We had been in a season of extreme disobedience. There were 2 particular behaviors that Rodgers and I were having trouble correcting as well as the boys generally ignoring instruction. Either of them on their own were great, but together... While I doubt they considered it consciously, it seemed they thought that because they outnumbered me (the majority of the behavior problems happened when Rodgers was not home), they didn't have to follow my instructions, as long as they disobeyed together. We tried everything we could think of to correct the behaviors.
Nate, as we've discussed, is exceptionally strong willed. Ben is stronger willed than me, but that's not saying much. I don't want to break their spirits, and I let them make their own choices as much as possible, letting natural consequences happen. But I believe as a parent, teaching obedience is one of my jobs. After all, we won't always understand the "why" behind instructions, and sometimes the natural consequences are a bit too permanent to just let them happen.
They need to learn obedience in general because there are times when obeying me may be the difference between them staying safe or putting themselves in harm's way. Because obedience is required by our governments, with real consequences for refusal to comply. But mostly because God requires perfect obedience, and we can't do it, and that's why we need Jesus and grace and redemption. They won't recognize their need for Jesus if they don't recognize that obedience is necessary.
So, when their general disobedience and specific undesirable behaviors didn't have natural consequences, and everything we tried to correct it didn't work, where did that leave us? Desperate.
We talked to them about what they were doing and why it was wrong and what our expectations were. They agreed with us about how they should act, but could not identify why they were disobeying. We listed 3 things that we wanted to correct and stuck it on their door. Even though Ben doesn't read yet and it was too complicated for Nate to read, they knew what it said and it was a visual reminder. We suggested that every time they broke 1 of the 3 rules, they would have to give up a favorite toy. If they went all week without having to give up a toy, they could earn them back. They agreed.
It didn't work. The pain of giving up a single toy was not enough of a deterrent, and the reward of getting them back after a whole week of good behavior was too abstract to motivate good behavior.
So we switched it. I packed up every single one of their toys, except for their favorite cuddles. Then I challenged them to a single day of following instructions. If they did well, they could earn back a toy. If they did not, they got nothing. We took it 1 day at a time. I didn't require absolutely perfect behavior to get a toy, just the 3 things on their list. Maybe they fought with each other that day - fighting each other wasn't on the list, so it wouldn't count against them. We had already been following a rewards-based attitude chart and replaced it with earning toys back for following instructions.
It worked! Some weeks, they earned back a toy almost every day. They did relapse, and we almost packed everything up again, but the mere threat of that turned things around. Now they have earned back all of their toys (though I still limit how much they can access at one time).
They aren't perfect, of course. This method isn't a long-term solve-your-problems-in-one-simple-step solution. They still have much to learn about obedience and grace. We probably won't ever do it again, but these desperate measures got us out of that cycle of un-correctable, undesirable behavior.