Using Healthy Consequences to Discipline

In my last post, we discussed the idea of using consequences as the primary means for effectively disciplining a child. We believe the research on parenting and disciplining strongly supports the use of good or healthy consequences.

How to use healthy consequences

Asian boy
It is important for parents to be “in the moment” when using consequences.

It is important for parents to be “in the moment” when using consequences. This is not something that comes easy for some parents, particularly because there is a great need to be intentional. However, it may be helpful to agree on terminology that represents what we are attempting to achieve in healthy, effective discipline. So, let’s try to do that.

Let’s say you have a four-year-old boy who is playing with a plastic baseball bat. (OK, who in their right mind would give a four-year-old a baseball bat? His grandparents would, of course!)  Should this child misuse the bat by hitting a lamp, a table or the cat, a healthy and effective consequence would provide one or more of the following:

Safety. First, establish or re-establish a safe emotional or physical environment for each person (or object) involved. A parent may take the bat from a four-year-old who does not use it safely.

Limits/Boundaries. Limits clearly establish or re-establish what is and is not acceptable as well as the means to enforce those limits or boundaries. The parent might move the child or the objects of abuse, or put up a gate to keep the child in a place of easier observation. It may be time to retire the bat for the day or week.

Teaching. This uses information to clarify values, principles of safety, responsibilities, expectations, needs, potential or risks. The parent explains why it is necessary to take steps to limit the child, describes how he may use the bat, and may discuss the concepts of trust and respect. Further, the consequence is explained as a withdrawal of the privilege of using the bat. Also, the parent may make a plan with the child to explore how the bat may be used more safely in the future.

Using a consequence to discipline provides a way to make restitution or fair payback which serves to correct and promote healing.

A way to make amends

Using a consequence to discipline provides a way to make restitution or fair payback which serves to correct and promote healing. If the child hits the cat with a bat, you then require the child to find something for the kitty to do. So, the parent may say that the child should spend time playing with the kitty, making an apology card, or perform another tangible gesture that allows the child to feel capable to make things better.

Make sure to affirm your child for completing consequences

We give parents these different ideas in terminology to help them use consequences effectively. Whatever the decision of consequence is, it should accomplish one or more of these purposes.  Remember also that it will be important to affirm a child for accepting and following through on consequences once the task is completed.

Sometimes the child may say that the consequence feels like punishment, but the child doubtfully could discern the difference between consequence and punishment. Parents recognize that the difference between a disciplinary consequence and a punishing consequence is the lack of intent to be vengeful, cause pain or inflict shame.

Children benefit from structure

While we recommend the use of fair and appropriate disciplinary consequences as a critical component of effective discipline, we also ask parents to be careful about the overuse of consequences. Sometimes a child just needs to be reminded that he has broken a rule, or that something different needs to be done or not done. And it is important to give them that reminder. After all, children need structure.

The use of disciplinary consequences is a judgment call for each parent facing many situations daily with their child. A good call will create the right balance. Consequences are the best and most effective way to discipline children as they continue to grow, experiment and learn how to function in our challenging world.

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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