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Published on May 17, 2013

Little Girl Ignoring her Mother

Hot Topics for Parents: Teaching Consequences

Ten-year-old Allie repeatedly leaves her bike outside at night or drops it in the driveway behind her dad’s car. Her parents are frustrated with this behavior. The expensive bike could easily be stolen or could be ruined if her dad backs out of the garage and doesn’t see it.

As parents, we want our children to learn responsibility and learn about the consequences of their actions. But we don’t always want them to experience extreme negative consequences, such as the loss of an expensive bike.

So what can we do? Learning about the cause and effect of our actions and experiencing consequences can be one of the most beneficial learning tools for life. But as parents, we need to think about how we will administer them.

Types of Consequences

A natural consequence is one that naturally follows a behavior or action. A natural consequence for Allie would be for her to have her bike stolen or wrecked. Her parents would not replace the bike.

A logical consequence would be one that her parents impose, but that relates logically to her behavior or irresponsibility. For Allie, this would be to have her bike confiscated for a certain number of days.

How to Effectively Administer Consequences

  1. Use Simple Statements. Tell your child simply and concisely what the inappropriate behavior was and what resulted, or what the imposed consequence will be.
    • "It's too bad that the puzzle pieces weren't put away. Now they are lost."
    • "When you hit your friend, he doesn't want to play with you anymore."
    • "When you use those words, you will get a time out."
  2. Avoid accusations. Try using "I" statements.
    • Accusation: "How many times have I told you to put those puzzle pieces away when you are done. No wonder you can't use any of them anymore."
    • "I" Statement: Puzzles aren't much fun when the pieces are missing. It makes me sad to see all the puzzles ruined."
    • Accusation: "Why are you always so mean?"
    • "I" Statement: "I won't allow hitting. When hitting happens there will be a time out."
    • Accusation: "Shame on you for saying that."
    • "I" Statement: "I hear words that are not allowed in this house. That means a time out."
  3. Avoid being judgmental. Judgmental statements do not motivate a child to better behavior.

    Examples of judgmental statements:

    • "You don't deserve to have any toys the way you treat them."
    • "You are a bully who will never have any friends."
    • "Only terrible children use words like that."
  4. Give a Positive Message for the Future
    When your child experiences a natural consequence or you administer a logical consequence, always let your child know that you have confidence that a lesson will be learned and that he or she will improve their behavior in the future.

    Here is how Allie's parents handled their situation:

    "Your bike was left outside last night. Bikes left outside often get stolen. We love you too much to let you be irresponsible. The bike will be confiscated until next Monday at 8 a.m. We know you feel bad, but we are confident that you will remember to take care of your bike in the future.

    Other examples of positive messages:
    • "You love doing puzzles. I'll bet you will remember to put the pieces away next time."
    • "I think you will try to remember to use your words next time instead of hitting."
    • "I believe that you know a lot of kind words that you can use."

Age-Appropriate Consequences

When parents administer consequences, they need to keep in mind their child’s stage of development. Toddlers do not have the brain development in place to be able to understand consequences very well. Preschoolers can begin to understand the consequences of their behavior, but consequences should be immediate, short in length of time, and directly related to the behavior. You know your child better than anyone. Take your child’s personality, stage of development and temperament into account when setting consequences and teaching about cause and effect.

Remember that discipline is more about teaching children appropriate behaviors than about punishment. Letting children experience negative consequences for their actions and teaching them about the cause and effect of their behavior can be hard on parents. Teaching these things in a positive, non-judgmental way will help. The result will be children who know how to take responsibility for their own actions.

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