There is often a lot of discussion and even controversy about how a parent should respond when a child misbehaves. The children need to learn why their misbehavior is a problem so they can make better decisions next time. But how do you do that in a way that is appropriate and respectful? We need to learn how to set suitable consequences that teach.
How Do You Set Consequences When Kids Misbehave?
“But how do I choose a consequence when my child misbehaves?” This is a question I often hear from parents.
The first step is to remember the goal of the consequence. We want our kids to learn from their actions, positive and negative. This is actually the goal of positive discipline.
The problem is that it’s too easy to confuse punishment with discipline.
There’s a world of difference between the two.
Punishment is about causing pain or discomfort in an effort to change behavior. We hope he will change his behaviour in order to avoid the pain or discomfort. And it often works, but only in the short term. It works as long as it’s uncomfortable enough to dissuade him from repeating the misbehaviour.
With punishment the motivation is external. He learns that his parents will make his life miserable if he doesn’t follow the rules, but he doesn’t learn why those rules exist. He might learn to be sneaky, so he won’t get caught, and that he can misbehave when nobody’s watching.
For example, if you create a list of responses you will make when your child misbehaves, you are punishing them. It’s what I call the recipe approach to child discipline. You have created a list of actions that will make your child uncomfortable and the goal is for them to change their behavior is order to avoid the action you are about to take. Some parents work hard to develop punishments by removing something the child just loves. That will teach him, he won’t want that to happen again.
Problem is that even if his behavior changes, and it well might, he hasn’t learned the connection between the rule he broke and making good choices. He only changes to avoid the discomfort.
Discipline, on the other hand, is not about pain or punishment, nor about revenge or retribution. Discipline is about teaching, guiding and training. When we discipline children we are teaching them the difference between right and wrong. We’re helping them to learn about the consequences of their actions.
So how do consequences work and why are they an integral part of a discipline process?
Discipline is about teaching our kids how to behave appropriately. That involves more than simply listing rules and consequences when rules are broken. It involves helping our children understand why a rule exists and what the results are when they do break a rule and when they don’t.
When a child misbehaves the first step is to ask yourself, “what would happen if I did nothing?” This is important for a number of reasons. You may actually be able to do nothing and let nature take its course and he will learn from the experience. For example, if he sleeps in and misses his bus and then either has to walk or bike to school or wait for the next bus and arrive late, he will learn that life works a whole lot better if he’s ready on time.
Often, of course, often you can’t just let it go but by asking that question, but by taking this step you more easily define what it is you want your youngster to learn.
For example, he is throwing a ball around the living room and knocks over a plant. He knows the ball is an outside toy but chose to ignore that rule.
Clearly, if you do nothing the plant will die and there will be a huge, dirty mess on the floor.
So, if you look to punishment you might take away his computer privileges and he learns nothing about the misbehaviour. If you allow him to choose a punishment from your pre-determined list it becomes a game.
But, if you have him clean up the mess, look after the plant while it re-establishes itself and have him use some or all of his allowance to buy a new plant if it dies, he has learned why he needs to be careful when he plays in the house.
When we use punishment, our kids simply try to avoid getting caught. When we discipline, they learn why rules exist. They learn to look at future situations and make responsible decision.
Kids who are punished can easily become young adults who avoid problems, who are sneaky and who blame those who punish them
Kids who are disciplined become young adults who understand why rules exist, who problem-solve when deciding what actions to take and who take responsibility for their decisions.
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