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5 Ways to Keep Consequences Effective

Coming up with, and giving, a consequence is hard for most parents. You worry it will cause your child to fly into a tantrum, or sometimes it seems like your punishment doesn’t seem to make a difference - the misbehavior just keeps on happening! Often this is because the consequence we chose isn’t effective, or it’s just not the best option for the situation.

5 Ways

The ultimate goal of discipline should be to help children recognize misbehavior, and learn what they should do instead in the future. Consider these 5 points the next time you need to correct your child’s misbehavior and want your consequence to be effective: 

  1. Immediacy- Are you responding immediately, or waiting until later in the day, or even a week later to give a consequence? Try to respond as soon as possible after the misbehavior occurs. This will help you child connect that one, specific behavior to the consequence, and will prevent your child from feeling like the consequence is random, or that you are being mean or unfair.
  2. Variety- If you give the same consequence too often it loses its effectiveness. For example, if you’re giving your son a consequence and he cuts you off saying, “I know, I know… Go mow the lawn,” you may be using this consequence too much! Giving the same consequence over and over leads to it becoming ineffective. Consider brainstorming a list of reasonable consequences that you can turn to next time you need to correct misbehavior.
  3. Degree/Size- You know the saying, “the punishment should fit the crime”? It applies here too. You don’t want the consequence to be too large or your child may have no motivation to right their wrong because there’s no end in sight. Imagine how hopeless you would feel if you were grounded for a full month all because you didn’t do your chores one day! A good rule of thumb is to start with the smallest size, or shortest time, you think will be effective so there’s room to increase if necessary.
  4. Consistency- Do you sometimes ignore your child’s negative behavior because it just doesn’t feel worth the argument that will ensue if you give a consequence? Inconsistency in correcting misbehavior sends mixed messages to your child, and they may not understand that the behavior was inappropriate. Or, they may continue to act out, knowing that the odds are in their favor they won’t receive discipline. This makes learning from consequences next to impossible.
  5. Importance- Make sure to choose a consequence that is actually important to your child. This will differ from one child to the next. Some children may not care about losing TV time. Others may think it is the worst consequence known to man! To figure out what is important to your child, consider how they use their free time. If you choose a consequence that is of the upmost importance to them, remember to temper this with the right degree and size so they will stay motivated to earn it back.

Bonus tip: Whenever possible, relate the consequence back to their behavior. If your teen misses curfew, a good consequence may be grounding the next night, or an earlier curfew for the next 3 nights. This will correct the misbehavior, and help teach them to responsibly follow the rules of your house. Remember, your goal is to help them learn how to behave more appropriately in the future!

It’s important to note that consequences should always be age-appropriate, and should not involve taking away basic needs from children like food, clothing, etc. This is a slippery slope that can very quickly lead to neglect. Whenever possible, consequences should be a (positive) teaching moment!

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If you found this information helpful, or would like more support in correcting your child’s misbehavior, Thornwell would love to hear from you. Please reach out to Tracie Seng, your local Family Specialist, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (470) 223-5980. To find out more about the Building Families Program through Thornwell, please visit their website at http://www.thornwell.org/programs/building-families-program/

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