One of the most frequent questions I receive is from parents who are willing to use consequences, but find they do not work. In fact, they have often read different books, and have tried many types of consequences.
For example, I read comments like:
• I have used time out, and it doesn’t work with my son!
• I take away their toys, and they laugh at me.
• When I say ‘no video for a week’ my son says, ‘I don’t care.’
Guidelines for Getting Consequences to Work
1. Don’t Believe Your Child
With the easy kids, consequences are simple. You apply them, and they work. No sweat
However, for the more challenging child, finding effective consequences can be … well … challenging. One of the ways that we get thrown off course is that we believe what our kids. In other words, when they simply shrug and say, ‘I don’t care,’ we tend to give this way too much weight. For many children and teens, they clearly understand the way things work and their instinctive response is to minimize the impact of your parenting choices.
Bottom line: Don’t believe them when they shrug off the consequence. Instead…
2. Keep the long view in mind
What do I mean? The long view is not concerned with the immediate response. Whether they are upset about the consequence, or they seem to ignore it, you just hold your ground. And instead of getting caught up in their reaction in the moment, become more interested in the effect of the consequence over time. What you will find is that the consequence usually does work, but you must…
3. Stay consistent with the rules and consequences. Don’t keep changing them.
If we get caught up in trying to get our more challenging child to ‘react’ to a consequence, and care about it, we then tend to keep changing or adding to it. This is a sign of desperation. Don’t do it.
Instead, keep with a consistent game plan. Watch what happens if you stay with the reasonable, but consistent consequence for six to 10 times. Ignore the response, but stay firm and follow through. This will almost always work, if we add one more element:
4. Try to make the consequence immediate.
Delayed consequences usually do not work, or at best are temporary fixes in desperate times. For example, your daughter wants to go to the dance, and we hold it over her head in an effort to get some cooperation. This approach will not last.
Instead, we want to strive for the immediate consequence. This is at the core of effective consequences. We also need to add one final distinction:
5. Keep consequences short and sweet.
If you create prolonged consequences, you tend to create a more punitive and harsh feeling environment. For the angry child, this just promotes more anger.
The goal is not that a single consequence does the job. Please understand this.
Changing behavior patterns is a learning process. Thus, we must accept the need for repeated use of firm and powerful consequences, but not make the home too punitive and take things away for extended times. When we do this, consequences do lose their power.
Next week, I will discuss how we bring this all together with one of my favorite universal rules and consequences.