The terms consequence and punishment are often used interchangeably when talking about discipline. There is a difference between consequences and punishments.
Punishment is a behavior that inflicts emotional or physical pain on a child. It is used as a means of coercion to get your child to behave well or to do what you want.
On the other hand, consequences are a result of a behavior, whether positive or negative. Allowing natural consequences to occur is best, if possible, so children learn the cause and effect relationship of their behavior and consequences.
Parents occasionally need to use consequences for bad behavior. Consequences should focus on teaching a child, not coercing a child as with punishment.
How to use consequences to teach
When used correctly, consequences specifically describe to a child what they are doing that is wrong and then teach them how to behave positively instead. Two Smarter Parenting skills, Observe and Describe and Correcting Behaviors, are used during and after negative behaviors to help a child correct their negative behavior.
Observe and Descrribe
Observe and Describe is used in the moment that your child is misbehaving. When you observe a negative behavior, you specifically and unemotionally explain what your child is doing, then explain what they should do instead. For example, if your child is whining about not being able to have ice cream you would say, “Right now you are talking in a whiny voice and asking me repeatedly for ice cream. I need you to say “Okay” calmly and not ask me again for ice cream.
Correcting Behaviors is used if your child’s negative behavior continues to escalate and you need to apply a consequence. It includes the steps of Observe and Describe, then adds an appropriate negative consequence and Role-playing with your child the correct way to behave.
For example, after you have Observed and Described to your child about whining and asking repeatedly for ice cream, if your child then throws a cup against the wall you move into Correcting Behaviors when they are calm.
You would say, “I understand you were upset I said “No,” but it is not okay to throw a cup against the wall. Since you threw the cup against the wall you will not be able to have ice cream for the rest of the day. If you can role-play calming down the correct way with me, then you can earn a different treat for later in the day.”
Both of these skills will not cause your child to be resentful towards you, does not require an increase in consequence over time, and will not teach them to act inappropriately with others. Instead, teaching children consequences shows cause and effect for kids so they learn to have control over their behaviors and understand accountability.
Punishment is always used for negative behaviors, but consequences can be positive or negative. Remember to give positive consequences too. In fact, give positive consequences more frequently than you give negative consequences.
Teaching through the appropriate use of positive and negative consequences will heal the strains in your relationship with your child and elevate your family to a happier, healthier state.
Skills such as Observe and Describe and Correcting Behaviors are proven techniques that provide direction and solutions to problems at home. Skills such as these will move from using punishments with your children to guiding through consequences.
Listen to ADHD Podcast #30 for more information about teaching vs. punishment