It happened with God.
Before you roll your eyes at me, consider the example given in scripture. God gave David three choices for consequences (discipline). David was allowed to choose from one of those three. David chose, instead, to let God choose which of the three punishments would be dealt. He wanted to be at the mercy of God rather than at the mercy of men.
When your child is old enough to understand his wrong doing, you might want to consider this tactic. When you’ve been accused in the past of being too harsh, you can consider this approach. Sometimes being able to “negotiate” helps a child feel that he has favor with his parent, or will perhaps feel that he is loved.
The back story.
David (the King) decided to take a census. He wanted to know how many people were in his kingdom. The problem was not that taking a census is always wrong; in fact, God had the children of Israel number themselves numerous times. This time, however, it was wrong. God didn’t order it, and David didn’t ask permission. His commander, Joab, even questioned him; but David insisted. He made the decision on his own without the blessing of God. Perhaps he was proud; maybe he was competing; possibly he was covetous. Whatever his motive, it was wrong. But he learned that Israel had 800,000 valiant men and Judah had 500,000.
Later, his conscience bothered him; he confessed his sin. God sent a messenger, Gad, giving David three choices for his punishment. 7 years of famine; 3 months of being pursued by his enemies; or 3 days’ plague in his land.
David chose to fall into the hand of God instead of into the hand of man (smart move, you think?). David knew God’s mercies were great and he wanted those mercies rather than the pain from punishment through man. God sent a plague, and 70,000 men died. Those men died because of David’s sin. It also decreased his numbers of valiant men.
The possibilities from negotiating
A consequence is still a consequence. Especially when a child is older, having to consider options for consequences will help him consider what could be required of him. Choosing what seems easier to him at the time will help him reckon with the fact that disobedience requires consequences.
You know your child; you know his greatest likes and dislikes. A child might choose missing a meal over missing a youth activity. He might choose doing a certain job by himself over losing a privilege for a week (a certain game, toy, or activity). For a child who loves going to the library, riding his bike, swimming, playing ball, or going to a friend’s house to play, losing that privilege will be difficult; yet choosing which privilege to lose will tell you which matters most to him (at least in that moment.)
The blessing of choosing
When a child is (at times) given a choice, he will recognize that his parent is not all cold-hearted. He will experience both grace and mercy because he gets to choose. There is still a consequence, but being able to choose will also help him consider that his wrong-doing must be dealt with.
We did this a few times with our kids. Recently we told this story to a kiddo in our home, and allowed him to choose which of three consequences he would have for his poor behavior the day before. He got to choose and, even though what he gave up was important to him, he chose to keep what mattered most for that time. There has been no arguing or trying to negotiate, and everyone is happy.
This might not work for each of your kids, but it is guaranteed to work for some of them. Plus, they’ll learn a new Bible story in the process and learn a little more about God along the way!