How a MINDFUL parent handles consequences
Consequences. A hot topic in the parenting sphere if ever there was one.
- They’ve got to have a consequence if they do something they know they shouldn’t do, right?
- What should the consequence be?
- How big does it have to be to make sure they never commit said act ever again?!
My answers to those questions would be these:
- It depends on what they’ve done.
- The size of the consequence is pretty much irrelevant.
I’ve talked before about punishments and consequences and why they don’t really work in the way they are thought to.
The worry that drives you to give out the consequences is that if you don’t give a consequence then your child won’t learn not to repeat that behaviour or, worse still, they’ll think they’ve “got away with it” (and you’ll be seen as a permissive parent who lets their child behave however they want to).
And sometimes, let's face it, it's because you're just plain angry and you want them to know that.
But there's a different way to look at this.
A way that helps your child make the connection between what he has done and the resulting consequence.
A way that acknowledges the feelings involved in the situation – yours and theirs – and allows you to still respond with empathy.
And a way that allows you to teach your child the lesson you really want them to learn when they behave in a way you don’t like.
Ultimately, as a parent you will want to teach your child that they can have control over their behaviours, and that they are perfectly free to choose how they behave as long as they accept that their behaviours have consequences. Right? I thought so.
This is where natural and logical consequences come in.
A natural consequence is exactly what it says it is – somebody will slip on that banana skin if it is left on the floor! It happens naturally or automatically as a result of an action, and it happens without the need for intervention from a parent.
Consider these situations:
1) A child knows the rules of a game but chooses not to play by the rules: she may not be asked to play next time by the other children.
2) A child goes out in the cold without a coat after being told to put one on: he will feel the cold.
Natural consequences essentially let children learn – and sometimes learn the hard way! – without you having to really get involved. Imagine how much time this could save you!
Now I’m sure you’re thinking there are times when it wouldn’t be OK (or even safe) to just let natural consequences occur and yes, there will of course be times when this isn’t possible – either when the natural consequences of a child’s action would be dangerous, e.g. allowing a young child to climb on a wall that they could fall from, or when the consequences would also cause problems for others, e.g. letting a child stay up way past their bedtime because they want to, but they struggle to get up on time the next morning which makes everybody late.
The best thing about natural consequences though is that they don’t need you to impose any further consequences, the natural consequence has been applied without you needing to do a thing!
You don’t need to re-iterate the consequence either, by saying things like “I told you that would happen” or “You should have listened to me”.
Your child will already be feeling the effects of the consequence and they don’t need to feel this any more from you! You may want to have a discussion about what has happened if your child wants to talk things through, but remember that this is not a time for lengthy lectures or comments.
The natural consequence has done all the talking for you.
So, what about those times when you can’t just let a natural consequence occur? This would be a time to use logical consequences.
Logical consequences are in a sense given by you, the parent, but this is done in such a way that it differs from harsh punishment (and doesn’t involve you thinking of the worst thing you can do or take away from your child).
The easiest way to think about logical consequences is like this: for everything your child wants to do, there are things that they have to do.
And when your child doesn’t do something that they have to do, they lose the chance to do what they want to do.
Here are a couple of examples:
1. If you let your child go out to play with her friends but tell her to be home by 5pm and she repeatedly comes home later than that, a logical consequence would be that she is not allowed to go out to play with her friends the next time she wants to.
You would need to set a new agreement with her, letting her know that you want her to show you that you can trust her.
How long should you wait before letting her go out again? There's no hard and fast rule with this - why not try asking her what she thinks? More often than not, children can be pretty reasonable when deciding on something like this, suggesting a time frame that you'd be happy to go along with.
2. If your child plays ball games in the house when they know that this is not allowed, the ball gets taken away from them for a period of time.
Again, the length of time that the ball is taken away for can be decided on between you. The trick here is to not let your feelings take over, to stay calm and rational, and to really listen to your child. Don't involve them in a way that seems tokenistic or not meaningful, as this would undermine the whole process.
The beauty of involving your child in making the decision about what the consequence will actually look like is just that - you're involving them. So if they come up with a time frame that differs from what you were thinking, don't dismiss it immediately! The consequence is likely to be accepted much more readily if they've had some input into it, in addition to this being a valuable learning opportunity for them taking responsibility for their actions.
Now these might sound like punishments, but they differ in 3 important ways:
Logical consequences are planned in advance
This ensures that they are not imposed by you as an impulsive reaction to a behaviour you don’t like or when you are angry.
Logical consequences are agreed to with your child’s input
This ensures that your child feels like an active participant in the rule making, they are less likely to feel hard done by when the consequence is imposed as they had already agreed to it, and they are less likely to feel resentful and hostile towards you.
Logical consequences are reasonable – they make sense in relation to the behaviour that your child has displayed
Remember that the whole aim of this is to teach your child that their behaviours have consequences, but that they can have control over their behaviours. There needs to be a direct association between the behaviour and the consequence for them to learn this well.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember for logical consequences to work is that you must follow through with them. If you’ve said ‘no’ to you child going out to play with her friends because she has been coming home later than the agreed time then you have to stick to that!
Sometimes with all this it helps to look at how we talk about it, especially the language we use. Talking about the need for consequences and that children ‘should’ receive them almost automatically sets you off thinking about how to make them feel bad or feel ashamed of what they have done.
But you know that this isn’t really your aim.
You're teaching them to solve problems when they arise, and to do this you should look to find solutions rather than go in deeper on the problem.
Now this is easier said than done - this discipline game is definitely not an easy one to play!
The thing to remember is that this is about helping your child learn for the future and that every time they make a mistake, there is an opportunity for learning how to do better next time.
You can absolutely still be empathetic and maintain a connection with your child while doing this, all the while knowing that your child is learning that you have faith in them to make good choices and that you are there to help them do just that.