Episode 3: Consequences
I’m Heather Anderson, and this is Episode 3: Consequences.
Welcome to The Mommy Whisperer. I’m your host, Heather Anderson. I’m a mother, wife, educator, and a Certified Life Coach specializing in parenting and relationships. I’m here to talk about all things motherhood, and to inspire more confidence, happiness, and fulfillment on your journey through motherhood… the most important job in the world!
Hello, awesome moms! Thank you for being here today.
I’m really excited about our topic. It’s the Second C of Successful Parenting which is Consequences. And I might be talking about consequences a little differently than what you’re used to, so I hope that you’ll stay tuned for the next few minutes while I explain how powerful consequences can be if they’re used in the right way.
Most of us were probably raised with the Reward and Punishment method. We were rewarded with allowance for doing our chores and dessert after eating our meal really well, and maybe even bribed a little by the ice cream truck if we were good at the store that day for our moms. And then we also got punished. I remember the punishments well. Grounding was a big one in my house. I was always grounded for something or other. Also, there may have been physical punishment with spankings, etc. This is what is called the Reward and Punishments method. It’s very common, and it might be the way that you choose to parent your children today because it is what you might be really familiar with.
There are quite a few disadvantages to parenting children with the Rewards and Punishments method and I just wanted to talk about a few of these. First of all, it most definitely makes the parent the enemy. Children feel like as long as their parent doesn’t find out, they can pretty much do whatever they want because it’s their parent who’s going to pass down the punishment. If they don’t get caught, they’re just fine. Also with rewards, if children are always rewarded or given something or bribed for doing something that you wanted them to do or for having good behavior, they will soon find out that they can try to get away with not doing anything unless there’s something in it for them. And this method also makes parents responsible for their children’s behavior. We’re going to talk about that more in a minute. This method also prevents children from learning how to make decisions on their own. And this next one, it’s a big one: This method suggests to our children that acceptable behavior is expected only in the presence of adults and other authority figures. Do you know any children like that? You know, the ones that you think are delightful children when they’re talking to adults, and then you hear stories about how rebellious they are when they’re around their peers? That rebelliousness is happening because, like I said before, they’re only concerned about their parent catching them and not really anything else. And last, the Reward and Punishment method invites this resistance and rebelliousness by us attempting to force our children to conform.
So basically, punishment is used to make our children suffer in retaliation for their inappropriate behaviors. This can cause negative behaviors to increase, it can cause them to be aggressive and even more rebellious, and even cause children to not grow, what I like to call, an “internal compass” which helps them choose positive and effective behaviors for themselves. This internal compass is so important. It is what is going to guide them through life when you’re not around to tell them what to do and how to behave.
If some of you are thinking, “Oh no! This is exactly what I do! This is exactly how parent.” Don’t worry too much. There’s still time to fix it. Just know that this is a natural, knee-jerk reaction to how to discipline our children because that is most likely the way we were raised. And it really did used to kind of work… back when there was a pecking order, you know, back when children expected their parents to be dominant, authoritarian figures. But because our social and familial climate has changed, we too must find a better, more effective way of parenting and the Reward and Punishment system just isn’t it anymore.
So, enter my second C of Successful Parenting Method: Consequences. Consequences offer an opportunity for our children to learn from their mistakes. That is what they’re there for. When used properly, which I’ll talk more about, consequences can teach children responsibility, accountability, and much-needed problem-solving skills.
I’m going to quickly talk about the two types of consequences we want to use with our children whenever possible. The first is called, Natural Consequences. These happen as a direct result of your child’s behaviors or actions. For example, if your child refuses to eat, she’ll feel hungry; if your child refuses to wear a coat, she’ll get cold; and if your child doesn’t do their homework, they’ll get a lower grade.
Not all situations will lend themselves to these natural consequences, so that is when we look into the second type of consequence which is called, Logical Consequences. These types of consequences, the logical consequences, require some thought and involvement from you as their mother. They are designed to help your child replace their poor behaviors with more appropriate choices. They can help your child acknowledge mutual respect, if these consequences are presented in the right way. To be effective, your child must see them as logically related to their misbehavior. The consequences must fit their behavior in some way. For example, if your child gives you a really hard time getting up in the morning and throws a big fit, she will have to go to bed 30 minutes earlier that night. If your child fails his math test, he will be required to spend more time studying after school each day and perhaps not be able to hang out with his friends on school days. If your child keeps leaving snack or candy wrappers around their bedroom for the ants to find, the snacks and candy will no longer be made available.
So, natural consequences are when the consequence is a direct result of your child’s behavior. And a logical consequence is when you get involved and give them a consequence for their behavior that is related to their behavior. The way we can know the difference and what consequence to use is by asking ourselves, What would happen if I didn’t interfere? Make sure to ask yourself that question and if you see that nothing is going to happen if you didn’t interfere, then it’s time to interfere. But if you see that there is just a natural consequence that is going to happen, then that is great. Let nature take its course and teach your child the lesson that they need to learn.
