Parenting Paradox: Fair and Effective Consequences: Follow These 4 Guidelines

Published 8:35 am Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Family time. It is one of the most important components of effective parenting. So many misbehaviors from small indiscretions to full on rebellion often stem from a child’s need for connection and interaction with us. We all thrive when we feel loved, when we feel like we belong.

When we invest that time, it gives parents the opportunity to be proactive with effective consequences instead of what often happens, a reactive approach. What does that mean? It means laying the foundation for successful behavior to help minimize occurrences of misbehavior.

So how do parents do that?

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Every day intentionally spend 10-15 minutes with your child doing what they want. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you reflect on your day, you might find that you are spending time with your child by helping them get ready in the morning, driving to after school activities, discussing schedules, and overseeing bath and bed times. Those moments, while we are technically “with” our child, are more management than relational. Spending intentional time, without any distractions (gotta put those phones away) contributes to our children feeling valued, important, and loved. Make this time pure play, not a teachable moment. Be present and have fun!

Even with intentional time you’ll still have misbehavior

First, know that every kid pushes the limits, puts their toe right on the line, challenges authority. That’s their job. And you want your child to do this – – within reason. Doing so helps them understand limits and guides them to becoming independent, respectful adults. With that said, by following these 4 guidelines for fair and effective consequences, you may need to give fewer consequences.

1. Use a calm and respectful voice

This can definitely be a hard one, especially when you’re frustrated, because it’s the 17th time you’ve asked your kid to stop kicking the back of the seat. However, it is essential that you discipline yourself first before disciplining your child. We want our children to listen to us, not become defensive or shut down. Using a calm and respectful voice can promote discussion rather than silence or anger and models the behavior we’d like to see exhibited.

2. Set consequences that are related to the misbehavior

Often parents are so frustrated that we impulsively elicit a consequence that does not align with the misbehavior. In general, consequences are meant to decrease the undesired behavior. First, identify what the misbehavior is so you can determine a related and logical consequence. For example, if your child doesn’t put their toys away, then they can’t play with their toys the next day or next two hours, depending on your child’s age. If your child comes home past curfew, they lose the privilege to go out the next night or next weekend, depending on what you have determined and communicated ahead of time. Set consequences that are short-term, and related.

3. Be consistent and clear with your expectations

First, set clear expectations for behavior in your family. This is best done using a collaborative approach where your child has input. But you have the final word. Discuss expectations ahead of time and explain the reasoning behind the expectation. Writing down rules is always helpful. Sometimes kids break rules because the rule hasn’t been clearly stated or there are differing expectations between parents.

4. Follow through with consequences

“You’re grounded from screens for ONE WHOLE MONTH!” Sometimes we give consequences out of frustration or anger, ones that we do not enforce because later we realize the consequence wasn’t reasonable or manageable. If your child is grounded from driving for a month, will you really enforce that? If you say your child is grounded, what does that really mean for your family? Once you start giving consequences that you end up reneging on, your child knows you don’t really mean what you say, and soon, your voice will not be heard by them.

Reality along with results

There will be times when your kid has a total meltdown at the most inopportune time, catching you off guard, and you lose your cool, or you say something unreasonable. That comes with parenting. We can all aspire to minimize those moments. However, when parents do mess up, apologizing to your child later, commenting on how you assume it made them feel, and how you’ll try to prevent such responses in the future can be extremely powerful. By owning your mishap, you have modeled taking responsibility for your actions, demonstrated your comfort with vulnerability, and shown a willingness for compassion. These steps don’t lead to lack of credibility with your child. Rather they show you’re human too and we’re all on this journey together.

Katherine L. Stone, Ph.D. has practiced psychology in Lexington, Kentucky, in a private practice for almost 20 years. She focuses on needs of children and young adults as well as their families.

Laura Bonzo-Sims, Ed.D. has been an educator for 25 years, working with students in middle school, high school, and graduate school. Laura is the Director of College Placement and an instructional leader.