When tempers are rising and your child has broken a rule, it is tempting to consequence BIG. Many parents get frustrated and consequence or impose a grounding for long periods of time so their kids FEEL the punishment. Unfortunately, this option rarely results in a sound teaching moment for your child. Ideally, the goal is to change the behaviour but if the consequence is too long or too big, it won’t be meaningful AND you’ve laid out all of your cards with nothing left in reserve. A consequence too big for the “violation” will be meaningless and will never translate to better behaviour. James Lehman, a well-known child behaviour therapist says that If you only take away something and limit activity or mobility (i.e. staying in his or her room), you are teaching your kid to do time but not learn a new behaviour to replace the one you do not want. It is better to train the brain to replace the unwanted behaviour withthe better behaviour. This is called finding a task-oriented rather than a time–oriented consequence.
Tips for Consequencing:
1. Use Consequences That Have Meaning
When you are NOT in the middle of an argument (when you can think clearly), come up with a menu of possible consequences choices. Think about the types of undesirable behaviours you may see and a meaningful way to redirect the behaviour. The goal is to teach another way to manage feelings rather the one the child chose. The lesson should be imbedded into the consequence. For example, if your child was mean to a sibling then teach a better way to communicate through the consequence such as having to say the apology, write the apology, write a list of alternative responses when he gets upset and possibly lose the access to social media until kind communication is demonstrated. A meaningful consequence is also one that is incurred soon after the infraction. Do not wait a long time and do not make the consequence stretch too long in duration. If you are too angry to think of a fair consequence,admit it but set a reasonable time to discuss it in the very near future.
2. Less Talking and More Action
A child usually hears the first few words and the last few words of what you say. This is especially true if his unpleasant behaviour has been a challenge and you have addressed it many times. State the behaviour you find inappropriate and why it is so. Then, state the behaviour you expect to have.(example: Throwing things at your sister no matter what happened isn’t okay. We speak kindly to each other in this house. When you show that kind of talk and do A, B and C, you will earn back your privileges. I know you can do it.) Your job is not to go on and on and make the intervention any less painful to you because he is a great kid when he isn’t acting out.
3. Make Consequences Black and White
Keep things simple and avoid long speeches. Lay out consequences clearly and briefly. Anticipate roadblocks and review expected behaviour ahead of time. The consequences for your child’s behaviour should be clear to him. If you are planning to introduce a new desired behaviour or discuss a behaviour that will be anxiety-provoking, do it when things are calm and not when you are yelling at each other.
4. Don’t Get Sucked into an Argument over Consequences
Nobody wants a consequence. Your child may drag you into a fight and perhaps even take the focus off of his behaviour and onto something else to push your “buttons”. Plan for this response and don’t fall for it. Say your piece, and simply say something like, “you don’t have to like it but this is the consequence”. End the conversation and go find another activity. If you stay, you may lose your cool and say something that will demean your child.
5. Have Problem-Solving Conversations
After the consequence, have a conversation about an alternative way to deal with the situation in thefuture and praise him for the new, desired behaviour. You may also ask him what other things he coulddo next time to make a different (better) end to the story. Then, say, “All right, why don’t we try that?”
6. Don’t Show Disgust
This is a common pitfall because parents are tired and frustrated. Be firm and very aware of the inflection and tone of your voice. What you want is to raise a child who is respectful and feels self-worth, right? Cut out sarcasm and harsh expressions. You don’t want a child to feel that he constantly disappoints you. Shape the behaviour by modelling the behaviour you want to see.
Some Things Are Not Good Consequences
Parenting is like one large improvisational theatre stage. At the Improv, there are always unexpected things occurring and the actors are charged with finding the most creative and effective response to keep the audience motivated and keep the energy moving forward. No one likes a boring show.Likewise, it is pretty normal for a child to avoid doing homework when something more fun is available, especially if the subject to be studied is not his best. Find a way to engage your child and get his attention while shaping the behaviour you wish to see. Involve all responsible adults and mentors and think about the logic of the consequence. I rarely recommend taking away sports practices as a consequence. Attending the practice is a good way to show your child that there are still responsibilities to the team, even if he or she wants to mess up their own privileges. Also, being active is a great stress buster. I also rarely recommend taking away events such as a prom or graduation because these are milestone in a person’s life that only happen once. If a consequence cannot be avoided, find a way to impose it around the event.
Caring for the Consequence
Avoid measuring the effectiveness of a consequence based on whether your child cared for the consequence. If a police officer gives a driver a ticket for parking illegally, he or she does not stick around to hear the driver argue about it or apologize for the meaningful lesson learned by paying the fine. The officer may say, “Have a nice day”, and then leave. Regarding your parenting, focus on what you want your child to learn from the consequence and not whether or not he’s going to care. He will likely say he doesn’t care just to bug you. Getting a consequence makes a kid feel powerless and that does not feel good. Being a parent takes guts. Always remember that a child will act like… well… a child.