The 11th element of the Twelve Disciplinary Elements is to provide consequences to the misbehavior that are related, respectful, reasonable, and rewarding—what I call the 4-R's.
Whether the consequences are logical or natural, when your child misbehaves, the consequences should be related to her actions. An unrelated consequence risks confusing the child. Related consequences can be either natural consequences that you allow to happen to teach your child a lesson, or logical consequences that you decide on, and that relate to the misbehavior. If your child refuses to hang up her clothes, keep the consequence related to clothes, tidying up, or chores in general. An unrelated consequence would be: “Since you're such a slob, you're gonna miss your piano lesson.” That teaches nothing, nada, zip.
On the other hand, if she's been told to pick up her room or she won't have time to go to her dearly-loved piano class, then you've already tied the consequence to the action—and it would be related to tell her, “I'm sorry, but I told you we're on a tight time schedule today. You chose not to pick up your room on time, and since it must be done now, you won't have time for piano.
Some other, better-related consequences for not hanging up her clothes might be:
- To work with you in doing the ironing that weekend (she'll learn the effort that goes into making clothes neat).
- Not allowing her to have kids play in her room until it's picked up (she'll learn that your family values tidiness).
- Letting her go to school in wrinkled, dirty clothes (she'll learn that a natural consequence of not taking care of her clothes is that they become wrinkled and dirty). Watch this one, though, it's risky: She might not care, others might judge her, she may be humiliated.
Keeping the consequence related to the action is vital for your child's education. When he's an adult, it will be more useful for him to think, “If I don't get this job in on time, my clients will take their business elsewhere” rather than, “If I don't get this job in on time, I won't get to pet my puppy tonight.”
Any consequences imposed on your child must be respectful of who he is—of his personality, of his individuality, of his body. Consequences that injure your child or have long-term ramifications are not respectful. Take care of your kid. Letting him discover the natural consequences of not brushing his teeth (“See? Cavities and a root canal!”) is not respectful of your child's body. Making him go to school without a shirt because he ripped his up is not respectful either—it is humiliating.
It's a fact: Unless a consequence is reasonable, your child will not learn from it. Go overboard too much, and hoooo boy, all your kid will understand is that you are angry, that you are unreasonable, and that there's no reason in the world to refrain from doing the behavior again.
You can react with anger to the little things (you don't need my permission, most people do it all the time). Feeling angry when you are irritated is a reasonable reaction. I mean, you're irritated! What you do with your irritation, how you respond and what consequence you assign, is another issue.
How do you know if a particular consequence is reasonable? Here's a few clues: If it's not respectful, it's not reasonable. If it's not related, it's probably not reasonable either. But “reasonable” also refers to the degree of severity. In order to figure out how severe the consequence should be, you'll have to determine the severity of the misbehavior.
Warning: The severity of misbehavior cannot be judged by the intensity of your reaction. We all have our areas of zero tolerance and pet peeves, but just because I hate it when people leave the toilet seat up doesn't mean it's a major crime.
- Weigh it on the severity scale. With all the hurry-scurry and stress of life, it's sometimes hard to keep your child's behavior in perspective. Some experts suggest establishing a severity scale. On this scale, a minor irritant would register a 1, and a felony would be 100. When your kid misbehaves, hold the behavior up to the scale. Where does it fall? The vast majority of your child's misbehaviors will fall below 10. Looking at things this way may help you keep your consequences reasonable.
- Keep it short! Reasonable consequences are usually short term. Forbidding your child to watch his favorite TV show for a week because he flatly refused to lower the volume would be reasonable. Forbidding him to watch his show for the rest of the season would not be reasonable, it would be too severe.