News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.   Some Truths About Consequences

     When our children misbehave, we need to impose consequences, right? But knowing what the consequences ought to be is sometimes difficult. How can we decide what consequence is appropriate and will help to stop the inappropriate behavior?

 Two Types of Consequences

 Understanding that there are two basic types of consequences may make things a little clearer.
   The first type is called a "natural consequence". This happens naturally without any intervention on our part. For example, if a five-year-old refuses to wear mittens on a cold day and we do not intervene, her hands will get cold and she may decide next time that mittens would be a good idea.
   When to allow natural consequences to occur is a personal decision on the part of each parent. We have to take into account our own values, beliefs, and priorities, as well as our unique child. The decision is a judgment call on our part.
   The second category of consequences is called "logical" - the consequence that occurs as a result of our intervention. More often than not we need to use logical consequences to teach our child a lesson because the natural consequence would be too dangerous. For example, we are not about to let our four-year-old run into the street and get hit by a car in order to teach that running into the street is dangerous. So what consequence do we impose? One example of a logical one would be that the child must play in the fenced-in backyard only or in the house the rest of the day.

    Sometimes coming up with logical consequences is not so logical. A knee-jerk consequence given in the heat of the moment might be too harsh or a consequence that may never be carried out. Barbara Coloroso, in her book Kids are Worth It, offers four guidelines for determining logical and appropriate consequences. A helpful way, she says, to recall them is to think of the acronym RSVP.
    Relevant and Reasonable - relate it to the misdeed and make it appropriate to the child's age and abilities. If a toddler breaks a glass, having her pick up the shards (NOT appropriate for her age) or sending her to her room (not related to the misdeed) would not make sense, but having her hold the bag as you pick up the pieces does.
    Simple - be direct and clear and not overly involved and detailed. For example, if your son breaks a window, he needs to contribute to the cost of fixing it. Perhaps he can decide how he would like to do this, like using some of his allowance or doing chores around the house. (When my five-year-old son and some other boys broke windows, I made him earn money to help pay for them by washing windows in my house. The windows were streaked but I got the message across. After I cooled down I also explained to him why it was wrong to do in the first place. Let me add that I did not come up with this consequence immediately. I told him how angry I was, that there would be a consequence and that I needed time to think about it.)
    Valuable - as a learning tool. Not allowing a child to use household tools for two weeks because he left them out in the rain would teach responsibility; berating him or not allowing television for two weeks would not.
    Practical - enforceable and not more "punishing" to you than your child. For example, grounding an upper school child for a month for not doing her chores may not be enforceable and may prove to be more bothersome to you. Letting her know that she will have to do them after school before she goes to a friend's house is a consequence you can enforce.

 It Is the Certainty, Not the Severity
    Coloroso believes that the certainty of the consequence is what makes the impact, not the severity. In other words, decide on a logical consequence and then enforce it. Too severe a penalty can be counter-productive because instead of focusing on what they did wrong, children may concentrate on their anger at us and not accept responsibility for the transgression.
   As Haim Ginott says in Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, "when we punish a child too harshly, we divert him from facing himself…he feels he has paid for his crime and served his sentence. Now he is free to repeat his misbehavior...We want a child who has transgressed to look into himself, experience some discomfort, do his emotional homework, begin to assume some responsibility for his own life."

 Give Opportunities to Make Amends
   Another important element of healthy consequences is to include some way for the child to make amends, get back into our good graces, regain self-respect and reestablish trust. This can be in the form of helping to clean up a mess, paying for a broken or lost item, writing a letter of apology, etc. In this way, our children will learn that nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, and there are ways to make up for mistakes.
    The establishment of fair consequences can be difficult for a parent - it really is more of an art than a science. We do need to take into consideration our individual child's temperament, developmental stage, and maturity level. While it seems like a tall order, over time the benefits will be incalculable.
Coloroso, Barbara, Kids Are Worth It
Faber and Mazlisch, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children

By Audrey Krisbergh and Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator

Jan. 2001
Volume 3/Issue 4

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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