Three Parenting Strategies To Try when Consequences Stop Working and your Child is Misbehaving
Does this scenario feel familiar? It’s getting close to the end of the day, and you are expecting your child to clean up toys, wash up, help set the table, get ready for bed and go to sleep. Only problem is, every step of the way includes ignored requests and power struggles. Toy clean up is not done. There is a fuss about dinner. Just getting into PJ’s is a twenty minute orderdeal… With the best intentions to teach your child, you find yourself dishing out consequences. But the consequences only make things worse. Not better.
Your child is upset and whiny “Why are you taking my toys away….moooooom! You are so mean!”
You are thinking…this totally DESERVED a consequence…except it makes no difference for tomorrow!
Why Consequences Stop Working
Very often consequences are just punishments in disguise, or at the very least, unpleasant power plays that take away a child’s sense of capability, well-being and trust.
Instead of helping and inviting cooperation, consequences are more often than not used in a way that chips away at your relationship with your child.
Yes, there are times when consequences can make sense and help a child learn. Other times, consequences, especially if they are not logical, related and connected, just don’t work to motivate or invite cooperation.
See more on this from Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline here: No more logical consequences (at least hardly ever) Focus on solutions.
Here are 3 Positive Parenting Strategies to Try when Consequences Stop Working:
1. Problem solving
Toys never being picked up? Clothes never in the hamper? Every night is teeth brushing nightmare?
Daily struggles that keep repeating themselves are best seen as problems to be solved. Not bad behavior that needs to be punished.
When a problem repeats every single day, consequences aren’t going to help your child learn to do better. Solving the problem will.
When it comes to repeat problems, most parents will admit to using consequences because they feel like nothing else will convince their child to do what they are being asked.
This is a red flag that a problem needs to be solved.
Consequences keep your child stuck in the problem. Solutions help your child move forward.
Instead of consequences for not cleaning up toys, not doing homework, not eating dinner, finding instead HOW to best help your child and you to overcome a problem makes a huge difference. Find a whole chapter on how to problem solve, including a list of helpful questions in the book 12 Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools fror Raising Cooperative Children.
2. Re-frame: “It’s not Personal!”
So very often what we decide is bad behavior or naughty behavior is normal childhood stuff. A two year old refusing to brush teeth is developmentally expected. So is a four year old running most places instead of walking. And a six year old saying everything is stupid. A ten year old arguing about just about anything under the sun? Yes…all normal for their age and stage of development. Annoying? Certainly at times!!! And reframing the situation from “defiance” to “normal – kid stuff” can help keep you calmer. And better able to engage with your child’s needs.
- It’s really not personal or manipulation.
- It’s communication.
- All behavior is purposeful.
- Sometimes behavior is mistaken, and still purposeful.
- My child needs guidance and connection.
When you are able to pause and re-frame a situation, from naughty to normal, bad to purposeful, from taking it personally, to taking it as part of your parenting role, you can better respond instead of react.
“My kid isn’t picking up toys..they are so naughty and uncooperative” becomes “My child is three, it’s the end of the day, all these toys were played with, explored, part of a story, it feels tough to end such a fun day.” Wonderful story from a mother and how she changed her prespective on toy clean up here (on the blog Dirt & Boogers).
“My ten year old is arguing about everything, what a sassy mouth on this child, where did I fail to teach her respect” becomes “My ten year old is learning to be assertive, she has a strong point of view, I can listen to her AND model respectful conflict resolution”
3. Relate so you don’t have to retaliate
Do you remember being 5, 6, 9 years old?
Can you think of a time when your parent was asking you to do stuff and you would have much rather continued reading a book, playing a videogame or eat one more piece of chocolate, even if it was just before dinner?
If you weren’t give you a choice back then, did you feel annoyed, frustrated, upset?
Children benefit so much from learning skills and following routines like picking up toys, and brushing teeth. Of course our job is to help them not only do these things, but hopefully also value them.
To help your child care, relate to them. Step into their world. Try to connect before insisting they do something for you.
Relating sounds like
- “That games seems like so much fun, can you find a good stopping place. It’s time to set the table. You can tell me about the game while setting the table. ”
- “Look at all these lego cars and ships you built. Awesome stuff. It’s clean up time. How about you tell me about your creations while putting them up on the self?”
- “I bet you wish you could have another piece of chocolate. I wish I could too. And it’s close to dinner time. Let’s save these for tomorrow. We can have it for snack together.”
- “You called me stupid. You must be so upset with me. I care about you. Let’s talk about what is going on.”
If you focus on relationship building, connecting, being part of the solution, then the sense that you must use consequences and punishments goes away (or reduces quite a lot!).
Staying involved and engaged in the early years builds the foundation for your child to do these things alone later on. The early years are not just the 0-3.
Children that are 4, 6, 9, even 13 years old benefit from your presence, guidance, care and concern.
Respectful communication and a genuine connection to you motivates your child much more than any consequence.
We often have big expectations for our children and would like for them to be independent. Get on those pj’s, clean up the toys, put away their laundry, brush teeth, taste new foods. Preferably without any reminders, on their own, quickly and while being cheerful, happy and grateful for all they have.
Reality is that children like us are imperfect and impacted by their daily surroundings. Accepting their limitations and meeting them where they are, each day, is much more helpful to overall family happiness.
If your child is refusing to help, having a hard time with the bedtime routine, or flat out refusing to help with chores, this doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent or that you have a brat for a child.
It means that it’s probably a good time to try focusing on problem solving, realistic expectations and relationship building.
When are you using consequences and feeling like they don’t work? Let me know in comments, I love to hear from you.
Looking for more alternatives to consequences and parenting tools that foster cooperation and capability? You can find many more ideas in our online classroom. Come join the Positive Discipline for the First Five Years course. This is a comprehensive positive discipline based program, with proven tools trusted by many happy families and I will guide you through your entire learning programs. I hope to see you in the classroom!
Peace & Be Well,
One Thing To Always Say when Disciplining a Child by Ashley Soderland
How to Raise Problem Solvers from Becky Eanes
Teaching Problem Solving with a Great Book by Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute