How to Impose Disciplinary Consequences

I am winding up our series on Effective Discipline, one of the most important topics we can talk about as parents. I hope that we have been able to share some new thoughts, principles and tools that will encourage you in your parenting responsibilities and to help our children to mature in a healthy, disciplined way.

A summary of ways to impose consequences

Man_In_Living_Room_Watching TV
The first and most basic parental response can be an I-Message.

I thought I would take a few moments to summarize imposed discipline consequences. We want parents to think about the least formal to the most serious responses they may have when they need to respond to their child’s inappropriate behavior. Naturally, a parent’s response will depend on what and how serious the behavioral issues are.


The first and most basic parental response can be an I-Message. An I-Message is spoken as a brief, informal and spontaneous consequence triggered by a behavior or situation. It invites the child the stop, consider his/her actions, and then make whatever adjustments are needed to address whatever the parent or caregiver described as the issue, problem, conflict or concern.

An example is when a parent may say, “Justin, when you turn the radio up while I am in the room on the telephone, I can’t hear my conversation.  I need you to turn it down until I am done so I can hear.”

Teaching Consequence

Family breakfast
A teaching consequence/response occurs best when a parent spends time explaining something to a child

The next level of response is a Teaching Consequence. This involves stopping a child’s behavior by telling him/her to listen while you give information or direction. This type of response occurs best when a parent spends time explaining something to a child to help that child:

  • be more aware
  • gain a greater understanding and appreciation of what has happened
  • learn how others have been impacted
  • learn if and how safety has been jeopardized
  • realize if and how someone’s rights have been compromised, or,
  • learn if and how a family rule has been violated.

It goes something like, “Megan, you need to come with me to the kitchen for a few minutes.  After we are done talking you can come back to be with your friend.”

Problem Exploration

Parents may decide that it would be more effective to sit with a child and formally process a problem or conflict.

Next is the level of Problem Exploration or Conflict Resolution.  This is where parents decide that it would be more effective to sit with a child and formally process a problem or conflict, or more informally discuss the problem or conflict with a goal of determining how the problem or conflict can be effectively addressed.

An example may go something like this, “Nancy, because on several occasions we have had to talk about not scaring friends with stories about spiders or robbers, we need to sit with some paper and pencils and figure this out in more detail. Perhaps if we explore this problem together, we can come up with ways to handle things that we can both feel good about.”

This idea is very effective because it includes the child in the process of problem resolution and allows him/her to do some self-discovery.

When stopping all activity is needed

Because children are sometimes in such disequilibrium, the parent must firmly assert a “stop everything” until everyone can all calm.

Sometimes it is necessary to interrupt all activities until the problem is resolved. If the parent can see that the child is not going to accept any of the previous options, then all activity should be stopped until the problem is resolved.

Because children are sometimes in such disequilibrium, the parent must firmly assert a “stop everything” until everyone can all calm. This stronger disciplinary posture may require a time-out so the child can calm and gain emotional balance and perspective.

As noted in my previous post, a time-out is not meant to be a punishment and shaming process but a time for the child to gain self-control. Once this period ends (which should not be too long), the child could be instructed to apologize or make amends.

The example should be something like, “Millie, I see you are much calmer now. The next thing you need to do is apologize and tell your brother and me that you will not do that again.”

Being accountable with a disciplinary consequence

Parents can help children accept responsibility for their actions.

Finally, if a disciplinary consequence is necessary (see my past posts on consequences), parents can help children accept responsibility for their actions. A disciplinary consequence is a brief, non-negotiable, firm, practical and single-minded approach associated with relevant actions to help the child understand his/her impact, restore what has been damaged and  promote health in the parent/child relationship.

The child may protest this consequence and a parent may say, “That may be, but we are not talking about that right now!”

An example may be that a child who has marked the floor with a crayon will have to get cleaner and scrub the floor until the crayon is removed. No playing or other activity should be allowed until that task is completed. Once that has been achieved, the parent can affirm the whole process ,and then resume life without further guilt, shame or retribution.

We need to allow children to be restored.

So, this post gives an overview of a very intentional, healthy and progressive approach to effective discipline. My purpose is to be helpful to give parents and caregivers, sharing more tools and teaching opportunities. By doing so, we help children gain self-control, be responsible, take ownership of their actions and impact, and find restoration of relationships—a benefit as they grow and develop.

What a huge set of challenges for parents! Yet, effective discipline, including imposed consequences, is essential to raising emotionally intact, relationally healthy and responsible children.

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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