One thing I do almost every morning is to scan the “stories to read” feed on my smart-phone. I enjoy having quick access to my favorite news sites that cover a broad spectrum of political opinions, psychological topics, and the fluff I read for enjoyment. In my browsing this morning, I came across an article by the blog MindBodyGreen with the title “Why This Child Psychologist is Begging Parents to Rethink Timeouts.” As I scanned through the blog I thought the author’s main point which was to encourage us to build our toolbox of responses to difficult behavior was spot-on even though I do find good uses for teaching/using time-outs. The author also offered some great tips to build self-regulation as a way to improve behavior and the blog is definitely worth a look. There are tools there you should add to your toolbox. However, I find that a lot of the questions that drive parents to ask for help with problematic behavior are around consequences which was not addressed in this blog. Some of the questions I get are, “how do I effectively punish my kid when they only care about their electronics?” or “my son keeps getting into trouble with the neighborhood kids and I can’t trust him out of my sight.” For these situations you might not be focused on building self-regulation but rather needing for an immediate change. Here are five tips for giving good consequences to help you move towards the changes you want to see.
Five Tips for Giving Good Consequences:
- Try to use consequences that naturally match the behavior. If your kid eats dessert before dinner after you expressly forbid it, then they lose dessert the next day. It’s that simple and that clean. There is a natural link between the behavior and the consequence. Consequences like this make the most sense to your kid and lets you save other consequences for future problematic behaviors.
- Match the consequence to the severity of the behavior. For example, if you’re kids are fighting over a toy, they should no longer have access to that specific toy. You don’t have to take EVERY toy. However, if your child hits another child you might make them stop playing entirely. The goal is to have small consequences for small infractions which gives you more repetitions to teach good behavior. It also saves your big consequences for when you need them the most.
- Try to speak in a firm and direct tone without being overly emotional. If your child learns you don’t really mean it or won’t follow through until you start yelling, then yelling becomes the marker that it is time to listen. Rather, let your calm statement get the response you want.
- Implement your consequence as soon as possible following the behavior. Saying “wait till your __________ gets home” can create some good behavior while the child is scared or worried waiting for what will happen, but also makes it harder to teach in the moment. If you can interrupt the behavior and give a consequence right then, you can help your child learn to make a better decision rather than having an ongoing thing all day.
- If you say it you have to do it. Otherwise your words lose their effectiveness. It helps when your child believes you when you tell them what the consequence will be for a particular behavior. This is helpful because your child will know in advance that you will enforce the consequence. Faced with a decision to either make a good choice or do a problematic behavior your child will weigh what will happen rather than just acting. This may help them choose a better behavior without you ever having to intervene. The best way to make this work is to stop threatening or throwing out a consequence before you think about it and then can’t enforce it. From now on, try this: if you say “you’re grounded for a week” do it. That will be your consequence for giving the consequence before thinking about what it will look like to have to follow through.
Some of these tips might be totally new or you might “know” this is what you should be doing already but have drifted away from these practices. This might be entirely new to some of you. I encourage you to take this moment to think through the next situation you will need to implement a consequence and prepare for it now rather than in the moment. This is a great first step in modifying how you implement consequences. With work, your consequences can become a more effective deterrent to problematic behaviors.