A time out may stop a child from spitting or hitting. The threat of “no TV” may get a child to pick up his clothing from the floor.
But…can consequences help children learn what to do instead of spitting or hitting?
Will the continuous use of punitive consequences motivate children to be less messy, noisy, helpful, responsible?
Consequences are often a stopping tool but not necessarily a teaching tool.
Children do not actually learn how to make better choices when all they experience are punitive consequences over and over again.
Consequences work, only if by work we mean that they stop certain behaviors in the moment, but often that’s about it. Disconnected, punitive, consequences such as isolating, taking away a privilege or grounding most often do not help children learn right from wrong or provide them the skills they need to deal with the situation they are in. Consequences as they are most often used by parents simply do not give children the information or opportunity to make better decisions in the future.
It’s true, it is sometimes necessary to stop a behavior for example for safety reasons. It’s also important to set limits and boundaries. However, instead of turning to punitive consequences, a great alternative that aims at teaching is to look for solutions and connected consequences instead.
While a punitive consequence typically just stops a child from doing something or creates fear in a child to get it to do something, a solution or connected consequence is always helpful in the learning process.
Here is an example: A child writes on the wall with marker.
Disconnected Consequence: Parent takes the markers away and tells the child to sit in the corner while the parent cleans up.
Solution aimed at learning: Parent and child cleaning up the markings together. The child learns about responsibility and cleaning skills. Next, the parent and child find a piece of paper and talk about coloring only on paper. Let’s say the child explains she really likes to draw on the wall. Mom tapes paper to the wall to make it interesting but still respecting limits.
Let’s say the child writes again on the wall? The parent can come in and with kindness and firmness explain, the markers are going to be put away and the child can try again another time and look for a new activity. This last step would be done without shaming, ridiculing or yelling, but simply with calm and confidence from the parent “Looks like you are not ready yet to work with these markers only on paper, let’s try again another day.” The focus would be on creating an interaction in a kind and respectful manner, with the intent to guide and not overpower, shame or hurt.
When we start to see problems as learning opportunities, a chance to connect with our children and look for solutions our children naturally start to learn how to problem solve and how to make better choices going forward.
Most often children do not need punitive consequences but rather to be given information and an opportunity to practice new skills. This can be done through play, books, conversations and modeling that they can later turn to when faced with a challenging moment.
We all come wired with decision making power and a natural ability to problem solve – children when given the opportunity are very quick to find solutions – and very helpful ones at that!
Punitive consequences discourage children and fail to provide them an opportunity to try again. Problem solving and using connected & respectful consequences is a positive, helpful and truly effective way to guide children to making good choices and learning right from wrong.
Peace & Be Well,
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