

  4. Rules like “be nice,” “be respectful,” “be polite,” and other such positive rules look so good on paper, but they are a set up for rules to be fuzzy and for the adult to be unable to have the requisite clarity needed to fully avoid warnings. If the rule is “be respectful,” at what point does the child have his foot on the line? At what point is the rule officially broken? When uncertainty reins, so do warnings and confusing limit-setting that does a disservice ultimately to everyone.
  5. I have seen very kind and loving parents come to have a tyrant on their hands on so many occasions, born out of the confusion that comes with false compassion and warnings. In some unfortunate situations where a child comes to be physically or emotionally handicapped in some fashion, the parent’s heart goes out to their child and it makes so much sense for them to cut their child some slack by the way of warnings, however what their child needs even more than ever if for their parent to be clearer than ever…by way of clear rules and clear consequences. Clarity is greatly compassionate.

The very best way for a parent or a teacher to make all of this work in a hurry, and the very best way to achieve the clarity needed to entirely exit the arena of warnings, is to go to a new plan of immediate ‘resets’ and no warnings.

Especially if you begin, as I would recommend, to applaud your child’s wisdom, power, control, maturity, respect and thoughtfulness for making the great choices to follow the many rules they abide by each and every day, then the need for warnings evaporates. By appreciating them for not breaking the rules you quickly come to realize they know the rules and they know that you know the rules…now the limit is set and now the best way to move forward is to have a most simple way of providing a consequence when a rule is broken…even a little bit (like in sports.)

The method I recommend is one I call a reset. When you see a rule broken you do two things. You 1) say “reset” without emotion or explanation of what the offense was – trust that your child really does know, and 2) simply unplug the gift of you. You still love your child unconditionally but for the period of the reset you are fully unavailable. You are resetting YOU as well.

Once your child sees they cannot get YOU any longer for negativity – that they only get a simply reset - and that they now can get you for all that is positive, you will see an enormous shift in the way they pour their intensity into great choices. 

Be relentless with the positive – go for the gold – do radical appreciation! Not just vague statements like “thank you” and “good job” but statements that go to the trouble of conveying your gratitude for qualities of greatness you see in your child and gratitude for the good judgment and thoughtful choices not to break the