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Consequences and Punishment When Children Don't Live With You Most of the Time

As parents who only get partial visitation, we always struggle with effective punishments for bad behavior when we only have kids who are with us first, third and fifth weekends every month. When we have the kids for a week, like this one for Spring Break, it becomes harder and more challenging. We are kind of at a loss, and have been for the three years we've been together.
With each kid so far, 7 really begins the age where kids start to become more set in their ways and their personalities. You start to get more and more frustrated when they make bad choices. Eight is the age that we both feel kids can really start becoming accountable for bad behavior. Not so much stuff like, you aren't cleaning your room or helping with chores. It's stuff like, "You are old enough to understand that what you just said is hurtful." And you start to be more disappointed with things they say and do because you feel like they know better, and are purposely doing things that are either disobediant, irresponsible, or mean. I started getting really upset with Jordan at this age because he has a tendency to run off at the mouth. Before he was 8, you could still kind of blame it on "he doesn't know any better." But after 8, you know that he knows what he is saying is ugly, and yet he just says it anyway. We've grown past that stage for the most part, but it was alot of struggling and spending the weekends getting on to him, which both of us felt bad about. Now, we are getting to that point with Sophia.
She has never been a kid who talks back, or at least when she does, it's never malicious or disrespectful. So, the two of them have had totally different obstacles to overcome, and it's because every kid is different with different personalities and tendencies. So just when you think you've got one down, here comes the next.
Sophia has always been a kid who doesn't keep up with her stuff. Stuff really never means anything to her, not really. If we take her stuff away, she will just find something else to fill that void. Jordan was never like that. We never had to tell him to clean up his stuff, and not because he is just super clean. It's because his stuff was always really important to him. He doesn't want to lose bullets to his Nerf gun because it means he won't be able to play with them. And he knows we aren't going to keep buying him more and more. He keeps up with Legos like a mad man. He always knows where his stuff is, his room is ALWAYS organized. Not Sophia. Not Sophia at all. We are continually finding random stuff of hers all over the house. We find a pile of clothes where she decided to change clothes in the middle of the playroom and just leaves them there. We find shoes everywhere. Her toys are all over the place and she never cleans them up without us having to get onto her. She takes jackets off and throws them hither and yon and when we go to find it again, she has no idea where she left them. Her lack of awareness isn't just with her stuff. We still have to move cups away from the edge of the table because she knocks them over because she really just has no idea her cup exists and that it's right by her arm. It's just like in some aspects, we are dealing with a kid who is still 4 years old and needs to be constantly watched, constantly talked to. We have to make sure she has all of the stuff she had when she walked into the store with, or else it will get left there. Most of the time, if her little candies or toys get lost, I don't really care because it's either stuff that cost nothing or is worth nothing. But when it's jackets we spend money on that we shouldn't have to buy again or soccer equipment or things like that, it gets a little annoying.
This week, I took the kids to the library. The second we walked in, she threw her jacket at me and I told her I wasn't going to keep with up with my stuff, Avery's stuff and Avery and Sophia's jacket to. We left, and went to the grocery store. We came home. About two hours later, she wanted to go play outside and I told her to put on her jacket, which of course, we couldn't find. I told her to go find it, but in the back of my mind I knew she had left it in that library. She looked for about 2.5 seconds and then proceeded to go into her room and put her skates on to go outside. Her dad and I walked in and said, "did you find your jacket?" "No" she said. It wasn't that she lost it. Accidents happen. It was the fact that this was one in a long line of things she'd either broken or lost and didn't seem to care or be scared of consequences, she didn't feel bad. She didn't even fear getting in to trouble. We had both just had it. We tried to find a way to get through to her, to make her feel bad or something, something to make her more aware and more accountable. We yelled. Nothing. We starting taking her stuff away every time we found something she'd left out. Nothing. We made her clean for two hours (mostly all of the messes she'd made around the house.) Nothing. At dinner, it was the same old thing. Tonight, at dinner, she spilled an entire soda after we'd told her five minutes before to be careful with the cup since the lid wasn't on tight, to which she responded to by picking the cup up BY it's lid (after she'd lost the cup in the restaurant somewhere in the first place.)
It's so hard because she is only with us for four more days and you really don't like spending the entire time being mad at a kid for this kind of stuff. You can't ground her, you can't do anything to really upsets her, she is too positive a person so she always makes the best of it. But the purpose of punishment, in my opinion, is to a) make kids aware that bad choices have consequences and b) make them understand how to not do the same thing again. At this point, nothing we are doing is changing her behavior. And I don't feel as though we need to constantly keep up with an 8 year old like we do our 2 year old, so I just don't know where to go from here.
I am the queen of discipline. I HATE being the bad guy, but I am nothing if not consistant. I have struggled over the years, especially with my step-kids with being firm and not feeling like I am always the bad guy, but I would like to think that if anything, at least they understand where they stand with me and what behavior is not OK in my house. I research all the time of different ways I can approach things. The problem is, when it's step-kids that you don't see all the time, NONE of the punishments can be long term. For that matter, none of the rewards can be long term. And if you take something away at your house on a Sunday afternoon, they will just get that back at their mom's house Sunday night. I am sure at some point, we are going to have to start coordinating punishments, but I don't see that happening when you have two households who don't hold the same importance to certain things. So, here we stand.
There aren't that many effective resources for this type of stuff. I would like to think it's probably because most fathers with custody like Jason's aren't fathers like Jason, where they have fathers and step-mothers who care about what their kids do and say. There are some, but I am sure that most kids who see their dads only every other weekend don't have this same problem. Jason and I both feel as though we owe it to the kids to treat them just like any other kids, and that means raising them to make choices we want them to make, that are right, and that they grow into a responsible Christian adult. But sometimes, you just don't have the right answers to be able to do that really effectively. And I think all kids are different so you can't hold them all to the same standard. Each kid has their own pitfalls to overcome, so you have to treat them as such. Both of them have thrown us a few curveballs where we just look at each other and say, "What the...?" Kids. What are you gonna do.
Are any of you in this predicament with a kid who doesn't value his or her things? What do you do to correct it?


Don Jones said…
I don't have all the answers. but the Scriptures say that children are like arrows in the hand of a mikghty man (Psalm 127:4). That says to me that we only have a limited time opportunity to be great influences in the lives of our children, and we should do our best to point them in the right direction. I regret being away from home so much when my children were little, but I love them and appreciate the fact that they are nearby. Of course, they are responsible for their own decisions when they grow up, but sometimes I wonder if I couldn't have been a better father.

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