Consequences as Teaching Tools

Experience is the teacher of all things.
Julius Caesar

Parents are often baffled by which consequence they should use when their child misbehaves. One of the most helpful perspectives I ever received about consequences is that they are supposed to teach my children something that they need to learn. This insight has been so helpful in guiding me to pick a consequence that fits and I have relied on this advice many times as my kids were growing up:

  • When my son was 5, he refused to wear mittens on a particularly cold day. No arguing, insisting, or cajoling could make him put them on. Then I remembered this ‘rule’ about consequences; I let him go outside without anything covering his hands. Of course, within 5 minutes he came in with very cold hands, put his mittens on himself, and went back outside to play. Nothing like “natural consequences” to teach important lessons!
  • When my children were 8, they were engaging in another of their irritating battles about which television program to watch. In previous such events, I had tried to mediate and solve the problem for them. This time, I just turned off the TV and suggested they each find something else to do. Later on, when everyone was cooler, and with my guidance, they worked out a plan to decide who would watch what and when. Lessons learned: in our family, we don’t fight over such things, and if they do, they both lose privileges; and, together they can come up with a way to compromise so that each of their needs and desires are respected.
  • When my son was 14, he was spending so much time on the computer playing games that his homework was not getting done and his schoolwork was suffering. We stopped all use of electronics for him, until he could work out a plan for doing his school work and improving his grades. When we saw that homework was being completed, he could return to the electronics for an agreed amount of time each day. Lesson learned: among other things, how to balance work and responsibilities with leisure and fun activities.

Consequences do not have to be harsh punishment to be effective. The most valuable ones are not severe, but include in them elements that will teach children what their behavior shows us that they need to learn.

by Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator

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