Looooong, long ago when I wrote several posts about parenting, I may have mentioned that I’d talk about creating consequences for kids of all ages. I probably did. You can click on the “Parenting 101” tab above for a refresher if you want.
Anyway, with a little help from Dr. Latham’s book, The Power of Positive Parenting I’ve come up with a process along with a
lame fun little flow chart to illustrate things.
1. What’s the problem?
This first step can be tempting to skip, because you might be thinking, “Duh, my child is driving me crazy. That’s the problem. No brainer.” But if you don’t define exactly what the specific problem behavior is, how do you expect to change anything?
You might put your child in time out and tell him he’s there because he must stop the craziness, but then your child doesn’t know exactly why he’s in time out. He doesn’t know what he was doing that threatened your sanity.
Was it the zombie noises? Was it the leaping off the couch? Was it the water guns in the house? Sure, he might have an inkling that all of the above are not ok, but at the same time he’s probably thinking, “But she never said I couldn’t make zombie noises, leap off the couch, or have water guns in the house…”
Anyway, the whole process goes a lot better if you start out on the right foot by defining the problem specifically.
- Child makes a habit of smearing his boogers on his bedroom wall.
- Child won’t stop making obnoxious, squeaky baby kitty noises.
- Child won’t clean her bathroom.
- Child runs out in the street.
2. What is the natural consequence?
A natural consequence is what could or would happen to the child if you were to allow the unwanted behavior to continue.
For example (based on the above examples):
- The wall transforms into a solid snot mural, and eventually every future friend that sees the snot art terminates the friendship.
- Mother pulls hair out and child’s teacher strongly dislikes her.
- The bathroom becomes disgusting. Child is embarrassed to have friends over.
- Child is hit by car.
3. Concerning the natural consequence: Is it safe? Will it work? Are you ok with it?
Natural consequences can be the best consequences. There’s nothing like learning from experience—that’s how we learn as adults, after all. However, not all natural consequences are desirable, so apply the following questions to the natural consequence in mind.
Is it safe? Obviously, you can’t carry through with a natural consequence that puts your child or someone else in danger.
Will it work? If you don’t think the natural consequence will eventually stop your child’s behavior, then a natural consequence is no good.
Are you ok with it? Even if the natural consequence is safe and you think it’ll work, if it’s going to drive you absolutely crazy, ditch it. The consequence shouldn’t be a punishment for you, so only carry through with it if you can live with it.
- Snot wall is relatively safe for child (unless there are sharp edges). It has potential to spread germs to others. Child is a toddler and doesn’t really care about having boogers on the wall, so letting it continue won’t really do anything to solve the problem. Also, a snot wall is not something mother wants to live with. Thus, the natural consequence is not the way to go.
- Allowing child to continue with the obnoxious mewing isn’t likely to cause bodily harm to child. It could potentially cause migraines in nearby adults, but it is considered safe. Child may eventually grow tired of mewing (as mewing teenagers are rare) and stop on her own accord, but where there is nothing immediately discouraging her from stopping it could be years. Thus, it could work, but probably not for a while. Mother isn’t willing to endure the mewing, thus the natural consequence isn’t the best solution.
- A disgusting bathroom is fairly safe, unless a dangerous form of mold is involved. Depending on child, the natural consequence may be effective. If the child has friends over frequently and begins to feel self-conscious of the bathroom, child will likely eventually cave in and clean the bathroom and learn that it’s less work when it’s less filthy. If child could care less about the disgustingness of the bathroom, the natural consequence may not work. Mother doesn’t use that bathroom and is prepared to let it get nasty. Thus, the natural consequence is a viable solution.
- It is not safe to allow child to suffer the natural consequences of running out in the road (getting hit by a car), and thus it’s an option that shouldn’t be explored further.
Is it working?
This question comes up twice in the above diagram, but addressing it once is sufficient. After you have implemented the consequence, whether it be natural or logical, the time comes to assess the effectiveness of the consequence. Has the behavior stopped or lessened? If so, then consider the consequence a success. Good job! If things have stayed the same or gotten worse, you’ve got a few things to consider.
First of all, are you being consistent? If you administer the consequence only occasionally, it will not work. You must be consistent, and if you aren’t able to be consistent you need to figure out a different consequence that you can be consistent with.
Secondly, how long have you tried out the consequence? Sometimes consequences take a little time to work. And sometimes the behavior will get worse before it gets better. Stick it out for at least a week, and if it’s still not working, work out a different consequence.
