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Positive Discipline: Consequences

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In our previous post about positive discipline, we discussed setting limits for your child and encouraging them to problem-solve independently to deter negative behaviors.

Today we are going to talk about different types of consequences and how to set your child up for success. According to Children’s Home Society of California (©2007), we as parents and educators need to “help children understand that behaviors and choices have consequences. Natural consequences—what naturally results from actions—can be powerful teaching tools. For example, if you stand in the rain, you get wet and you are more likely to remember your umbrella next time. When possible and safe, use natural consequences to help children limit their behavior. Gently point out what happened and why. For example, if you break your toy, you have no toy.

When natural consequences are not appropriate or safe, set a logical consequence—something that is related to the behavior. If a child does not stay in the yard to play, the natural consequence may be that he gets hurt. But parents and caregivers can’t allow that consequence to happen! So a logical consequence of leaving the yard would be having to play inside the house instead. You could say: ‘When you leave the yard I’m afraid you could get hurt, so I need you to stay inside the fence. If you leave the yard again you will have to play inside today.’ Then, always follow through with your actions. Make sure the consequence is respectful of the child and is reasonable for him to follow. For example: ‘We must not use marker pens on the wall. Let’s get some soap and water and I’ll show you how to get the marks off. Then you can color on paper at the table.’

Children prefer positive attention rather than negative attention, and you can encourage desirable behavior through the following positive techniques:

  • Make sure your expectations for your child are developmentally appropriate for his or her age.
  • Model desirable behavior. Your children will learn from your example.
  • Be consistent. Children need to know what the rules are, and that they can trust the rules not to change.
  • A child-proof and appropriate environment can reduce behavior problems.
  • Provide age-appropriate materials and a safe place where children can use them.
  • Maintain a balance between quiet and active play.
  • Empower children by providing choices and decision-making opportunities whenever possible.
  • Set rules that are respectful of children and keep their interests in mind.
  • Always acknowledge children’s feelings, especially when you must set a limit on their behavior. How they feel is important!
  • Establish regular routines for busy times like meals, getting ready in the morning, and going to bed. Children need structure.”

It is very important to use age appropriate strategies—don’t expect your one-year-old to follow 2-3 step directions. On the other side, your seven-year-old is capable of understanding more complex rules. Using positive language and starting small can make a big difference down the road. It is also important to remember to remain calm and not show your emotions while handling a particularly upsetting behavior. Often times children engage in a negative behavior to get their caregivers attention—responding in a neutral manner and validating a child’s feelings can be a natural consequence in and of itself.

Although this article on Positive Guidance Techniques discusses classroom strategies, many of the suggestions can be applied in the home, as well. At Kids’ Care Club, we often use positive statements to reinforce classroom rules and expectations. We strive to make the children feel heard and respected. We avoid the “time-out” method as well as saying “no,” and focus on the positive behaviors. For example, if the teacher is gathering the children for a large group time and several children are distracted and not engaging in the appropriate behavior, she might say, “I like the way Bobby is sitting criss-cross apple sauce. I also like the way Jane and Tim are sitting nicely, with their hands in their lap.” As she continues to offer these positive statements, more children gather and follow through with the stated expectation. Instead of focusing on the negative behavior, this strategy encourages the children to follow the directions in order to receive positive reinforcement.

You can also find more information about logical consequences on about.com.

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