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Better Behaved Children and Teaching Consequences

by Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.

The capacity to choose does not involve freedom from the consequences of our choice. ~Wallace Wattles

The type of consequences you use on your children can make a big difference in their reaction and whether you are successful in teaching a lesson or just creating more resentments and power struggles.

A "consequence" is the outcome of a choice or an action. Until we interpret the outcome as having a particular meaning, the outcome is neutral. Our emotional reaction to any consequence is based on the meaning or judgment we assign to it. If we decide that something is "bad," we will tend to react with emotional upset. If we decide that something is "good," we will be happy about its occurrence.

Avoiding Using "Consequences" As Punishment for Children

Unfortunately, in child-rearing the word "consequence" is often used to mean punishment. "If you don't do as you are told, you will pay the consequences!" This threat has been given to countless children as a disguised way of saying, "If you don't do as you are told, you will be punished!" One father expressed amazement that any consequence could be a good experience. When he was growing up, a "consequence" was something to avoid.

Using "consequences" as punishment is another form of retaliation. The parent decides on a punishment by trying to match what the child did with something that will hurt. The punishment is supposed to teach the child a lesson, however, the only thing punishment ever does is teach us to avoid pain. It has a negative effect in that it teaches what not to do, rather than what to do.

The problem with these kinds of imposed "consequences" is that they do not teach a valuable lesson such as the one Molly learned in the above example. When her father was able to get to the bottom of her resistance, he found that in her mind she had a legitimate issue about what was fair. In her case, the "consequence" of her rebellion was a better understanding about the difference between "fair" and "equal," and about her responsibility to do her work in a timely way. Ultimately, the "consequence" with the Breakthrough Parenting methods was greater communication and better understanding, not punishment.

Natural Consequences are Great Learning Tools

Experience is a great teacher. This type of learning rapidly builds children's thinking skills. Except for the times when a child is in an unsafe situation, it might be best to let nature take its course. Natural consequences involve the predictability of nature. For example, if you go out into the cold without gloves, your hands will become cold. If you walk in the rain, you will get wet. Children need many opportunities to interact with nature in order to understand the world. When Mark falls off his bicycle, he learns something about balance and gravity. These lessons are vital to building rational development and good thinking skills. The natural consequence for children who watch six hours of television per day is that they are missing important activities that build their minds and bodies such as socializing, exercising, reading, or thinking creatively.

Logical Consequences are Very Effective

In the case of logical consequences, there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between two events. This is the way to promote rational thinking and moral ethical behavior. It makes sense. Children seldom engage in power struggles when they see the logic of the situation.

Illogical Consequences Lead to Resentment and Power Struggles

An illogical consequence is where there is no relationship between what a child did and the punishment. Spanking, chastising, labeling, swearing, most grounding and taking away of privilege such as taking away an allowance, not able to go to a party or watch TV. Illogical consequences are not rational, they are always an effort to gain power and control over another by making them afraid. They create enormous resentment and endless power struggles. They use fear based to diminish a child's self-esteem and ability to proactively solve problems.

Children not only need to learn how to choose wisely, but to accept the consequences of the choices they make.

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