This part is not for the frail at heart. In fact, choosing appropriate consequences is very difficult for many parents (I know it often baffles me). I'll give you a few approaches here—things to think about, plans to make.
- Consider what you want the consequence to achieve. The point of all discipline is to teach your child internal control over her behavior. You're training her conscience, and her ethics. You're teaching her how the world works. Long after you're dead and buried, this conscience, ethical sense and knowledge of the world should still be instructing her on how to behave.
- Consider whether you'll be able to follow through on the consequence. Saying, “That's it, we're not going on vacation!” is not only unreasonable, it's unrealistic. Yes, you are going on vacation. You need it, the tickets have been purchased, the hotel reserved.
Your kid has misbehaved horribly! I can picture you now, thumbing frantically through this book, looking for the list of ways to choose a consequence. No, no, no. That won't do! I'm breaking it down into steps so you can think about it. This is not paint-by-numbers parenting!
- Check it against the requirements—is it based in nature, is it based in logic? Does it fulfill the 4-Rs (related, respectful, reasonable, rewarding)? Will your child learn from it?
- Can you support the consequence with your actions? Does it make sense in terms of your family's values? Say you value time spent together. If the TV is located in a central location, and the consequence is that the child is not allowed to watch TV (and therefore is banned from the living room while the TV is on), then don't sit and watch TV all evening. If you do, you're applying more than the stated consequence of separating the child from the television—you're separating the child from you.
Defining Consequences Ahead of Time
Whenever possible, it's best to define consequences ahead of time. It takes a little time, but the advantages are enormous:
- This forces you to think about it, right?
- It will get you away from that “I'll show you,” punitive frame of mind, and back into the “Zen of inevitability.” You'll be calm, cool, and collected.
- You won't have to think through a veil of red anger, or stall until you've talked with your parenting partner. Consequences work best when they are immediate.
Predefined consequences are the other half of family rules and personal limits. An easy way to predefine consequences is to sit down with any lists you've already made of family rules and your child's limits. Take each rule and limit and rewrite it in the following form:
- Rule or limit. If rule or limit is broken, then consequence.
Here are two examples:
- We do not eat at the computer. If anybody eats at the computer, the consequence will be:
- Robert's bedtime is 8:30 on school nights. If Robert doesn't go to bed, the consequence will be:
Setting up the consequences ahead of time doesn't always work, nor is it always appropriate. Here are two disadvantages of predefining consequences:
- It puts you into a negative frame of mind while you're making your list—everything is looked at in terms of what can go wrong, instead of expecting, assuming, and supporting that everything will go right.
- It doesn't figure in the flexibility required. There may be extenuating circumstances, or the consequences defined may not actually fit when the moment comes.