However, sometimes it’s easy to set limits in the moment and have difficulty following through later. You may often find yourself giving a strong consequence to get a child to behave, and then forget about it later or realize it’s not enforceable.
Maybe at one time you’ve declared, “Stop that right now, or you’re not going to the birthday party today!” while really having no intention of canceling anyone’s plans.
Or perhaps after a bout of backtalk and rude comments from your child, you proclaimed, “No TV or video games or a week!” Yet he somehow ended up back on the screens a day later.
During summer break or the holidays, the time away from school and holiday stress provide even more opportunity for family squabbles and sibling conflict. Many parents use the upcoming gift-giving occasions as potential consequences to hold over their children’s heads as a way of inciting appropriate behavior. It’s a common occurrence in the holiday season for a stressed-out parent to threaten to “tell Santa not to come” during a heated moment of a child’s inappropriate behavior.
You may be able to think of all kinds of consequences with which to pressure your kids to behave, but think twice before you threaten just anything.
How To Set Logical Consequences
Although it may be easy to set a limit and attach a consequence—especially when you’re stressed or feeling emotional—it’s much harder to actually follow through with those consequences. Sometimes the consequence you tossed out is one you can’t enforce or is easily forgotten, while other times you just don’t want to be the “bad guy” in carrying it out or have to deal with the emotional turmoil that is sure to come.
When it comes to discipline and setting limits, here are a few tips that will help you attach appropriate consequences and be able to follow through with them.
When your temper flares because of your child’s behavior, the part of your brain that processes logic and reasoning is not communicating effectively with the part of the brain that regulates emotion. The emotions are intense, and you’re not able to access the logical, problem-solving part of your brain. Dr. Dan Siegel and Mary Hartwell, authors of Parenting from the Inside Out, call this “flipping your lid.” It means that your feelings of frustration have a tendency to override your ability to think rationally about appropriate discipline.
When you try to discipline with a flipped lid, you’re not only more likely to be hurtful than helpful… you’re also more likely to issue consequences that you won’t enforce. This sends a message to children that you don’t mean what you say, and that the limits you set aren’t important. When your child’s behavior gets under your skin, take a few moments to calm down and collect yourself so you can maintain access to your “logical” brain.
Ask yourself: Is the consequence related?
Make sure that any consequence you give your child is related to the situation at hand. Spilled juice? Wipe it up. Fighting over a toy? Remove the toy. Hurting someone else? Find a way to make amends. Cancelling plans to go to the movies isn’t related to a child pocketing a pack of gum from the store; returning it to the store and apologizing is.
Ask yourself: Is the consequence respectful?
Blame, shame and pain do not help kids learn how improve their behavior. When a child hears, “Why would you throw a ball in the house? I can’t believe you broke my lamp! Go to your room, I don’t want to see you right now,” he thinks, “I am bad.” When a child hears, “Oh no, the ball broke my lamp! Now I have to buy a new one. I need you to help pay for it with your allowance,” he thinks, “I made a mistake.” It’s a very different message and learning experience (fixing a mistake versus shame from a parent). You can ensure that the consequences you set for your children are respectful by aiming for problem solving over punishment.
Ask yourself: Is the consequence reasonable?
When it comes to seeing through the consequences you’ve set, things get much harder if you’ve set a limit that is disproportionate to the problem, impractical, or possibly even hurtful. Keep the scale of the consequence aligned with the scale of the behavior. If you have to think too hard about what to do to a child to teach them a lesson, the consequence is probably too punitive and impractical. Instead think, “How can I work with my child to solve this problem?” for a more feasible solution.
Allow for emotional expression.
Setting limits gives kids a set of boundaries and a sense of safety; they are healthy and necessary. However, kids will not always be happy about them. This might be the hardest part of holding a limit—the emotional reaction that follows in the wake. When you set a limit your kids don’t like, let them have their feelings about it. It does not mean you have to change the limit you set! Keep your boundaries and know that upset feelings are important for a child’s adaptive process. Letting out tears paves the way for a child to be able to access his “logical brain,” accept consequences, fix mistakes, and find alternate solutions to problems.
With these guidelines, your disciplinary limits will always be appropriate and the consequences logical. This means that following through with discipline will be easier for you and will send the message to your children that you mean what you say, and say what you mean.
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