It is natural for children to act in an inconsiderate way, particularly if they do not yet understand that what they are doing is wrong. It is our job as parents to help guide them to think about their behaviour and actions and understand the consequences.
When children are testing us, it can be easy to exaggerate a consequence, so staying calm and having appropriate, logical and positively stated consequences is the key to helping your child gain a sense of self-efficacy. While it may seem easier to take a classic approach through discipline consequences such as grounding or revoking privileges, these techniques only work in the short term, and do not teach your child necessary life-lessons.
Logical consequences should not be designed as a punishment; instead they should act to teach your child that their undesirable behaviour was a mistake rather than an irreversible crime. This will further their development in learning to right their own behaviour. Before jumping to conclusions, it is important to understand what the problem is before applying a consequence. As we are trying to teach considerate behaviour, it is only fair that we ask what has happened, offering the child the opportunity to right their actions. Children learn mostly when they are able to experience things first-hand, rather than through what they are being told.
Dr Anna Cohen, Sydney’s leading Clinical Child Psychologist from Kids & Co provides parents with strategies in choosing consequences that are fitting, realistic and can be followed through.
• Pre-agreed consequences. Having family expectations is essential for children to understand their limits and to develop their own set of values. Having pre-planned, fair responses and consequences to undesirable behaviour that align with these family expectations will help children develop self-regulation of their own behavior, and better understand when they are in the wrong. These consequences should be catered around each individual child, as per their age and developmental level.
• Natural consequences. Allowing consequences to occur helps children to learn to be accountable for their own actions. Learning how to deal with these problems such as if you throw a ball in a tree, it will likely get stuck, is an essential skill and part of growing up.
• Planned ignoring. Children will do anything to gain their parents attention, whether this is through exhibiting positive or negative behaviour.
Planned ignoring will be effective when you remove eye contact straightaway and retract verbal and physical contact. While you should not aim to make this a big show, make it clear that you will not give attention to negative behaviour, instead helping them to consider more reasonable and desirable behaviour. Make sure you immediately acknowledge desirable behaviour when you see it occurring.
• Removal of the problem toy or object for a period of time. This is particularly useful if siblings are fighting over one toy and refusing to share. Make sure that you still act in a respectful manner by asking for the toy and explaining why it is being taken. The best way to achieve a desirable outcome is to take the object for a short amount of time, five to thirty minutes works best, and then giving your child another chance to practice the appropriate behaviour.
• Cool down. If your child is not responding to your set consequences or limits, or their behaviour has escalated to a point beyond giving instructions, it is important to interrupt and remove them from the situation. Cool Down is a structured management tool that will assist your child in controlling their anger on their own accord and to develop stronger tolerance. Remove the child to a designated spot, and then completely remove your attention, giving the child the chance to calm down. Some children may need their parent to sit close by and provide supportive statements to help them self-regulate.
While it can be difficult when situations escalate to remain calm and positive, it is important as parents to remember that we are teaching our children not controlling them. Finding logical and suitable consequences is best done when parents are aware of how their child is feeling and what the problem is.
Remember the aim is to find constructive solutions that help your child develop self-regulation and tolerance.
More from Dr Anna Cohen:
- Five tips to deal with your child’s challenging behaviour
- Find out how yelling affects your child, and how to stop it
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