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Establishing Effective Consequences

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In my last blog, I wrote about punishment and how it does not help teach our children anything of value. It only tends to increase the divide between us and them. However, punishment is very different from discipline, or establishing logical consequences. Consequences, when used properly after your child has made a choice (i.e., in behaving a certain way), can help to teach.

When children experience a consequence that is directly related to a choice they have made, they are better able to learn from that experience and, importantly, they learn that they have control over their behaviours (and outcomes). They have the power to make helpful choices for positive consequences, or to make unhelpful choices for negative consequences. In doing so, they also begin to develop a number of other important skills, such as problem solving, self-regulation, accountability, responsibility, and overall independence.

Consequences come in different forms from natural consequences (e.g., you eat the bottom of your ice cream cone, it’s going to melt all over your pretty dress), to logical consequences (e.g., you fight over a toy, the toy is taken away for the day). In establishing logical consequences, there are a number of important points to remember:

  1. Be proactive! If you find that your child keeps making the same choices in a particular situation, walk them through the skills/adaptive behaviours you want to see.
  2. When possible, especially in re-occurring events, establish the consequence BEFORE you need to implement it. So they understand the choice they make will result in the outcome. And it helps you avoid getting into threats.
  3. If you are in a novel situation, teach more appropriate replacement behaviours. How could the child make better choices next time? (Do this after the conflict, when everyone is calm).
  4. The consequence should immediately follow the behaviour so you can establish the direct link between the behaviour and consequence.
  5. Be sure the consequence makes sense. Taking a video game away for not eating dinner don’t really match up. Not having dessert may make more sense.
  6. Focus on task-oriented consequences (vs. time-oriented, such as groundings). This is a specific behaviour to help your child learn that is related to the maladaptive behaviour.
  7. Have a discussion with your child about what a fair consequence would be. You may be surprised with the insight he/she comes up with.
  8. Be consistent. So they always know that if I do A, B will happen.
  9. Understand the function, or purpose of the behaviour. If they just want your attention, then attention, even in the form of yelling, may actually reinforce their behaviour.
  10. Avoid nagging, negotiating, engaging in lots of talk, and arguing. And definitely avoid power struggles.
  11. Be sure to follow through. Otherwise, you may inadvertently shape even more problematic behaviours in the future.
  12. Kids need structure and boundaries, so be sure to establish these consistently.
  13. Finally, model the behaviours you do want your child to demonstrate.

Now, I have focused a lot here on negative consequences. However, what’s even more important are POSITIVE consequences to reinforce the behaviours we do want to see. Catch them being good. Children should receive 5 positives to every 1 corrective/negative consequence. Without the positives, it’s harder for the negative consequences to work effectively.

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