My oldest daughter, Bee, has always been a picky eater. She does request healthy foods, like chickpeas and apples. But she also loves snacks and sweets. In the past, she often refused to eat what’s fixed for dinner. She might have requested a totally different meal or a bottomless snack bowl after dinner. Frankly, it was absolutely exhausting.
I had no idea what to do about it. So I kept working away like a short-order cook in my own kitchen. Then, while exploring Positive Parenting for other behavioral reasons, I uncovered the secret that would solve our mealtime battles for good: Natural Consequences.
What Are Consequences?
In short, consequences are the results of an action. Many think of it as cause and effect. As adults, we often make choices based on the known consequences. We don’t binge-watch our favorite TV shows on work nights because we know the next day will be a struggle. We don’t over-consume caffeine at night because we know it will cause sleep issues. And many of us don’t speed because we know it could result in a ticket. Consequences are a natural part of life.
There are two different kinds of consequences.
Consequences that occur without any intervention are natural consequences. For example, if you forget your mittens at home, your hands will be cold. Or, if you leave your sidewalk chalk in the rain, it will dissolve. Natural consequences are an excellent teacher. It’s impossible for the recipient to blame anyone else for the consequence.
When you impose a consequence because of an action, it is considered a logical consequence. For example, if you don’t pick up your toys, I will box them up and store them in the garage until tomorrow. Or, if don’t return with the family car by 10:00 pm, then you won’t be able to use the family car for a week. Logical consequences are effective, but they should follow strict guidelines so they aren’t perceived as punitive, unfair punishment.
Good Consequences vs. Bad Consequences
Natural consequences are easy because you simply let nature take its course when your children misbehave. Logical consequences aren’t as easy, especially when implementing them with children. If you’re not careful, your consequences can feel unfair and unjust. Children tend not to learn the intended lesson when this is the case.
To ensure your consequences are as effective as possible, follow the Five R’s .
First and foremost, the consequence needs to be related to the action, or misbehavior. If the consequence isn’t related, your children aren’t going to truly understand the connection. No learning will take place. For example, an unrelated consequence might be, “If you don’t stop jumping on the couch, then I will take your tablet for the rest of the day.” Jumping on the couch has nothing to do with the tablet, so it’s unlikely your child will remember or connect these two as cause and effect.
An example of a related consequence might be, “If you do not wear your helmet, you may not ride your bike.” The behavior and the consequence are related, and easy for your child to remember.
If you cannot think of a related consequence, then a consequence is not the right positive parenting tool to address the issue.
A consequence must be reasonable to be effective. If your 10 year old child leaves their LEGOs on the floor, a reasonable to pack away the LEGOs for 3 days. It is not reasonable to pack them away for 3 months. This rule allows from some subjectiveness, but it’s important to really consider the duration or extent of the consequence. You do not want it to feel punitive and arbitrary.
Our goal with consequences if to help children learn from the behavior. It’s imperative that the consequence remains respectful. In other words, there should be no shame, blame, or pain involved in the consequence. Making a child stand in front of strangers with a sign describing their transgression, for example, would not be considered respectful.
Revealed in Advance
A key component to effective consequences is that they are revealed in advance. In other words, you need to make sure the rules are clear beforehand. This gives your child the opportunity to make a choice, and to accept the known consequence. It puts the responsibility on them. Otherwise, it will feel like you’re making up rules arbitrarily as you go. Children will see this as an unfair punishment, not a consequence.
Finally, to make sure everyone is clear on the expectations, it’s best to have your child repeat the consequence back to you, in their own words.
Why You Should Never Use Punishments
Sometimes you will have to be a bad guy and execute the consequences. But upsetting your kids by enforcing consequences is not the same as punishment.
Punishments, which are the infliction of some type of pain or loss, are widely considered ineffective and even harmful by psychologists. There’s a vast body of work describing the negative impact of punishments with children, but a few of the notable ones are that punishments:
- erode relationships with children.
- diminish a child’s sense of empathy.
- make some children feel like they’re a ‘bad person’, which perpetuates the misbehavior.
- encourage children to avoid future punishments at all costs, even if it requires dishonesty.
- is considered unfair, and therefore makes kids feel like abuse of power is ok.
- avoid the emotional aspect of making choices and accepting consequences.
- create resentment.
- encourage children to blame others and only look out for themselves.
- creates an external locus of control.
- discourages kids from taking responsibility.
Why You Should Avoid Rewards
A common parenting practice is to offer rewards for good behavior. The idea is you offer a prize or incentive for a particular behavior and expect they will repeat that behavior in the future. Some typical reward practices include sticker potty charts, chore charts with daily or weekly rewards, or paying children for good grades.
Rewards seem like the perfect solution! You’re not implementing negative consequences and the children behave as desired. Win/Win right? Not exactly.
Here are 5 reasons you should not use rewards:
- Rewards lead to entitlement. In other words, children develop a ‘What’s in it for me?’ mentality.
- Satiation, or the need for more to achieve the same effect, can lead to an addiction for the reward.
- They disrupt internal motivation and self-esteem.
- They imply that misbehavior is the norm and that behavior requires payment.
- Rewards diminish the joy and intrinsic value of the behavior.
The Benefits of Using Consequences
Meaningful consequences can change the dynamic in your family. A few of the benefits you might notice are:
- Children learn from their mistakes quickly because they correlate the behavior with the consequence.
- Children build self-esteem and confidence because they are empowered to make the decision themselves: either the behavior or the consequence.
- The relationship between the parents and the child improves greatly because there is mutual respect.
- Consequences separate the behavior from the child, eliminating the blame, pain, or shame that might cause emotional trauma for the child.
- It encourages children to take responsibility for their actions and curbs their desire to blame others.
How You Can Get Started Today
You’re probably thinking This sounds great, but I have no idea where to start. Thats ok! Start small. Here are 3 steps you can complete to get started today.
- Think carefully about the power struggles or conflicts you’ve had with your kids this week. Identify several behaviors you’d like to address immediately. Write them down. Can you easily come up with a related consequence?
- Have a conversation with your children about your new consequences. Don’t forget the final “R” – Repeat it Back!
- Execute any consequences necessary.
Need a little help? Download our Consequences Workbook.
Free Consequences Workbook
Get my free consequences workbook, including a printable poster for the Five Rs, a printable worksheet to develop personalized consequences, and word-for-word scripts to help you implement effective consequences today!
Frequently Asked Questions
Need More Help?
You’re not alone! There are many Positive Parenting communities that can help. If you have questions for me or would like guidance on where to find like-minded parenting communities, please reach out to me today!