These natural and logical consequences, when used correctly, hold your child, not you, responsible for their behavior. Isn’t that such a freeing feeling? Oh, they will still find ways to blame us, but deep down they are learning to understand that they have the power to change the consequences by changing their behavior. How great is that? For your child to realize that they can make their own decisions and choose for themselves what appropriate behaviors look like. This will truly empower them and will help them stop blaming you and making you the enemy and the reason for all of their problems.
Now, let’s get to the How of using these consequences. There are a few key points that I want you to remember, and this is one of them: If these consequences are used as a threat or imposed in anger, they stop being consequences and they quickly become punishments. And children are quick to figure out the difference. They respond to logical consequences and they fight back when punished. The secret lies in how we apply the consequence: our words, our tone, and our attitude. When we are using this type of discipline method with natural and logical consequences, we should try to be helpful and compassionate and empathetic, without trying to place blame.
Okay, this is a great example for this: If your child was playing with matches and got burned, rather than saying, “Oh these terrible matches! I don’t know why they can’t be made safer!” (So you’re blaming the matches). Or, “Ugh your dad never should have left them out where you could get them!” Instead it would be better to saying something like, “I’m sorry that you hurt yourself.” The less words the better because we want to be really careful not to be harsh or accusatory. The discomfort caused by the burn will be enough of a consequence for them to learn.
Rather than say, “Now you see what happens when you play with matches! You get burned! I told you a thousand times to not play with matches! I hope you finally learned your lesson!” Instead you can say, “I’m sorry you burned yourself. It must hurt a lot. Let me see what I can do to help you.” Now you are seen as a compassionate mother who cares about your child, despite their mistake. This is the kind of response that bonds your child to you while also learning from their choices.
Now here’s an example of a logical consequence that makes sense, but is not directly linked to the child’s behavior like a natural consequence would be. Maybe your teenager has been irresponsible with the car, so they lose their driving privileges for a while. This might seem like it’s a natural consequence, but natural would be that a car accident happened, or something like that. So as you revoke the driving privileges, rather than saying, “I can’t believe how irresponsible you are with the car! Do you know how much money I pay for your car insurance? You’re grounded from driving for a month!” Instead say, “Because an accident might happen with your driving irresponsibility, you will have to take a break from driving until you are able to become more responsible with such a huge privilege.” The way you word the consequence is key. You want to always make it be about them and their choices. Always, always try to hand the problem back to them.
Another example is to kindly and firmly tell your child that because they refuse to eat their dinner, they will not be able to have dessert. You’re not saying anything about, “I’m not giving you dessert,” you’re putting it all back on the child and their choices that brought about the consequence. If we can just word things in a way where the child understands that it is a direct consequence for their choice, not something coming from mom just to punish them and make them suffer, it can be used as such a great and effective learning tool and a great behavior modifier.
Another key point we need to remember is to always watch our tone. This is the most difficult thing for me. Trying to keep all my emotion out of it when something my child just did is completely boiling my butter, is nearly impossible for me at times. But I continue to practice, and try to watch my tone, and calm my voice. Like I said earlier, the minute we start to make it about our anger and our emotion behind their choice, then they see it as coming from us and they see it as a punishment and they are less likely to respond well.
And I would like to just say something about a child’s currency when it comes to these consequences. “Currency” is a word I use for something that is very important to a child. For my teenage daughter, it’s her cell phone; for my sixth-grader, it’s TV. So although it’s tough to work these things into a logical consequence for their behavior, with some creativity it really can be done. So if you really want to make sure your child will learn from consequences, especially if it’s a really big, negative behavior that you’re trying to modify, try to tie it into their currency in some way. For example, if my daughter disrespects me with her words, I will just say, “Go ahead and hand me your phone. If you choose to speak disrespectfully to me, who pays for your phone, I’ll just hold onto it for a time while you calm down and talk to me respectfully.” And then I might even keep her phone for a full day. I would let her know how long I am keeping it for, so she doesn’t wonder, but there’s no way to earn it back five minutes later by just deciding to be nice. She’s already at that point lost her currency, her cell phone.
And whenever you can come up with a consequence ahead of time and even get your kids involved in the decision-making process, that is extremely effective.
I just want to emphasize once more that the line between punishment and logical consequences is thin at times, very thin. Your matter-of-fact tone, your friendly attitude, and your willingness to accept the child’s decisions are essential to use logical consequences effectively. No matter how logical a consequence may seem to you, if your tone is harsh or your attitude is overbearing, and your demands are absolute, you are using punishment instead.
But it is also important to realize that consequences take time to be effective. When you are using consequences, you are changing from your typical responses that your child is used to, so your children will definitely test the limits. But don’t worry; we are going to talk about that next time when we talk about my third C which is Consistency.
Just try to remember that patience plus practice equals progress.
You’ve got this!
And I will talk to you next week.
If you would like to learn more about The Mommy Whisperer or would like to sign up for a free mini coaching call with me, please head on over to my website at The-MommyWhisperer.com.