Positive discipline: Consequences

Positive discipline based on appropriate consequences.

Appropriate consequences allow children to learn self-control and responsibility. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Appropriate consequences allow children to learn self-control and responsibility. Photo credit: Pixabay.

An important part of positive discipline is establishing appropriate consequences that allow children to learn self-control and responsibility for their own actions.  Identifying consequences is a discussion that many parents and caregivers would benefit from.  According to Michigan State University Extension, there are three types of consequences for our behavior:  imposed, logical and natural.

Let’s start with natural consequences.  Natural consequences are those that just naturally happen.  For instance, the natural consequence of not watching your gas gage and getting gas when your tank is about empty could be running out of gas and being late for work.  For a child, the natural consequence of breaking crayons when they were mad is having to color with broken crayons. Another example might be getting hungry in the afternoon because you didn’t eat your lunch. This type of consequence just happens and a child learns that there are natural consequences for their actions and that they can control the consequences by controlling their behavior.  This helps them see the connection between the two.  Natural consequences require little energy from the parent of caregiver, they just happen whether you are in the room or not.  The adult responds to the child’s emotion rather than establishing the consequence and might say something like, “I know you don’t like to color with broken crayons, maybe I can help you think of something else you could do the next time you feel angry.”  This behavior on the part of the adult doesn’t blame, shame or belittle, it respects the child’s feelings while letting them take responsibility for their actions. Of course natural consequences can sometimes be dangerous or inappropriate and shouldn’t be used.  For instance, the natural consequence of touching a hot stove burner, playing with matches in the house or running out into a heavily traveled street are too dangerous, especially for a young child who doesn’t understand what could happen.

Logical consequences are best used when natural consequences are inappropriate or dangerous.  Logical consequences are determined by the adult or in a conversation between the adult and child, but are clearly related to the behavior and have a relationship that the child is able to understand and explain. For instance, the logical consequence of going into the street without checking to make sure traffic is clear might be that the child isn’t allowed to cross without holding an adult’s hand or that they can only go places that don’t require crossing a street. Logical consequences should be established in advance whenever possible and implemented calmly and consistently.  A child who knows that picking up their toys at night is an expectation and that the consequence of leaving them for someone else to pick up will result in them being put away for a day, is now able to understand the expectation, determine their behavior and accept the consequences.  Accepting logical consequences is not always easy for a child and sometimes not for a parent either, but it is an important step in helping children develop self-control.

The third type of consequence is the most stressful for adults and children and also the least effective.  These are imposed consequences. Imposed consequences are established by the parent or caregiver and do not have a direct relationship to the behavior which often results from a parent’s anger, frustration or fear. These are not effective in helping a child learn to modify their behavior, and sometimes lean more toward punishment or control through fear. An example might be shaking and screaming at a young child for spilling their milk and not letting them sit in your lap to read a story before bedtime.

Using natural or logical consequences require parents to be thoughtful and to communicate clearly their expectations to their children ahead of time.  In addition, children are more likely to develop self-control at an earlier age, feel more confident in their abilities as a person, and become more responsible.

Future articles will look more in-depth at keys to positive discipline and helpful hints for parents and caregivers.

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