Explaining Consequences to Your Child

We have been writing about one of the most important aspects of effective discipline, using consequences in a healthy way. A critical component of disciplinary consequences is how we communicate them to our children. How we speak or implement those consequences can affect our children’s lives (and resulting behavior) differently than parents may intend.

Parents, your words will make a difference

An overstated threat becomes one that is not believable.

As a child, you may have heard…“If you do that one more time, you’ll wish that you’d never been born!”

Now, what did that really mean? Was it a life-threat? Was it a statement of how a parent may make a child’s life so miserable that he would wish he had never been born?

Rather, this type of threat it is an attempt to overpower the child. It promotes fear as a way to control behavior. It does not promote discipline or change.

The child, who though at first may be concerned, eventually will cease to believe the parent. The child will not take the parent seriously nor consider changing his or her behavior.

Be calm, firm and direct

Explaining consequences directly proves a better approach for a parent. This means that the parent will provide specific information to prepare the child for the result that will occur if he or she does not change a behavior.

Be calm, clear and direct when explaining consequences.

Therefore, the purpose of explaining consequences is to  give the child information so he or she can recognize the opportunity to change inappropriate behavior as well as understand the implications of the consequences to be imposed. As we have this discussion with our child it is important that we speak calmly and clearly.

Immediately follow-through

little_girl with food
The critical aspect of an effective consequence is the certainty that it will occur.

If we do have to enforce a consequence, we should do so immediately. So, we say, “If you throw your food you will not be allowed to eat with the rest of us for the remainder of the meal…” Then, if food is thrown, the child should be dismissed immediately from the family’s table in a calm but direct way.

The critical aspect of an effective consequence is the certainty that it will occur.

Remember, effective consequences teach

Parents should impose the minimum consequence possible that accomplishes the desired teaching, while being consistent in following through if a consequence was explained. If this follow-through doesn’t occur, it leaves the child in a state of inconsistency, with lack of structured or stable boundaries. This confusion obviously will not help change behavior, nor will it create a healthy and trustworthy relationship between parent and child.

Occasionally, it is necessary to impose a consequence without having it described earlier to a child.

Occasionally, it is necessary to impose a consequence without having it described earlier to a child. The child may protest with, “That’s not fair!” However, it is important in certain situations to state that you, the parent, are an authority in the family and have the right to impose unpredicted consequences (because you have decided that it is the appropriate response to the behavior.)

To the child’s protest, a parent can briefly explain, “Sometimes parents need to impose consequences that they did not previously describe.” This should be spoken in a firm, calm tone as a fact and not a negotiable rule.

Making wise choices in the future

Undoubtedly, it can sometimes be difficult to communicate and explain consequences to a child. However, it is important to do all we can as parents to help our children have as many chances as possible to change. It is also important that the stated consequences become a reality if the child does not alter behavior.

A calm, clear and direct explanation of consequences can help children understand that parents are serious about bringing boundaries to unacceptable behavior. When we create consistent structure, our children will better learn how to make good choices in those important decisions that will guide them and shape the rest of the lives.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Preventing Violence through Effective Discipline, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.

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