Developing relationships with our children where they feel safe, secure and loved relies on parents making clear expectations and setting reasonable boundaries to teach children what is appropriate behaviour.
The parent-child bond is often tested by our children as they determine how far they can push their behaviour and how much power they have. As parents we need to stay respectfully in charge. To do this we need to set limits that are consistent and apply consequences that we can realistically follow through on.
Consequences can be divided into two categories, those that are natural and those pre-agreed. While a child’s wider environment determines natural consequences such as if you throw a ball into a tree, it will likely get stuck, preagreed consequences are fair responses to undesirable behaviour which have been agreed to by both parents and children.
Consequences work particularly well when they are approached through choice. Choice enables children to develop decision-making skills, and helps them to understand consequences by taking responsibility. An example of a choice statement could be ‘Do you want to pack up your toys now with my help, or do you want to do it during your television time?’
It is important for parents to avoid engaging in arguments and to reduce the expression of negative emotions such as shouting, sighing or smacking. When choosing a consequence, make sure it is something that will work within your family. It needs to be realistic and something that you can follow through on. Begin using consequences in one or two areas of behavior. Avoid overwhelming your child with too many changes, as its not realistic and you won’t want to constantly feel like ‘bad guy’ either.
Dr Anna Cohen, Sydney’s leading Clinical Child Psychologist offers parents advice on how consequences can be applied to their children as learning curbs rather than punishment.
• Let natural consequences occur.
• Apply logical consequences related to the situation.
• Utilise planned ignoring.
• Remove the problem.
• Put a time-out in place if they don’t respond to your limit setting.
• Natural Consequences. Children need to deal with natural consequences of their actions, without parents always rescuing them from the consequence or consequences that follow. These types of consequences evolve around cause and effect, and will help your child learn self-discipline and to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
• Logical consequences. Logical consequences are designed around dealing with behaviour when it happens, relating to the situation. They are meant to act as a teaching method rather than punishment that will help your child see their inconsiderate behaviour as an error in judgment. For example, ‘If you continue to leave the table, I will take your plate away and assume you have finished eating’. This type of statement clearly identifies the issue and the consequence should their behaviour continue.
• Planned ignoring. A parent’s attention is their most powerful tool. Children strive for parent’s attention, so when you implement planned ignoring, it can be very effective way to tackle annoying behaviors. The trick is to withdraw eye contact immediately and have no verbal or physical contact. It can be a good idea to also signal your intention to ignore, for example ‘I cannot talk to you until you stop using that whining voice, and you need to use a calm voice.’
• Removal of the problem. If there is a particular cause of the problem, such as your child not being able to share a toy, remove the problem or object for a period of time. Taking away a child’s activity or toy as a consequence, is a good way to teach them to follow rules in the long-term. When children are younger, taking away a toy for five to thirty minutes works best, but as they grow older, taking away a privilege for a day like a phone, video game or going to a friends house will be more effective.
• Time out. Time out can be a good opportunity for your child to calm down if they are not responding to your limit setting, and can help to avoid any escalation to the problem. If you find your child is out of control, remove them to a designated spot that lacks stimulation and completely cuts them off any attention. Set an amount of time that you think it will take for your child to calm down, and consider their behaviour. Remember this shouldn’t be for a prolonged period, as they will forget what the consequence is for and become more angry and resentful.
Appropriate consequences and giving choices are all about teaching children how to change and regulate their own behaviour. As you begin to follow through with consequences, you will notice that your child will start to follow instructions and will be better able to gain your attention in positive ways.
Remember, this won’t happen overnight, but if you remain consistent, patient and firm, you can avoid out-of-hand blow-ups and arguments with your child.
For more information or professional advice contact Sydney’s leading Child Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen at Kids & Co. – www.kidsandco.com.au
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