Using Negative Consequences Effectively

Every Saturday is your child’s schedule to wash the dishes. But like many kids, he hates the chore. So every Saturday, there’s a slimy pile-up in the sink just begging to be cleaned. You decide to issue consequences for ignoring responsibility. The rule goes: until all the dirty dishes from lunch are washed, the whole family will have to forgo dinner (after all, there won’t be any clean plates!). You thought that if everyone had to go hungry, the pressure would motivate your youngster to do his job.

Unfortunately for you, this child is not so easily intimidated. Not only does he NOT wash the dishes, but he actually goes to the cupboard to pull out a clean one and makes himself his own dinner!

What happened?

In theory, the consequence to the misbehavior was perfect. You didn’t nag, yell or criticize.The consequence made it clear that you are instilling the rule in order for the whole family to be able to eat together on time. And the consequence was even logically related to the behavior you want to correct. It should have worked!

Perhaps there are other things missing from the equation, which is why your child doesn’t accept the consequence. Consider the following possibilities:

You Have Failed to Establish Authority
Parental authority plays a huge role in getting kids to accept consequences. If you’re inconsistent in setting rules and consequences, there’s a good chance that your child will not take you seriously. You may, for example, have let him off the hook before despite his misbehavior. Having done so would have convinced him that he doesn’t have to worry about actually receiving a punishment – in his eyes you are “all talk and no action.” Or you are strict on him, but lax on siblings. To ensure that setting consequences work, make sure that you are serious about consequences and will implement them.

Your Child is Misbehaving — Again
Here’s a thought: what if your child’s refusal to accept the consequence is also misbehavior? Remember, misbehavior has goals, and your child may be refusing to do the dishes and refusing to accept your consequences for the same reason. Find out what the reason is; perhaps your child is seeking negative attention, or going for revenge. Have you been too angry or too punitive lately? That tends to backfire, leading to more misbehavior. What is going on in your relationship with him? What are the stresses in the household? Is he experiencing stress at school or in relationships? When you address the need behind misbehavior, you’ll see less misbheavior. Moreover, your rules and consequences will work more effectively.

The Consequence Doesn’t Really Affect Him
For consequences to work, they must affect your child in a significant way. While they’re not supposed to bring pain,they must at least provide an inconvenience, or serve as a roadblock for something that the child wants. In the case above, the consequence was likely ineffective because the child knew there were other clean dishes to eat from! Choose consequences carefully, making sure that they are real deterrents. Consequences do not need to be “logical” in order to be effective – they need to be “the right priced ticket.” That is, they need to motivate the child to comply. You can remove possessions and privileges (for up to 24 hours for a child and up to 48 hours for a teen). Or, you can assign extra work (this only works once your child has learned to accept punishments). Study up on your discipline strategies and talk with other parents about effective negative consequences they have discovered.

Your Child Doesn’t See the Purpose of the Consequences
Consequences are there to teach the child the logical link between misbehavior and an unwanted event. Hence, some discussion must come alongside the implementation of the consequence. Perhaps your child just doesn’t appreciate why the punishment is needed. If you can explain the rationale of using a negative consequence, then he or she may be more likely to accept it. Indeed, any respectful communication about the misbehavior can help. In this case, explain to the child that everyone in a family has to help out. Explain how it makes you feel when you’re the only one doing everything. Explain how unfair it would be if everyone except this particular child had various household responsibilities. Explaining the issues with the child’s behavior, can help the child realize that he should cooperate and also help him realize that a deterrant for failure to cooperate makes sense because it is meant  to help him succeed in cooperating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *