What’s The Deal with Consequences?

Consequences are an inescapable element of life, and it is important that you teach your kids from a young age that their actions have consequences. This is a vital element of the developmental process and is a key aspect of implementing discipline to your child’s life.  

Natural Consequences  

These are consequences that occur following an ill-advised action. For example, if your child does not want to wear a coat when you tell them to, they are going to be cold.

Natural consequences will allow your child to see and experience how their decisions influence their life and emotions. This is a great way to help your children learn how to take responsibility.  

This is a very useful tool for behavioral management and development. That being said, it is not always the best course of action. As adults we have the benefit of experience, and we know when a decision is a little silly and when it is actually dangerous.

Do not allow your child to experience the negative consequences of their actions if they are going to get hurt or be put in danger.  

Another example is if your child refuses to do their schoolwork. They will fall behind in their learning and begin to struggle. As a good parent, you should encourage them with other methods to do their schoolwork and help them where necessary with gentle guidance and support.  

It is not a good idea to laugh at your child or say I told you so when they experience negative natural consequences. This will belittle them and likely make them upset or angry.

Instead, try to communicate openly with your child and discuss more appropriate courses of action for the next time this situation arises.  

Related Consequences 

These are consequences related to the inappropriate behavior that you as the parent have imposed. For example, if you have told your child to stop playing with their drink and they continue and spill their drink, you will make them wipe the liquid up.

Another example is removing a toy they have been arguing over for 10 to 20 minutes. 

This kind of consequence removes the child from the situation where they were misbehaving, and teaches them that they will need to sort it out. As they are fixing the situation, they are forced to reflect on their actions and it feels like a fair punishment.

This will build associations in their brains which will hopefully lead to behavioral modifications in the future.  

Positive Consequences 

Positive consequences are proactive. They should encourage your children to repeat good behavioral traits and should be phrased using a positive lexicon.

Examples of positive consequences include attention, praise, and rewards. Think of these in a similar way to giving dogs treats when they perform a trick well.  

Negative Consequences 

Negative consequences are reactive. They should encourage your children to stop poor behavior and make them aware that this should not be repeated. This is an effective method of disciplining your children. 

Examples of negative consequences include ignoring your child (or their attention-seeking behavior), distraction (getting the child to focus on something else), and allowing negative natural consequences to take place.

Other examples include a privilege delay (making your child wait for longer before they get what they want), a removal of a specific privilege or toy, or a time-out.  

We recommend starting with the distraction and ignoring methods, particularly if your children are quite young. 

How To Implement Consequences into Real Life? 

The most important thing to remember when implementing effective consequences is to remain calm. This will make your child more willing to listen and will ensure the situation does not escalate into a screaming match.

Your child is likely to match your attitude, meaning that if you are calm, they will be too. No one wants to sit quietly and listen to an angry person talking at them. 

The next step is to allow your child some agency. If you notice them doing something that you deem inappropriate or incorrect, pull them aside and explain that this is not what they should be doing and what will happen if the behavior continues. 

For instance, if they are refusing to share their toys, say “[name], it’s important to take turns and share so that no one feels sad. If you don’t give the toy to your friend in 2 minutes you will miss your next go.” The exception to this is if your child has broken a clearly established rule that they know there are consequences for.

An example of this is if they hit someone, and are instructed to go straight to time out.  

Once you have allowed your child the opportunity to self-correct their behavior, monitor the way that they act. If they do modify their behavior, fantastic, you have got through to them.

If they do not, you need to follow through with the consequence you stated earlier. Get down to their level and say “[name], I warned you about sharing. Your friend gets to have 2 goes on the toy now.” At this point, it is wise to take the toy away from your child and give it to their friend, as they are likely to be reluctant to do so.  

It is vital that you always follow through with the consequences. Do not allow your child to wriggle out of them, as this sets a precedent. If your child thinks they may be able to escape punishment, your parenting strategy will be greatly weakened and they are likely to push the boundaries more.  

Tips for Implementing Consequences  

We do not recommend using this consequence discipline strategy on children under the age of 3. They are simply not developmentally advanced enough to understand the nuances of this discipline, and you will be wasting your time and breath.

Very young children have not yet built associations between their actions and the resultant consequences, and so this strategy is completely ineffective. 

You should be consistent and fair with your consequences. Use the same consequence for the same behavior, for instance, giving your child a time out whenever they hit someone. If you have more than one child, regardless of their age, negative consequences should be applied in the same manner.

Using different consequences for different children makes them feel as though they are being treated unfairly, which opens up further issues. 

You should always explain your consequences to your children ahead of time. This means that you do not just spring the consequences on them, and your child has some time to adjust their behavior. This will help them to accept the consequences more readily, as they had already been warned.  

You should keep the consequences short, as this allows time for reflection and behavior modification. If your children are arguing over what TV show to watch, switch it off for 10 minutes and make them sit there.

They will use this time to calm down and reflect, after which you can switch the TV back on. Now the kids know that arguments will lead to it being switched off, they are much more likely to be amicable and solve the arguments that they have been having.