Behavior management is vital in every home. The most effective tool we as parents have is consequences. Consequences are what motivate children to modify and change negative behavior into positive behavior. You have to be consistent though. Without consistency consequences become useless.
Consequences come in three basic types that parents build upon. With younger children you have a wide leeway with consequences that work. As children get older fewer and fewer consequences work but you still have some in your arsenal that will do the trick. Hopefully you started when your children were young and have a good foundation to work with. I made the mistake of not following through or being consistent with consequences until my children got older. They are still working but I have now created more work for myself.
The two basic types of consequence that parents can use are as follows:
Positive consequences such as rewards, incentives, or allowance work great with younger kids. When you catch your child doing what is right reward their behavior.
Negative consequence such as deprivation (taking things away), assigning a task your child finds unenjoyable (writing a story, going to bed early), time-outs (removing them from the fun stuff going on) and grounding.
There is a third option which I tried and can work but only in very specific circumstance so use it sparingly. That option would be to ignore the behavior. Sometimes children are just seeking attention. Whether you use positive or negative consequence you fail here because at this point the child just wants your attention and doesn’t care how they get it. Tantrums are a perfect example. True story here….my oldest middle child was notorious for tantrums and I mean tantrums everywhere and anywhere. I tried threats, promises, begging and pleading and nothing worked. Then one day while in Wal-mart my son threw a tantrum and as I was begging him to stop a woman took my arm and pulled me aside. She walked me to the next aisle and told me just to wait. I could still see my son but he could no longer see me. He almost immediately stopped. This amazing mom told me that all he wanted was attention and as soon as he lost it he would stop. He got up and walked to the end of the aisle. As soon as he saw us he started to start again. The woman said to him. You can continue but we are going to continue shopping and then we are leaving the store. She told him he could either continue with us or stay there and continue his tantrum but we were definitely over it and moving on with the task at hand. She encouraged me to start walking away and it only took seconds for my son to realize she was serious. The rest of the shopping trip was pleasant and quiet. It only took two more of those episodes and me ignoring them for them to stop altogether. I will tell you what she told me. If a child throws a tantrum, 1st check to make sure they aren’t hurt then walk away. Keep them in sight but try to move out of their sight. I have shared this technique with other parents and discussed it at length and the general consensus is that it works. It may feel mean at first but you know your child is not hurt, in need and is safe with you still watching.
Setting consequences for the tween to teen set
Pre-teens (tweens) and teenagers love to say, “that isn’t fair”. They love the concept of “fairness” and use it at every turn. As parents we try to be fair but we realize that it isn’t always possible and sometimes we are being fair but they don’t perceive it as fair. My response on more than one occasion has been “life isn’t fair” but that really isn’t the best response.
These kids aren’t just looking for fairness they are looking for reason. A child will respond better to a punishment they perceive to be “fair” and “understand” than they will a punishment that is extreme and makes no sense to them. When your child reaches the tween to teen age, sit down with them and ask them what they feel is a fair punishment for the varying things you want done. Amazingly enough kids will often “punish” themselves far worse than we as parents would. When they have set the punishment themselves and it is extreme and you lower the punishment to what is really fair you become the hero instead of the villain.
Rules and consequences always go hand in hand
We as parents often make the rules and set out the expectations of the household yet fail to set out the consequence. Once the infraction has been done then we dole out the consequence not giving the child a chance to have any say or really understand ahead of time. Try to avoid this scenario. Ask any kid and they will say it isn’t fair because they didn’t know what the consequence would be.
Children are going to break the rules. That is a given. Whether they do it intentionally or by accident it is going to happen. If they know ahead of time what the consequence is then there is no argument or debate about what will happen. Teenagers seem to already have some built in angst just from breathing so why add anger towards you on top of that. Everything set out in the beginning can avoid some of that teenage angst and anger when the rule is broken and consequence enforced.
Now it was suggested to ask the kids what punishment they think is fair so do this prior to any rule being broken when things are good. If you wait till they have broken the rule it just leads to frustration on both parts. Now you have a list of consequences that you and your child find fair and both of you understand.
In one hand you have the rules and in the other the consequences. Write them down and tack them up on the fridge or bulletin board. You know and the kids know. You have now essentially made your child responsible for what happens to them. No nagging, power struggles, hateful words, negotiating in the heat of the moment, and huge arguments to follow. When the rule is broken point to the consequence and follow through. Do not allow them to renegotiate after they have broken the rule. Firmly stick to the rules and consequences that you both came up with.
Be specific and consistent at all times
Last but not least….be very specific and consistent. Children are amazing at understanding what they want to understand and following directions to the letter. Especially with teenagers you have to make sure you both understand exactly what you mean. Don’t be vague or general or cloudy. Make sure you are specific about when you want the chore or behavior to be done. Just saying clean your room leaves too many endless possibilities for things to go wrong.
I am sure you have run into a scenario where you have asked your darling child to do something and they have technically done it so you can’t complain but they haven’t really done what you wanted. My oldest son’s room was a disaster and I couldn’t even walk through it to put his clothes in the closet (I know he is old enough to do it himself and does now). I told him I wanted things picked up and I needed to get to the closet. So my son went to his room without argument and started to do what I told him. He was finished awfully quickly but assured me he had done it. I went to see for myself and what he had done was pick up the stuff that lead from the door to the closet and moved it out of the way. So now instead of a clean picked up room which is what I wanted, he had a clean picked up path to the closet. I have now learned to be specific.
Make sure your kids know what you mean. When you say clean up your room that gives the kids tons of wiggle room. Be specific. Tell them what clean means to you. If not you will end up with a technically done job but not what you wanted. Teenagers especially seem to have their own dictionary and definitions that we as adults have forgotten all about. Clean to them and clean to us is not the same thing. Chores and cleaning up are not the only thing. Make sure “be nice to your sibling” is defined. Being nice to them and being nice to you will not mean the same thing.
This applies to consequence as well. Don’t say you will lose phone privileges if you are late. Better to say, you will lose phone privileges for a week if you are late. Or if you plan to use grounding make sure they understand what you mean by being grounded. For some reason when kids are grounded they seem to believe there are exceptions, if there are then make them clear otherwise say, you are grounded with no exceptions.
Be consistent in what you mean and following through all the time. If you waiver even for a moment children will pounce on it and then negotiations and arguments begin. If you are specific and consistent with the rules and consequences at all times you will put a big stop to negotiations, arguments, tantrums and general negativity.
One thing to remember. If you deviate from a rule or make an exception for a special occasion or event make it clear that it is a one-time thing. Children are notorious at making that once exception the new rule. Then the next time they do it you will hear, “but I thought the new bed time was (whatever the exception was)”. Avoid this by being clear that a deviation or exception to a rule is a one-time deal.
Remember that consequences are the best tool you have in behavior management and in modifying your children’s behavior from negative to positive. Everyone has rules/expectations and consequence as adults. It is good for children to learn to understand and recognize consequences and learn to make positive choices. When consequences are used in an effective manner they can make a huge difference in the behavior of your children.