Erica Reischer Ph.D.

What Great Parents Do

How to Give Consequences That Work

Here's how parents can use consequences to facilitate learning.

Posted Dec 04, 2014

So, how should parents use consequences in order to facilitate learning?

Natural consequences are often the best teachers--like getting wet feet from wearing flip-flops instead of rain boots--but sometimes the situation we find ourselves in with our kids requires us to step in and do something (for example, kicking the seat in front of them on an airplane, or speaking disrespectfully).

Consequences should be:

1. Meaningful (something important to the child, such as favorite toys, clothes, or activities);

2. Relevant (related to the situation, if possible); and

3. Proportionate to the offense (the more important the rule broken, the more serious the consequence).

Consequences should never be related to your child’s fundamental needs, such as food, shelter, or your love.

It’s also vitally important that parents consistently follow-through on consequences they have communicated to kids. Without consistency, consequences are little more than threats.  If kids perceive that you only sometimes enforce the rules, they are likely to keep testing.

How consequences are given is also important: consequences should be communicated and enforced in a calm and matter-of-fact way. The goal of consequences is not to punish, but to facilitate learning.

© 2014, Erica Reischer, Ph.D.

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Dr. Erica Reischer is the author of "What Great Parents Do:  The small Book of BIG Parenting Ideas" (forthcoming, Tarcher/Penguin Random House)