More than 300 years ago, Isaac Newton laid down his third law of motion: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."
Since time immemorial, our forefathers have been teaching us: “As you sow, so shall you reap”.
These are universal truths and apply to every person and situation.
We suffer the consequences of actions that we do, which may be positive or negative. Negative actions produce negative consequences and positive actions produce positive consequences. Positive consequences are also called rewards.
For our discussion here, when I say consequences, I mean negative consequences. And when I say rewards, I mean positive consequences.
Experience teaches us what leads to what. Failures and sufferings teach us what not to do again. Success and rewards teach us what to do more and more.
We learn so many lessons from the experience of great hardships. And therefore, we want our kids to learn about negative actions and their consequences without suffering those hardships.
So, what do we do?
We start with teaching our children about small-small consequences about their small-small mistakes, so that they learn to relate their actions with consequences and learn to do more positive actions and avoid mistakes.
Behavior consequences teach kids what to do and what not to do and help them improve their behavior.
When Behavior Consequences don’t work
The most common complaint from parents is,"Nothing works with my kid."
There could be many reasons for such a situation. However, the most common is that parents do not implement the consequences in an effective manner.
The following are the important things while giving effective consequences to kids. If any one of the following is missing, consequences will not work, and don’t blame your kids for that.
- Keep emotions out of it
- Plan Behavior Consequences in advance
- Be clear
- Be Brief
- Be consistent
- Behavior Consequences must follow immediately after misbehavior
- Behavior Consequences must affect the child in some adverse way
- Quantum of Behavior consequences
- Complement Behavior Consequences with rewards and praise
- Experiment with Behavior Consequences
- Warnings don’t work
- After thought
- Don’t expect magic
1. Keep emotions out of it
The most common reason of consequences being ineffective is that when the act of misbehavior occurs, parents loose their temper. They become mad at the kids and forget everything they know about ‘how to give consequences’.
We need to announce and implement consequences in a cool and calm manner. This makes us reasonable and judicious. When we bring our anger in it, kids can sense our anger only and nothing else. They and don’t listen to what we say. They follow the behavior consequences just to cool down our anger, not to learn a lesson from their mistake.
Kids learn better from a calm, composed and reasonable parent, than from an angry and unreasonable parent. So be calm and reasonable.
How to do that … keep reading.
2. Plan Behavior Consequences in advance
An effective way for parents to keep emotions out of implementing behavior consequences is to plan the consequences in advance.
Make a list of common misbehaviors and write their corresponding consequences in front of the misbehavior. Encourage the child to participate in this list making process. Believe me, kids will have fun doing it. Paste the list on a prominent place. It really helps, believe me.
How does it help?
When the child misbehaves, both the parent and the child know what to do … run to the list … and read the applicable consequence.
What does it do?
Both the parent and the child are eager to find out what consequence is applicable. This makes it a fun. The parents need not apply their mind to formulate a consequence then and there. This helps parents to take their emotions out of it.
The best way to keep parents’ emotions out of implementing consequences is consequence wheel. Instead of making the process an occasion for emotional out burst for parents and kids, consequence wheel actually makes it a fun for both of them. Click here to learn more about what is consequence wheel and how you can make and use it.
3. Be clear
Tell the child what mistake he has done, and what consequence have you chosen for it. Be clear in your words and voice. The child must understand clearly about his mistake and the corresponding consequence. You can be much clearer if you keep emotions out of it.
4. Be Brief
Be very brief while telling the child about his mistake and the consequence. You’ll be tempted to speak a lot and preach. But don’t do it. Hold yourself. Few words will convey the message. The more you speak, more will you lose control on your words, and your emotions will come out in words. Soon you’ll be out of control. So be brief, Speak as few words as possible, in a calm tone.
5. Be consistent
Be consistent in your reaction. When ever there is misbehavior, an appropriate and proportionate behavior consequence must follow.
If you give a consequence for misbehavior at one time and ignore it completely the next time, you are being seriously inconsistent. It doesn’t teach discipline to the child.
Children test their boundaries. Your ignoring misbehavior teaches the child that he can get away with it sometimes. So he keeps repeating the misbehavior because he knows that he can get away with it at least a few times. So the misbehaving pattern remains there, even if you give heavy consequences the other times. So Maintain balance and consistency.
6. Behavior Consequences must follow immediately after the misbehavior
Delayed consequences are no consequences, because the they confuse the child. He can’t connect them with the misbehavior, and therefore considers it unfair, and resents against it. So they don’t teach any lesson to the child. The time interval between an act of misbehavior and the consequences should be shortest possible.
7. Behavior Consequences must be capable of affecting the child in some adverse way
Every child is different. What affects a child may not affect others, and consequence are meaningless if they can’t affect the child. Consequences must be capable of affecting adversely the child to the extent that the child learns a lesson not to repeat the mistake. Withdrawing a privilege which does not interest a child is a meaningless consequence. It will be effective only when you withdraw some privileges which the child enjoys, like watching TV, playing games on computer etc. Evaluate child’s age and interest and choose consequences accordingly.
8. Quantum of Behavior Consequences
The ideal quantum of consequences is proportionate to the act of misbehavior. But it is not always easy to draw the proportion. Well, in that case, smallest quantity which causes affects the child adversely is okay.
Remember, too large quantity will certainly cause side effects, may be some serious ones. The child will apply his own judgment and evaluation on the consequences and their quantum. If the child finds it too unfair, he feels punished for no good reason and resent against it.
9. Complement Behavior Consequences with rewards and praise
Too much emphasis on behavior consequences for negative behavior and completely ignoring rewards for good behavior will lower down child’s self esteem. His acts of good behavior go unrewarded. It demoralizes the child. He finds no good reason to behave better. Under these circumstances, consequences further loose their effectiveness. The parents become enemies in the eyes of the child, and he misbehaves even more to tease the parents.
Consequences alone don’t work unless the child is rewarded for good behavior as well. Consequences must be complemented with rewards for good behavior. We need to maintain a balance between consequences and rewards.
10. Experiment with Behavior consequences
Generally parents choose only a few consequences and keep repeating them for every kind of misbehavior. With the passage of time, kids get immune to these consequences. Now they need new and more effective consequences. So we need to keep experimenting with consequences.
Expand the list of consequences. Be innovative and creative about them. Talk to the kids as well and let them come up with their own ideas. They’ll be happy to participate in this.
11. Warnings don’t work
‘Barking dogs seldom bite’.
Kids know this intuitively. If you keep warning the child of consequences, he senses your non-seriousness about it and ignores your threat. There is no point in warning. Do it actually instead, and the child will learn a lesson that the misbehavior is not acceptable. The child will understand that you mean business and there is no point in testing boundaries any longer. If you have already warned three times and not done it, you convey a message to the child that he can still has the chance to get away with it.
12. After thought
Give a thought after the event of consequence is over. Were you too harsh? Was your decision just and fair? If you think you were unreasonable, unfair, or too harsh, talk to the child about it and apologize. It will be a great soothing factor for the child, and strengthen your bond with the child.
13. Don’t expect magic
Behavior modification takes time. Behavior is a bundle of habits, and habits die hard. It takes at least 21 days to make or break a habit, that too when consistent efforts are made and thee is no obstructing factor. So be patient. Let the behavior consequences work over a period of time. Give them some time. Look for small changes and be consistent about them.