Are You Stuck in the Consequences Trap?

When your child misbehaves, do you issue consequences only to see no change in behavior? As a parent, it’s super frustrating to take time to decide on an appropriate consequence, muster fortitude to enforce the consequence then reap few results from your efforts. You end up feeling miserable, your child feels miserable and little gets accomplished.

The Consequences Trap

Many of us have been conditioned that misbehavior warrants some type of punishment or consequence. Odds are that you were punished as a child. Teachers throughout history have used tactics that include students wearing a dunce cap, writing sentences and losing recess. Now media news coverage often includes stories of children being forced to stand on street corners wearing signs around their necks. Some of your religious beliefs may even support a punishment model. But as some of you may also know from experience, punishment and consequences mostly breed resentment, revenge, rebellion and retreat, writes Jane Nelsen in Positive Discipline [Ballentine Books, 2006.] This is only one of the reasons that consequences don’t yield a high return.

Another reason that consequences do not produce the results we’d like is that consequences focus on what a child should not do. Many consequences are about losing a privilege, suffering, enduring, doing without, etc. But that doesn’t help a child know what to do instead. Did you learn to ride a bike by not riding it? Nope. You got on the bike and tried and tried again until you mastered the skill. Changing behavior involves learning new skills. Negative consequences do not teach what to do instead in the future. So basically, when we’re using consequences, we are saying to kids, “Don’t do this again” but we aren’t helping them learn something different to try the next time they find themselves in a similar situation.

Shifting to a Focus on Solutions Mindset

So if not consequences, then what? How can parents help kids actually change behavior? There’s a more simple idea, but requires that parents make a big shift in how we view the idea of “discipline.” It works better if we actually work with kids to focus on solutions to the problem behavior. In the process of focusing on solutions, we focus on what we do want to happen instead and we help children learn new life skills in the process.

Here’s a five minute video of me explaining more about this concept to “Focus on Solutions” using a Positive Discipline Tool Card.

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