Friday, February 18, 2011

Kids Need Consequences

When kids push the limits, they need to experience the consequences.  This is the only way they will learn that they are responsible for the choices they make.  What they do matters, and they need to be taught this truth from an early age.

Parents and caregivers set the limits/rules/boundaries for the kids in their care, and they determine what the consequences for breaking those rules will be.  Healthy consequences are related to the rule that was broken, safe, and enforced in love, not anger.  It is best to decide on the rules and the consequences for breaking them in advance.  Then you will know what to do when your kid breaks the rules - because he/she will break the rules.  That fact is certain.  When you teach your child a rule, plan on your child breaking that rule and plan on having to administer an appropriate consequence.

When a child breaks a rule, he or she will learn best if the consequence for breaking the rule is related to the rule itself.  If a child throws food on the floor, a consequence might be losing dessert or having to clean up the mess (or both).  If a child misbehaves and delays bedtime, a consequence might be having to go to bed earlier the next night or losing story time that night.  If a child is disrespectful, a consequence might be taking time out to be alone until he/she can apologize.  A good consequence takes the child's unique personality, likes, and dislikes into account.  For example, if your child loves story time, he/she will not want to lose story time at night and will be more likely to get ready for bed on time.  Another child might care little about story time, but will not want to go to bed earlier tomorrow.

Children should experience safe consequences when they break the rules.  The consequence should never involve any type of abuse such as yelling, demeaning, disrespecting, beating, slapping, ignoring, or depriving the child.  Also, a consequence that is generally considered safe for most children, might not be safe for your child if he/she is experience an extreme reaction to the consequence.  For instance, a child who seems to interpret a time-out in his or her room as being abandoned may need a different consequence.  Perhaps being confined to a chair in the corner of the room would serve the child better.  Be careful about interpreting your child's reactions.  Some children are good actors and will try to manipulate you by over-reacting to an consequence.  There is no substitute for knowing your child.

Parents and caregivers should administer the consequence in a loving and kind manner.  Having an angry, vengeful attitude about enforcing a consequence may teach your children that your love is conditional, that it's okay to seek revenge, and that they can "push your buttons" and control you by making you angry and upset.  If you are angry when a child does something wrong, take a few minutes to get past your anger before enforcing the consequence.  If you know you are so angry you might do something harmful (such as yelling or hitting), send your child to his/her room immediately or take a time-out yourself by going to a room where you can be alone for a few minutes.  Lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary.  If your child is very young, put you child in a playpen or crib before taking your time out.  When you are able to think straight and enforce the appropriate consequence in a calm manner, do so.

Here are two books that give helpful advice for setting limits and consequences for children: 
Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman and Who's in Charge Here? by Bob Barnes.

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