As parents, there are various strategies of parenting that can be practised to teach your kids how to behave, and all parents have their own set of rules. One common and effective parenting tool that is often used is consequences. The simplest response from you after a particular behaviour by your kids can be regarded as a consequence. Experiencing consequences can help your kids to learn from their mistakes, make better decisions, and improve their behaviour.
Consequences are rational responses to your kids’ behaviour and done to convey that their behaviour is their choice and responsibility. There are positive and negative consequences. Positive consequences, such as attention, tell your kids that you like the behaviour and can foster the behaviour in your kids. Inversely, negative consequences, such as ignoring, show that you do not like the behaviour and can prevent them from repeating it. You can praise your kids after they followed your instruction to put their toys in place after playtime, and you can keep their toys away from them if they did not. Punishments, on the other hand, are different from negative consequences. Punishments are usually imposed on your kids out of your emotion, and communicate that their action and decision are controlled by you.
Types of Consequences
Natural consequences: These are the effect of an action or decision that is bound to happen by nature or reason, with or without your intervention, which can be effective if it is not damaging to the kids or others. For example, Sara loses her doll because she was careless during an outing, or she feels hungry because she refused to eat. However, if she plays with a knife, her parents should definitely step in to prevent injury.
Logical consequences: Most of the time, it is not suitable to let natural consequences take place, because they are not effective. In these cases, parents should get involved and carry out logical (commonsense) consequences that are related to the kids’ behaviour. For example, when they argue about TV channels, you can turn it off or cut their viewing session short. Or, if they made a mess then they must clean it up.
Imposed consequences: Sometimes, you might not be able to find a logical consequence to the kids’ behaviour, it might no longer be effective, or multiple mistakes might have been committed. Hence, you can impose other unrelated consequences such as by suspending some, or all, of their privileges. These are usually best communicated beforehand to your kids to give them an opportunity to stop and think about their behaviours. However, it is important for parents and kids to differentiate between parental obligations and privileges for effective consequences.
Tips for Effective Consequences
Be calm and rational: Take a pause and calm down so that you can think clearly and focus on your kids’ behaviour, and not your emotion. Reflect on what you want them to learn before handing out the consequences. Be rational and avoid nagging or cajoling when giving consequences.
3R (Related, Respectful, Reasonable): An effective consequence should be logically related to the behaviour and not randomly given. It should also be respectful to the kids and does not humiliate them. Consequences should also be reasonable, which means suitable to their age and ability, and proportionate with the behaviour.
Be clear and brief: Give brief and clear instruction to your kids when giving them consequences. This can help them understand your intention and prevent you from getting into unnecessary negotiation or argument that can undo the lesson.
Task- and time-specific: Task-specific consequence means that your kids should be actively doing a specific task, instead of passively waiting for the consequence to finish. Consequences should also be time-specific so that the period is long enough to make your kids work for it, but not too long that both kids and parents lose interest. Consequences should also be immediate so that your kids can connect their behaviour to the following consequence.
Be consistent and steadfast: You should be consistent with the consequences that you have decided for present and future behaviour. Be steadfast with your decision and do not give in to any resistance or lack of change in behaviour.
Be prepared: Come up with a list of consequences for possible future behaviour so that you can be prepared when it happens. You can also prepare lists for specific occasions such as when taking a flight or going on a trip to the beach.
By experiencing consequences, kids learn to think about what they did and how they can make amends. In the long run, it teaches them their actions hav consequences and lays the groundwork that is an absolute necessity for them to make it in ‘the real world’ when they are adults.
An educational collaboration with Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology.