How to Keep Consequences Simple

I get asked a lot about what consequences parents should use so their kids will learn to behave and make their lives easier!  While I have a pretty simple framework for consequences, which I’ll tell you about shortly, I want to cover a couple of other really important things first.

We can apply all the consequences we like but without a warm, connected relationship with our kids we’ll just end up either making them angry or they’ll disconnect from us in some way.  Before you even think about consequences do a bit of a checklist:

  • Am I initiating any fun with my kids? Yes outings, games, play – but also the light-hearted banter throughout the day that says to our kids “I like you and I enjoy your company.”
  • Am I genuinely interested in hearing what they think about any subject or am I quick to jump in with my opinions or the “right” answer?
  • Can I put down my phone/devices when my kids are around so they know I’m truly focussed on them?
  • Am I fair and reasonable? Can I negotiate some things with my kids when they bring their ideas to me?
  • Am I offering plenty of affection (verbal or physical) in a way that’s ok for THIS kid? Eg winks, hugs, shoulder squeezes…  Not every kid (or adult) likes the same kind of affection.
  • Do I speak to my kids respectfully?
  • If I say I’m going to do something with my kids am I reliable and trustworthy?

Ok, NOW we can talk about consequences because with the balance in place our kids will hear the message behind the consequence, which is “This is how to live life successfully.”

Keep consequences as simple as possible and as closely connected to what went wrong, for example, if someone spills something the right thing to do is to clean it up.  If they hurt someone’s feelings in some way, the right thing to do is apologise for the hurt and maybe do something kind for them.  If they are rude or uncooperative getting off their device then they may need to lose the privilege for one day and have another go the following day.  If they’re disrespectful, they need to try again politely.

That’s the take home point – expecting our kids to do it the right way next time.

This approach doesn’t need a long lecture, a loud voice or being sent to their room – it needs a firm, calm tone, one sentence and sufficient energy to ensure we follow through to make sure it’s done.  Thank them if they make a good go at doing it right with a reasonable attitude then move on, let it go!  Make sure you reconnect with them as soon as it’s put right – warm tone, a smile.

Here’s some useful phrases to have up your sleeve:

  • “Hey that wasn’t your best work. Try that again the right way.”
  • “What am I going to pull you up on? Yeah, homework before TV/devices – spot on.  Do you want me to turn it off or will you?”
  • “No put down’s please. Try that again with your manners.”
  • “You’ve been late home a couple of times now so the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. Have a think about how you’re going to make this work better and come back to me with a plan.  Until then you need to stay home.”

A word on this last one – it’s great practice especially for teens, to have to do the thinking for themselves with us alongside as coaches.  It develops their ability to assess risk, to rehearse situations ahead of time, to have a store of workable options in mind for situations where they might feel under pressure from mates.  All of this is good for frontal cortex development (see my Teen Brain article).  Let them have some time to come up with a plan and come back to you.  You may need to add incentive by removing some privilege(s) until they respond.  Have a genuine listen to the plan.  Suggest any tweaks that need to happen until you have a plan you can both live with then agree a trial period eg a month, and a time to review whether it’s working or needs more tweaks.  Teens will respond if they are involved in the negotiation and know that it’s not forever.  It provides a great opportunity for them to use their wonderful brains and creativity and for us to admire their thinking!

This approach will work most of the time with children and teens, especially if we do the same thing every time, e.g. boringly repetitive! This takes way less energy than having to be endlessly creative to think up new and harsher  punishments.