A consequence is most likely to teach a useful lesson when it is related, respectful and reasonable.

Related of course, is the exact opposite of random. So that means if your child makes a mess, then the consequence should be that he has to clean it up (not that he can’t play on your phone).

Respectful means that the consequence does not involve shame or humiliation. Your child already feels bad enough when they do something wrong. If you say things like, “I told you so,” or if you shame them afterward, you will lessen the potential learning because he will stop processing the experience and instead focus on the blame. When my 7-year-old David wanted to take his favorite superhero ski mask to the library, I knew it was a bad idea. I reminded him that it was warm outside and that I would not hold it for him. But he just says, “Do not worry, I will take care of it.” So he brought the mask and continued to lose it. It was very tempting to say, “I told you not to bring that mask!” But I could already see that he knew he had made a mistake and was very disappointed. Instead, we helped him retrace his steps in hopes of finding the mask. When the mask did not turn up, we agreed to take him to the store another day and he would contribute his allowance to the cost of buying a replacement. By staying calm and choosing words wisely, he learned a valuable lesson about being responsible for his things, and his choices.

Reasonable implies that the consequences should be something that your child can handle. Take into consideration their age and know how and that it is proportionate to the misbehavior. This will help them concentrate on what they have done rather than being mad at you. If your 3-year-old is clowning around and knocks over a gallon of milk, do not expect him to mop up the entire floor by himself in order to drive your point home. Instead, wipe up the spill together. If he refuses, gently put your hand on top of his and physically do the motion with him. If he is screaming uncontrollably, you can hold them until at least part of the mess is cleaned up. When his crying stops and you feel his muscles relaxing, praise him for being able to calm down and just move on. An older child might give you back talk instead of having a total meltdown, but resist the urge to get angry or let him weasel out of things. You can help defuse the arguments by mentioning a consequence ahead of time (“I have noticed a lot of gum wrappers laying around the house, please put the wrapper in the garbage or the consequence will be no more gum”). When the advanced warning is not given or not possible, help him brainstorm solutions for a problem he has gotten himself into. For example, you might say, “You must be upset that you forgot that your project is due tomorrow. I understand that you would like me to go and buy you those materials now, but it is late and I am not willing to do that. Do you need help figuring out something you can make with the supplies that we do have.”

Check out our past posts on Discipline. Leave us your comments. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Let us know what other topics you would like to have discussed. Share this post with your family and friends. Remember to always praise your child.




  1. […] Natural consequences are pretty simple if your child has done something that they were not supposed to do. It can be difficult to figure out what to do when they failed at something they should have done, like chores. It can be tempting to just take away TV time, but this approach will need a little bit of fine tuning. When you tell your child, “If you do not sort the laundry, then the will be no TV.” the connection between doing the chore and no TV is not apparent. Using the phrase, “If you do not…” makes it sound like a threat, so they will think that the point is to make them pay for not doing what you asked. However, you can turn it into a logical consequence by saying, “When you have finished sorting the laundry then you may watch TV.” By putting it this way you get the principle across that you would probably like your kids to live by. Do what you have to do before you do what you want to do. Your child may end up missing their favorite show that night and not be able to talk about it with his friends the next day, but once he has finished his chore he will see the natural consequence of enjoying a fun activity more because there is no chore hanging over his head. Another thing that you can emphasize is that with privilege comes responsibility. Our family rule is that all toys must be where they belong at the end of the day and any toy left laying around could be headed to the garbage. If you do not want to be that drastic, you can just take it and put it in a box in another room and return them when your child shows he can clean up his other toys. This is not only effective for material privileges, but also for the non tangible ones. If your child can not handle the responsibility of playing nicely with his brothers and sisters, then he loses the privilege of playing with them. When he does not speak to you respectfully, then he does not get the privilege of being listened to. Instead of saying, “Don’t you dare speak to me that way.” Calmly tell him when he is ready to speak respectfully, then I will be in my room. This technique is just as powerful when your child does something right. My son asked if he could play his video games for 10 minutes before we had to leave. I decided to give him a chance, and told him that if he held up his end of the bargain that I would let him do it in the future. To my surprise when it was time to go, he turned his game off and put his shoes on. It has now become routine around our house. Parents often overlook the simplest strategies: Tell the truth. If your child has been misbehaving all day and asks if we could go out for ice cream, say what you are thinking. I really don’t like taking you for ice cream. The lesson here is when you do wrong to people, they are unlikely to go above and beyond for you. See our post on using the 3 R’s. […]

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