Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Many parents choose to teach their children
by allowing them to experience the consequences of their acts. In this way,
children learn that their decisions and their behaviour have an impact on
themselves and the people around them. Because
it involves taking responsibility for choices made, discipline through
consequences empowers children and promotes
Life does the teaching
with natural consequences: if you don't wear your hat, you'll get cold; if
you've spent all your savings, you won't be able to buy the game you want. All
the parent has to do is point out the likely
consequences, then keep quiet ... and avoid saying, "I told you
Sometimes risking natural
consequences is too dangerous: if you play with matches, you could burn down the
house, for example. Other times, the outcome happens too far in the future to
make the connection obvious: if you don't brush
your teeth, you'll get
are imposed by the parent to link the behaviour of the child with consequences
that make sense. The consequences feel fair and reasonable instead of like
arbitrary control by the parent. For instance, as
the parent you could set the rule: "Lights out at 8:30. If you are ready for bed
at 8:15, we will have time to read a story. If not, we won't." If the child
takes too much time, your calm response would be, "I see you've chosen
no story tonight. Maybe tomorrow you'll be ready
For a teen who comes in past
curfew, the parent could say, "It's 30 minutes past the time we agreed on and I
have been worried. To win back my confidence, next time you go out, you will
come in 30 minutes earlier than our previously
Children readily understand
and often appreciate consequences that give them an opportunity to repair their
mistakes: they spill milk, they clean it up (or at least help); they tear a
book, they patch it up; they dent a fender,
they pay for it. The parent can apply these consequences with genuine regret
combined with admiration — "too bad this happened to you, you're doing a
great job of fixing it up" — rather than in a punishing
Children need to know how
they are supposed to act. And sometimes they need to practise it with coaching.
For instance, a child who has thrown a tantrum when leaving a friend's house
might not be allowed to play with that friend
for a week. The consequence will be more effective and feel fairer if the parent
spends time with the child during the week looking for and practising better
ways to leave a friend's. The message changes from,
"You're a bad kid." to "I'm confident that you can master this."
Sometimes it takes a
good imagination to figure out appropriate consequences that teach rather than
punish. Take the case of a child who forgets his jacket at a friend's. Natural
consequences: He's cold next time he goes outdoors...but in fact it's too cold
for that to be safe. Consequences that repair: He bundles up in sweaters and
goes back to get the jacket...but the friend lives 20 minutes' drive away.
Creative consequences: Parent drives the child to the friend's house to pick up
the jacket (child's responsibility) and the child chooses which of the
parent's responsibilities he will help with or take on in
In the heat of the moment, a
punishment may come to mind more easily than an appropriate consequence. You
can give yourself some breathing room by saying, "That behaviour is not allowed.
If you repeat it, there will be consequences."
Later, describe to the child what behaviour you expect and what the consequences
for unacceptable behaviour will be in the future.
Consider the following points:
- What expectations and consequences are
appropriate to the child's age?
- Is the child old enough to understand the link
between his actions and their results?
- Does the child clearly understand the rule or the
expected acceptable behaviour?
- Does the child need more practice and coaching in
the desired behaviour?
- Will you be able to apply the consequences with
the consistency necessary to teach the lesson that one's choices have an impact,
By disciplining through
consequences, you will help your child learn to think before making decisions
and to take responsibility for choices