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How to Use Consequences

"How many times do I have to tell you?"
"Didn't you know I really meant it?"
"That's the third time this week!"
"When are you ever going to learn?"

There's a guarantee that comes with parenting: kids are bound to do what you don't expect. It's just one of those things about being a kid. That's why you must be prepared with a contingency plan if your kid keeps misbehaving – and that's despite your great lecture, posted house rules, and stern looks. Obviously, you can't let your kid get away with bad behavior. He has to learn to take responsibility for his poor choices, so that's when consequences become part of the makeover. It's one of the most important discipline secrets as well as an essential sanity saver.

As you've probably noticed, there are references to consequences throughout this book. You don't usually need to use punishment for effective discipline, and you never should resort to spanking or other corporal punishment. Nevertheless, there are definitely occasions when consequences become necessary. Every situation is different, but here is a list of general guidelines for the use of any kind of consequence that you can apply to your situation and your child.

Whenever you apply a consequence, you should:

  1. Announce the consequence. Prepare your kid by letting him know well ahead that there will be a consequence if the same misbehavior is repeated. You might even put the consequence in writing so it's absolutely clear that any hitting will result in disciplinary action. Have your kid sign the agreement so there's no doubt that your intentions are serious. HINT: Consider asking your kid to think of an appropriate consequence for his misbehavior. It's a great way to involve your kid in taking responsibility for his poor choices. Kid-created consequences are usually tougher than those parents set. You don't have to agree to his suggestions; it's just a way to involve him in the process.
  2. Fit the consequence to the crime. An appropriate consequence for rudeness would be to have to do a chore for the kid to whom he has been rude; for stealing, it might be to return the stolen property and pay for any damages.
  3. Fit the consequence to your kid's development level. For example, don't require a five-year old to write, "I will not fib," one hundred times.
  4. Don't negotiate. Once you set a consequence, stick to it, and be consistent.
  5. Don't wait. Set and carry out the consequence as immediately as convenient at the scene of the crime. For example, if your kid has a tantrum in a restaurant, remove him immediately, and enforce the consequence that has been previously agreed to.
  6. Get everybody on board. Tell your spouse, teacher, baby-sitter, grandparents, and anyone else who needs to know that you and your kid have agreed to the behavior makeover.
  7. Preserve your kid's dignity. Always discipline in private, and treat your kid respectfully. Stay calm and remain neutral. Be an example to your kid of how to behave under pressure.


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From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.


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