Consequences That Actually Work! (Part 3 – Restitution Consequences)

Over the past few weeks we learned how effective natural impacts and logical consequences help children learn to make better choices. Today we conclude with Part 3 of our series on Consequences That Actually Work!

Restitution consequences

With a strong focus on relationships, “restitution consequences” are a type of logical consequence administered when a child has mistreated someone. The goal is to find ways to help the offender “right the wrongs” while restoring the victim and the relationship. The message to the child is: “Your relationships are valuable. When you mess them up, it’s important to do your best to reconnect.”

For example, when our oldest son would get rough or aggressive with our daughter, we encouraged him to comfort her with kindness after hurting her. This oriented him immediately toward her, and her toward him.

Restitution consequences are radically different from traditional “punishments.” Punishing the offender usually breeds resentment and therefore more and craftier aggression toward the unpunished child. Restitution consequences encourage personal responsibility and usually end with one child feeling cared for and the other feeling caring.

It is important to note that “righting the wrongs” does not mean quickly forcing children to “say you’re sorry.” Forced apologies don’t teach true remorse and reconciliation.  The child might conclude, “Say whatever you need to get out of trouble.” Instead parents can set kids up for sincere reconciliation. (Jesus was always about the reality of the heart, not the outward appearance!) You don’t have to force children through the process, but you can put “distracting privileges” on hold until the restitution is done.

Read more in our book, Discipline That Connects™ With Your Child’s Heart!

On more than one occasion in our family we have applied this principle of restitution to child-parent relationships also. Either one or both people involved (depending on who is at fault) reconcile the offense by doing a specific kindness for the other, such as helpfulness, making a little gift or card, planning a special time of connection, etc. On many occasions

Daniel would choose to make chocolate milk for Bethany as his “love gift” for her after aggression or roughness. (She would sometimes even choose to share a few sips with him.) By the end they would both be beaming – Bethany because she loved chocolate milk and being treated like a princess, and Daniel because he had switched from “boy in trouble” to “knight in shining armor.” They often played nicely after that, and both of them have fond memories of their “chocolate milk apologies.” As teens they often independently reconciled by taking a sibling out for a coffee date.

Conflict will always be part of family life. But true reconciliation and restitution gradually build strong relationships, filled with deep connection and joy!

Get started and get encouraged!

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23 thoughts on “Consequences That Actually Work! (Part 3 – Restitution Consequences)

  1. As the parent of six adult children, I can see how this is great advice. However I also had one master manipulator who would have used this to take advantage of the sister he so loved getting into trouble. LOL

    • @182e05fe67b6f8071eb0c6abeed86dea:disqus – indeed kids can get crafty. But if they manipulate grace like this, and I’m sure you figured this out, parents will need to stay more persistent and creative in order to help those children learn to value others, and truly reconcile.

  2. I love this idea, but the thought struck me: Women of domestic abuse are often lulled back into the relationship because the offending male will hit them and then buy them presents or then be really sweet. Do you think this could encourage that kind of behavior? Again, I’m just curious.

    • @18481dd37b12985f96287b1ce9b8f324:disqus – A great and thoughtful question! For sure we want to be aware of the state of our kids attitudes and motivations as we teach them to reconcile. If the pattern is, “I mistreat you and then sweeten you up for more” Then it is important to say what you see and and find other ways to help your child learn. We can say with great confidence that those we’ve worked with closely using this approach have seen their kids grow into more compassionate, considerate, and thoughtful people. But we must never forget that child’s hearts (like our own) can also be deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).

  3. I love this idea, but I am unsure of how to use it with my children who are younger – 2 and 4. Neither of them are really big enough to do something (like make chocolate milk) for the other. How have you used this when they are younger? I.e. fighting over a toy, 2 year old hits 4 year old, etr…?

    • Hugs, special deliveries, draw pictures, play songs on the Playschool instruments. Of course you have to manage more closely with the younger kids because the gift offering may not be well received. For more ideas you can download our sibling chapter from the “Free Downloads” tab under “Parent Help”

  4. I am a mother of 7, ranging from 19-20mos…I love this idea and hope that I can remember to use these “loving” consequences and that I am creative enough to come up with appropriate ideas. One question, I am assuming that only the child that was hurt would receive the “loving” consequence, as in the idea of the chocolate milk….the offender would not be rewarded with one as well, correct?

    • Jeana – Great question! It could work either way. The goal is restored relationship. If, by also getting chocolate milk there is true restoration and connection in relationship, then it’s fine for the offender to benefit – as a symbol of the joy of restoration. But if it becomes clear that the offender is just going through motions, with no sense of restoration, then other approaches may be needed.

  5. I love the idea of this kind of discipline and am interested in the book, but I am not religious. I’m wondering how heavy the book is in its psychology of discipline as opposed to its religious content?

  6. We use restitution at work too. It only works if the desire is there on the part of the kid who needs to make amends. Most children will quickly acknowledge that they did something wrong…they just don’t know how to ‘fix’ it. In cases where there is no desire to make things right (maybe the child is too insecure, there’s a complicating home situation, etc.) we have ‘bottom line consequences’. So if you’re not willing or able to restore the relationship, there is a consequence/punishment. To my way of thinking, restitution is a wonderful tool, but we have to work to get kids to that point.

  7. It’s great to encourage this behaviour, but it should NEVER be forced, or it’s as bad as forcing an apology. Studies show the best way to improve kids behaviour is to TALK to them, help them understand what they did wrong, the consequences of what they’ve done for others, and how they can avoid doing this next time. Encouraging reconciliation would be great to, but never forced.

  8. I wonder if this strategy really reflects biblical forgiveness? When we do wrong, there is nothing we can DO to make it right again! A good deed does not cancel out a wrong one. God gives us grace through forgiveness unconditionally – not because of anything we do to reconnect or make the relationship right with him. I’m not saying restitution is bad – Matthew (Levi) made restitution to all the people he had cheated after he became a disciple. Matthew’s act of restitution was a REACTION to forgiveness though, not something he did to get closer to Jesus. Of course, a child can’t be forced to forgive unconditionally – so that’s where it all gets sticky…. Anybody else have thoughts?

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  10. Our boys (11-1/2 and 14) are going through a phase where they talk down about one another and call one another names (especially our younger one). Any suggestions?