Keep in mind that even though you may think the consequence should work, be prepared to abandon it if it doesn’t work. Being grounded may be the perfect consequence for one child, but it doesn’t mean it’s perfect for every child. Every kid is different.
Create a logical consequence.
If you’ve nixed a natural consequence or if a natural consequence back-fired, the time has come to move to a logical consequence. A logical consequence is a consequence you make up that is directly related to the unwanted behavior. This can be kind of tricky sometimes and might require a little creativity.
Let’s look at the cleaning the bathroom example from above. The natural consequence is to let the bathroom get dirty, but if the mother doesn’t want to deal with that, it’s time for a logical consequence. If the child has friends that come over frequently, a good logical consequence may be that his friends can come over only after the bathroom has had its weekly/bi-weekly cleaning. Logic: Friends and guests can’t come over when the bathroom is a disaster. If the kid is more into tech stuff, the logical consequence may be to limit tech use while the bathroom is nasty. The phone/iPod/internet password magically disappears when the bathroom isn’t clean. Logic: Play doesn’t happen until responsibilities are taken care of.
Concerning logical consequences: Is it relevant? Is it realistic? Is it appropriate?
Much like natural consequences, a logical consequence has to pass a battery of tests before it can be put into action.
Is it relevant? As I mentioned before, the consequence needs to relate to the unwanted behavior somehow. If child breaks curfew and the consequence is to clean every window in the house, it don’t really connect. It might get the point across that the child is in big trouble, but what do clean windows have to do with being late? A more relevant consequence would be to limit time with friends or limit car use. Another thing to consider is if the consequence is relevant to the child. If a kid isn’t very social to begin with, a consequence limiting time with friends isn’t very relevant.
Is it realistic? A major factor in your logical consequence is your ability to consistently follow through with the consequence. I knew a kid who always got grounded in three-to-six-month increments. Did this kid’s parents ever truly ground her for the full three months? No way. Few parents are that vigilant. The consequence has to be do-able for the parents. This is a good time to mention that empty threats are not a consequence. Telling the child, “Pack your bags and say goodbye to your friends because we’ve decided to send you to boot camp tomorrow after school,” when you have absolutely no intention of sending said child to boot camp is an empty (and unrealistic) threat. Sure, it might scare the crap out of your child, but after realizing you got him good, he probably won’t buy into your threats too much again.
Is it appropriate? There are two things to consider here. For one, is it age appropriate? Having the snot-smearing toddler clean all the walls in the house as a consequence isn’t age-appropriate at all. Most toddlers aren’t developmentally capable of that kind of task. Plus, it’s probably not the best idea to give a toddler a bottle of Lysol. Poison control alert! If a nine-year-old is doing the snot-smearing, however, some wall cleaning would be a fabulous consequence (perhaps with some supervision, depending on the child). The other thing to consider is if it’s emotionally or physically abusive. Anything abusive is inappropriate. Blowing cayenne pepper powder into a child’s eyes is never appropriate. Locking a child in a closet is inappropriate. That’s fairly obvious, though. Emotional abuse isn’t so straightforward. I saw this picture on Facebook not too long ago:
I disagree. For one, holding that sign outside a grocery store is totally irrelevant to bullying. It’s embarrassing, yes, but not relevant. Secondly, public humiliation is cruel and emotionally abusive. I’m guessing he learned to bully from his mother. Now, I’m not saying all embarrassing consequences are bad—mostly just the ones that involve public humiliation. For example, if this mom had the kid bake cookies and then personally deliver them to each of his bullying victims with a face-to-face apology, it’s likely to be super embarrassing, but it’s also appropriate and actually relevant. That’s a mom that deserves an award.
Something to keep in mind:
Consequences are all about trial and error. Keep trying until you figure out something that works. Also keep in mind that sometimes the problem just isn’t a big deal.
For example, all through elementary/jr. high/high school I liked to stay up late reading. It drove my parents crazy. They threatened to take away my reading lamp, but I think we all knew that wouldn’t make me stop reading at night. They warned me that kids need at least nine hours of sleep each night to function during the day. That didn’t stop me either, because I never felt tired during the day. My parents told me that eventually they realized that even though I was staying up past midnight every night, I didn’t act tired (oddly enough, naps were rare for me before I graduated from high school) and I still got good grades. So they just let it go. It wasn’t a big deal.
Sorry this post was sooo lengthy, but I didn’t like the idea of dividing up the information into several posts. So here you have it, all at once!