October 31, 2017


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.

For more information or professional advice contact Sydney’s leading Child Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen at Kids & Co. – www.kidsandco.com.au

More from Dr Anna Cohen:

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  • Good read with great tips. Being consequent and consistent is most important in this I think.
    I struggle a bit with some behaviors of my youngest. She’s 4 years old and has Down Syndrome. Some challenging behaviors are smearing with poo and sometimes even eating it (yes I know, it’s gross) and opening the fridge and pouring milk over the floor and then licking it up (causing huge bowel problems as she is on diary free diet !!)… Even support from a behaviour therapist isn’t making much difference yet.


  • Great article, and excellent advise. I am a big believer that children thrive when given expectations and boundaries (within reason of course)


  • It depends what the attention seeking is whether it is wise to ignore it or not. I had one although she got plenty of attention from all of us (if anything maybe too much) started kicking. She was told no kicking a few times. The naughty mat was then used. I would calmly talk to her a few minutes later and explain why she wasn’t allowed to kick any of us…or anybody who visited when that stunt started too. At that point the time on the naughty mat was longer as she was a bit older and was able to reason why she was still doing it. The others were given the same “treatment” when they decided to try it out too. There was no favourtism


  • Great advise!!


  • Good advice! Practical and positive solutions are definitely the key!


  • It can be very hard to find consequences that have an impact on some kids.


  • Good tips.
    I’ve a girl in permanent care who’s 7 years old. She was severely neglected till she was 3,5 years old. She now has a reactive attachment disorder and one of the symptoms is that she has no clue of actions and reactions and lacks conscience. So important to be predictable, consequent and consistent in a loving way !


  • Good article. I think the key is to be consistent in your approach


  • How I have treated my children has changed throughout the years. The naughty chair is one my younger lot try to avoid , that is used when time out is needed. A timer is beside the chair so they know when timeout is finished.. Have used a combination of of the above methods.


  • I’ve used all of the above with my children and they all have their place.


  • I use a mix of staying calm (that’s me) timeouts ( that’s both of us) & letting the mistake happen with a teensy bit of ” I told you so!” :)


  • Sometimes with each child you have to approach them differently, as a mum of four mine have all differently personalities. These tips are handy though.


  • My approach is long, long, talks. Bores the child into never doing the wrong thing again :D


  • Our approach is stay calm and don’t threaten anything you can’t follow through with. Time outs are for calming down more than punishment and if anybody wants to carry on like a pork chop they need to go away and do it on their own. So far so good.


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