Building Consequences For Your Children

The power struggle can truly be a challenge whether it’s your tween or toddler. Harnessing it all- the empathy, the listening and the de-escalation is how parents follow through on consequences. Consistency in consequences is a tough job especially when you’ve just gotten through the first fit. Oftentimes, it’s easier to “quick-fix” than it is to engage in meaningful consequence.

Goals of Discipline/Consequence

The goal of a consequence is to help your child become a more reflective and independent individual. When a child begins to learn that her choices matter and she can thereby alter the course of things through her own choices, she is maturing. Consequences can also teach a child that big, or uncomfortable feelings can result from a choice that she makes. When your child starts asking questions like, “I wonder why I did that?” or starts commenting, “Wow, I’ve really made a mess for myself!” again, you know she is maturing. Or, perhaps your consequence is designed to communicate that rules and structure are a good thing and exist for safety, security and well-being. If your child says something like, “I think the teacher was right, next time I’ll pay better attention,” again, this is a child beginning to grasp a consequence. People that study their behavior, or have at least, some insight into why they do what they do are less susceptible to addiction, unhealthy relationships and a variety of other struggles that can result in serious problems down the road. Help pave this way for your child through careful and consistent discipline.

Stay Away from Shaming

The goal of discipline is not to shake your child’s identity or security. It’s not to say, “You are a terrible listener!” or “You are getting what you deserve!” A child that experiences discipline and consequence in the punitive sense only feels insecure. Depending on the innate sensitivity of the child’s temperament, these kinds of statements can really stick with a child and do more harm than good.

Don’t Enable Either

Remember the goal of discipline is to help teach and reflect. Also remember that wherever there is conflict there is growth trying to happen. When you initiate a consequence, expect resistance. It doesn’t feel good for parent or child! However, your role is to support in such a way that your child is better for it. When you say, “Oh honey, I know, I thought I made it clear to you but it’ll work out. Just don’t do it again next time,” this ultimately does a disservice to your child.

Putting it into Practice

So, let’s make a practical example out of this, shall we? Say your child is very aware that if chores don’t get done on Saturday he can’t go out and play with the neighbors that just moved in. You and your family are SO excited about these new neighbors and they fact that their kids’ ages serendipitously match up with yours. All Saturday, your child has been dawdling, so much so it’s been aggravating. You’ve given him gentle reminders after all you want him to get his chores done and you really don’t want him to miss this opportunity! You give him time limits, instruction…the whole shebang. At five o’clock, the work still isn’t done. You have to inform him of his consequence.

What Not To Do:

The Shaming Response: “This is an ongoing problem for you! I really don’t know when you are ever going to learn.”

The Enabling Response: “You did about half of your chores, this one time, you can go play, but next time I really need you to do all of it.”

The Helpful Consequence: Have your child stay at home and ask him to inform the neighbors that he won’t be able to play. You can support him- walk over to their house with him, facilitate the phone call…whatever. But, teach him that he needs to cancel his plans because he didn’t follow-through on his end of the deal. This feels like a very “grown-up” thing to do, but you’re teaching your child that the power of his choice has grown up consequences. Remember to empathize with your child as you work through it with him- “I know this really stinks. You were so looking forward to it. I think there will likely be another opportunity, but it’s not going to be tonight. I hate this for you.” Next, maybe even then next day, or before bed, facilitate the conversation. Keep in mind your child, whether he knows it or not, experienced a few things:

  1. His choice made him feel disappointed. In a gentle way, help him reflect that had he completed all of his chores, the feeling would have been accomplishment and happiness, not embarrassment and sadness. Remind him that he gets to control that.
  2. His choice affected others. Remind him that the neighbors were affected by his choices as well. Give other examples of the way we carry out responsibilities so we can be there for others. For example, even when you don’t feel like going grocery shopping you still go because the family needs food. What if I just didn’t go? What would we eat? You get the idea.
  3. Fun privileges are earned, not guaranteed. Giving your child the premise that they just get to do fun things all the time sets the up for a lifetime of disappointment and entitlement. Teach your child the value of hard work by demonstrating that good things can happen after hard work.

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