Why use consequences?

Consequences have been described as discipline that makes sense. Consequences – penalties that fit the misbehaviour – are one of the most effective methods of teaching children to modify their own behaviour. One of the major goals of parenting is to raise self-responsible, mature adults. Consequences make this more likely.

One of the drawbacks of the old styles of punishment is that it requires the parent to be aware of the misbehaviour and to identify and administer an unpleasant outcome for the child. Not only does this involve a lot of effort on the parent’s part, but also it frequently teaches children to misbehave smarter, so that the parent doesn’t notice and the child doesn’t get caught!

Another downside of this type of punishment is that the parent is seen as responsible for the punishment – rather than considering their role in the outcome, children are more likely to blame the parent for being nasty. Consequences aim to do away with these problems.

Probably few parents enjoy the discipline side of parenting – certainly it isn’t the side of parenting that entices people to have children – but often parents confuse discipline and punishment. Discipline is not the same as punishment. Discipline is necessary in order for children to grow up as functioning members of society, but punishment breeds fear and/or violence.

What are Natural Consequences?

Natural consequences are the naturally occurring outcomes of behaviour. If children play out in the rain they get wet. They can’t blame anyone else for the wetness, and they learn from the experience.

Where natural consequences exist, they teach important lessons with no effort on the parent’s part (except sometimes keeping her or his mouth shut!). They are part of the reality of the world, and allow the child to see the link between his or her behaviour and what happens next.

Natural consequences are not always appropriate:

  • Some situations are too unsafe (eg you can’t let a child learn not to play on the road by being run over).
  • Some situations don’t have a natural consequence.

In these cases, Logical Consequences are needed.

How do Logical Consequences differ from punishments?

Logical Consequences:

  • are administered respectfully
  • fit the misbehaviour
  • are clearly related to the behaviour, not the value of the person
  • are implemented as soon as possible after the misbehaviour
  • allow choice (behave appropriately or the consequence will follow)
  • are not decided on in anger or for revenge

In applying consequences, make the desired behaviour and the resulting consequence for misbehaviour clear from the beginning, but show that you expect cooperation. Often it is possible to provide a choice, both of which are acceptable to you (eg. ‘You can clean your room now or after this television program, but your room must be cleaned before your friend comes to play.’)

Make the consequence relate to the misbehaviour where possible. For example, if a child won’t pick up her toys left in the lounge, you might remove the toys and not allow her to play with them for three days (possibly leave them where they can be seen but not reached). Explain why you are doing this, but don’t go on about it. The more that parents talk, the more that children blame them for what has happened. Let the actions give the message.

Other tips:

  • Keep the size of the consequence in relation to the misbehaviour
  • Keep your cool (go off and cool down first if necessary)
  • Keep your voice, face, and body respectful (remember you love this kid, even if his or her behaviour is driving you nuts!)
  • Talk less, act more. Children learn not to listen, but they will notice actions
  • Don’t fight, and don’t give in
  • Be prepared to forgive yourself when you make mistakes – and be prepared to apologise to your child too
  • Work out what issues are important to you, and set consequences for breaking of limits on those issues. If you don’t care enough about an issue to follow through, don’t set it as a rule.