How to teach your children consequences
Whether or not a parent chooses to give their child consequences does not change the fact that consequences are a part of life. If a child chooses not to wear a jacket in a rainstorm, they will get wet. As parents, it is our duty to prepare our children for the positive and negative experiences they will have in their lives, and children need to receive consequences to learn responsibility and to be prepared for life away from their parents. Whether you believe you have tried every consequence and nothing has worked, or you are just starting to introduce consequences into your home, you can teach your child that their behaviors and choices lead to positive and negative results.
The first step in teaching consequence is to set boundaries. You cannot teach a child the importance of consequence without setting expectations, rules and consequences for kids that they need to follow. Boundaries are incredibly important to a child’s development. Boundaries and rules help children feel safe by creating predictability, and predictability reduces anxiety. In addition, children do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, which controls their decision-making and emotional responses. As a result children need guidance in making positive decisions and learning appropriate ways to respond when feeling negative emotions. Boundaries also reduce a child’s sense of entitlement. They learn to respect authority figures and the value of working hard to earn the things that they want.
Teach children they earn rewards and consequences
Once boundaries and associated consequences have been established, there needs to be a process of explaining consequences when a child has earned a reward or negative consequence. For some behaviors it may seem obvious why you are giving a negative consequence, but it is not always so obvious for children. When they don’t understand why they are receiving a consequence it’s easy for them to pass the blame onto the parent because they are acting “irrational” or “unfair”, rather than to see it as a result of their actions.
If we want our child to change their behavior, they need to know specifically what they did wrong and what they should do better next time. This is the same for positive consequences. We cannot only say “good job” and expect them to know what to do again next time to receive a reward.
Allow natural consequences
Whenever possible, allow natural consequences to occur. For example, if your child forgets to take a homework assignment to school, let them receive a reduced grade for turning in the assignment late rather than dropping your obligations for the day to bring them their assignment. When a child has broken a rule, relate the consequence as closely to the behavior as possible. Taking your son’s phone away for the weekend because he came home late may seem like an effective consequence, but because the phone is not related to coming
home on time, reducing his curfew until he can build trust and earn a later curfew again will do more to teach him how to manage his time appropriately. Or if your daughter hits her younger brother, have her do something nice for him so she learns how to resolve conflict in a relationship. You can also verbalize your own natural consequences throughout your day to help your child learn that all actions have a consequence. Explain that because you stayed up late the night before you are extra tired today which makes it harder for you to stay calm and make positive decisions.
Follow through with consequences
An important part of teaching your child consequence is following through with consequences consistently. Consequences will not be effective if you only follow through with them occasionally. Children will take the gamble of pushing the boundaries if there’s a possibility they won’t get a consequence for the negative behavior. There are a variety of other reasons why consequences may not be as effective as you want, but this should not deter you from setting boundaries and following through with consequences. Giving consequences takes some trial and error.
In the end, children learn from struggling a little bit. When children do not have boundaries or are frequently saved from failing, they expect others to give in to their desires and want life to come easy. Making mistakes and feeling the consequence of our actions helps us grow and improve, just as making a positive decision and feeling the success that comes as a result encourages us to continue working hard.