Consequences and punishments are used to reflect back to the child the after effects of their choices or behaviour. However, they can often have the opposite effect causing more unwanted behaviour.
Consequences are only helpful if;
1; The consequence is a natural follow on and is related to the offence.
It is not helpful to impose a consequence on a child that has nothing to do with the offence. For example, deducting pocket money for not getting out of bed on time is not helpful, whereas insisting on an earlier bed time makes sense as it will support the child in meeting the expectation. Deducting pocket money is better suited to the offence of breaking or damaging property.
2; The consequence was discussed and decided upon before the offence.
Children (especially teens) will always push the boundaries, it’s their job. It’s our job as parents to provide consistent boundaries and follow through on implementing consequences. Family meetings and discussions around rules and expectations is a must for children of all ages. They need to know what is expected of them and what the outcome will be should they choose to disobey the rules. Imposing a punishment on the spot is reactive and will cause resentment and shame instead of remorse and change. If a consequence is needed but has not been discussed prior, invite all parties to collaborate on a suitable solution.
3; The child has the skill and ability to meet your expectation but still chose not to.
I see many parents handing out consequences and removing privileges after a child failed to meet their expectation. This would be fine if the child had the skills needed to meet the parent’s expectations, but more often then not they just don’t.
The child then repeats the behaviour as they still don’t have the skills needed which results in harsher consequences and the cycle of resentment and shame begins.
When I am driving in my car, I have the skill and ability to follow the speed limit. If I choose to break this rule and speed, I will get a speeding ticket. Although I am disappointed in myself, I have the skill to make a different choice and instantly become more aware of my speed. My behaviour changes immediately because I have the skill to meet the expectation and the consequence served as a reminder.
When a child fails to meet your expectation, more often then not they need help in learning new skills.
If a child fights with their sibling over a toy, they need to learn the skill of conflict resolution. Taking the toy away from both of them or punishing the offender will not teach them the skills to negotiate and solve problems. The bickering and tattletales will continue.
If a child lashes out in anger, they need to learn the skill of emotional regulation. There is not one form of punishment or consequence that will teach them this skill.
Every offence is an opportunity to teach new skills. Next time you see unwanted behaviour, change your perspective and be the teacher your child needs.
Click here for access to support on how to respond to unwanted behaviour and teaching children the skills they need.