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Should Consequences be Natural?

Updated: Apr 18

You probably know by now that I put a high value on consequences for disobedience and misbehavior. This is because children need to learn:

  • Right from wrong

  • To control their unruly impulses

  • Sooner or later, bad behavior brings something negative.

They also need the security of knowing parents are aware of what they're doing, and loving enough to show them how to live.

I'm certainly not the only one who believes this, but while many folks insist consequences should be logical or natural, I don't.

Honestly, it doesn't matter. What matters is that bad behavior is met with consequences that are painful/memorable in some way.

The purpose of punishment/consequences is to CLEARLY communicate that the behavior was not okay, and should not be repeated.

There is no need to probe for a reason behind misbehavior; children are usually not capable of identifying reasons for what they do, but they're very prone to saying what they think you want to hear, and quick to realize that if they can distract mom with some sob story about feeling sad or hurt, or convince her that "I promise, I didn't mean it!" the punishment will never materialize.

Just as a referee in football blows the whistle, throws the yellow flag, calls the foul, and imposes the penalty, parents should stop the child, state the rule that was broken: "you may not hit your sister", "no throwing balls in the house", "you may not speak to me in that way", etc., then impose the penalty.

What should the penalty be? If you have to think about what might be a logical consequence, the punishment will probably never happen.

I think that may be why so many of us threaten! We hope sounding mean and threatening some horrible thing (which we never honestly intend to impose) will make the child stop the unwanted behavior; so that we don't have to follow through with a penalty!

When my kids were young, I had in my mind an arsenal of possible options; after trying different things, I could tell what was most effective, and just used one of those same few things as needed.

I've created a list of those, which you can have by going to the resources section of my website, here.

We hope sounding mean, and threatening some horrible thing (which we never honestly intend to impose) will make the child stop the unwanted behavior, so we don't have to follow through!

I recommend having a "consequences jar"; simply write the consequences you've found to be most effective (i.e. painful/memorable) on small pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Pull them out at random whenever you can't think of anything.

If you happen to come up with something natural or logical, that's terrific! Just don't let that keep you from using consequences to teach your kids there are things you just must not do.

The main thing is that YOU are the one setting the rules and making sure your child keeps them. You don't have to have a list of specific rules, but your child should clearly understand that being violent or destructive or disrespectful will result in something that makes them sorry they did it, whether or not that something is "logical" in the sense that it matches the offense.

Whatever you choose, it should be memorable enough that your child will think twice before deciding how to behave.

If you'd like my free guide, "Consequences and How to Use Them", go to the parenting resources section of my website.

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