You've probably heard plenty of parenting advice that says the use of consequences is an effective discipline tool. But in order for consequences to impact your child's behavior, you need to introduce them at the right time and in the right way.
The use of consequences is especially effective in the early elementary years when children are just beginning to understand cause and effect. They are able to grasp that a certain behavior will lead to a certain result and start to want more control over the choices they make.
There are two kinds of consequences: imposed and natural. Imposed consequences are those you dole out: Friends can't come over until homework is done. Natural consequences are those that logically result from an action: Not doing homework will lead to a poor grade. Either one can help your child learn than his behavior has repercussions. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of Boundaries with Kids (Zondervan), call this the Law of Sowing and Reaping: "[Consequences] teach children self-control (Gal.5:23)?one of the most basic lessons in life. Choose to do your chores, you play. Choose to avoid your chores, you pay."
The use of consequences not only helps guide your child's behavior, it offers some surprising fringe benefits as well. For example:
Consequences encourage rational decision making. Your child will learn that there are good consequences for wise decisions and unfortunate consequences for poor choices. Your child may dawdle in the morning leaving little time for breakfast. As a result, he's hungry until lunchtime. It won't take long for your child to start making other choices based on projected results.
Consequences eliminate conflict. Rather than argue over expected behavior, simply state the rule then step back, allowing the natural consequences of your child's actions to police her behavior (as long as no danger exists).
Consequences teach responsibility. If a toy breaks through your child's misuse or carelessness and is not replaced or fixed, he'll begin to realize that he needs to be more careful with his belongings.
Making Consequences Work
1. Stay calm. Focus on guiding your child toward acceptable behavior rather than on the emotion of the moment.
2. Be firm. Clearly and simply explain the rules and consequences, then insist that the rules be followed. Resist the temptation to appease your child's demands; it will only sustain the behavior.
3. Be consistent. Enforcing the rules every time sends a clear message that you mean what you say.
4. Link consequences to the original problem. Decide what would naturally or logically result from your child's actions?a poor grade (didn't study), a tummy ache (too much candy), a lost toy (carelessness). Use consequences to teach cause and effect.
5. Give your child time and practice to learn from his mistakes. He is learning, so don't expect him to make the right choice every time. Words of encouragement can help your child feel supported and valued as he strives for self-control.
6. Avoid threats and bribes. These turn consequences into punishment and diminish their effectiveness. Discipline, not punishment, will build character.
7. Keep consequences short. Excessive consequences defeat the child and don't reinforce learning.
8. Give attention for positive behaviors. Compliment your child for trying. Show him he has the power to cause constructive results
9. Talk less, act more. A minimum of discussion removes the parent from the misbehavior and places responsibility on the child.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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