Understanding consequences helps children to mature

Published 8:37 pm Saturday, March 30, 2013

Column: Families First, by Maryanne Law

Question: I need to have a clearer understanding of how to use different kinds of consequences to change negative behaviors.

Answer: The goal of discipline is to teach acceptable behavior and responsibility. Discipline does not equal punishment. Discipline is a combination of controlled environment, instruction and accountability. Consistent consequences develop self-discipline and internal motivation in children.

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Natural consequences teach children the natural order of events. A parent’s role is not to interfere with the results of a choice. A child who does not eat gets hungry. A youngster who cheats at games loses playmates. A teenager who chooses no boots ends up cold and uncomfortable when his car gets stuck in a snow bank. Natural consequences are appropriate if the results of poor decisions are not dangerous.

Logical consequences are requirements determined by an adult and are related to the misbehavior. To be most effective logical consequences need to be immediate and consistent. They do not have to be painful. In fact, if they are severe, a parent will probably threaten them, but not follow through. Logical consequences may be actions done over, done better or done more. Logical consequences also include the restriction or loss of privileges. A slammed door is closed seven times quietly. If a neighbor’s property is damaged, a contract is made to do his yard work or wash his car for several weeks. Toys not picked up are put away for a week. The bicycler who rides beyond the designated boundaries walks for three days. The teen that breaks curfew is in by 7 p.m. for two weekends.

Need-meeting consequences change behavior by providing a missing essential. A consequence for misbehavior caused by excess energy might be running laps or raking leaves. Poor grades may require less TV and more monitored homework time, perhaps even a specific amount of time in study drills or special instruction. Anti-social behavior signals a need for more family time. If teenagers are grounded effectively, the time at home will be spent interacting with family members in tasks or activities, not isolated in their rooms. Excessive sibling squabbling may mean the need for adult involvement in game playing or craft projects.

Tragic consequences include the removal from the experience or the group, which is long term. A child may no longer be allowed to play with another child. A student may be suspended from school. A teen that refuses to accept parental authority may have to deal with the police and the court system.

If you would like to talk about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Linea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org.


Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.