- Following a conflict your children have with each other, in an effort to quickly get back to playing, they offer a quick (and insincere), “I’m sorry!” without recognizing the problem they created or the hurt feelings they caused.
- After misbehaving and receiving consequences as a result, your child is frustrated and furious that Mom and Dad have taken away a privilege. He or she then declares, “You always ruin everything!”
- Your children are shocked to discover that they are solely responsible for cleaning up the huge mess they have been creating for a full afternoon.
In our family we found that scenarios like these were popping up all too frequently in our home. We discovered that one source of these problems was our children’s lack of understanding about consequences. We decided to make a little extra effort to teach about choices and consequences and devised a system to try to do so.
First, we had a discussion with our children on choices and consequences—how every single choice we make (good or bad) has consequences. To reinforce this, we let our children practice. We wrote some common choices they face on slips of paper and took turns acting out and describing the consequences of each choice. This turned out to be a lot of fun!
The,n as a family, we brainstormed some fitting consequences for misbehavior. To help them see this in another way, we asked them the following questions and had them fill in the answers in a little chart we had created.:
- What are some behaviors we don’t allow in our family?
- What do I do (or not do) that leads to these behaviors?
- What are some of the natural consequences of these behaviors?
- What can I say and do to make them right? What can I do to show I am ready to start over?
This is what their chart looked like:
We stuck it up on the fridge and decided to use it as a guide to help our kids go through the process of recognizing poor choices, dealing with consequences, and making things right. We didn’t have to wait long to implement our new approach!
Now as soon as someone makes a poor choice, the children involved get a little slip of paper cut from a sheet that looks like this:
They get some time to think and fill in the blanks. Then we talk about what they can do the next time they find themselves in a similar situation. Finally, the attempt to earn back privileges begins: sincere apologies need to be made (we’re working on this one!), and time is put toward the consequences. Sometimes this whole process takes as long as five to six minutes, but sometimes it is as short as a minute.
This system has worked for us. Our main culprits–our eight-year-old and five-year-old–are connecting choice and consequence more readily, and even our two-year-old can understand the basics.
Reasons we like this approach:
Cool Down: It has a surprisingly calming effect on everyone. The short time with the pencil and paper directs our children’s energy to reflecting and problem solving. It also gets us parents ready for a more helpful conversation than the one that might happen right as someone is “caught” and feeling defensive.
(Note: If more cool down time is needed, great. Don’t hand the ultra-agitated child a pencil and expect them it to be productive . . . or safe.)
Understanding: The child is doing the thinking, and she is recognizing how her choice is leading to the consequence. As a result, there are significantly fewer lengthy lectures from us these days. (The back of the paper also serves as a great place for writing compliments or drawing a nice picture for the offended.)
Problem Solving: This process is an opportunity for the child to realize not only what she did wrong, but what she can do next time. This is probably my favorite part—giving my child a tool to avoid easily avoidable problems to come.
Consistency: I love that with this system, discipline is not at the mercy of the time of day or a parent’s mood. There is more order and logic to it all compared to parents just trying to create a more dramatic punishment than the last time. We also have a list of practical, relevant, and reliable consequences that we can choose from and that the girls can expect (from our original chart).
I will admit that not every experience with this system has been great. We have seen some of this:
So it isn’t a flawless system that will work in every situation, and we don’t implement it in every conflict. Poor choices have not been eliminated in our home, but we are making progress. Slowing down to physically write in the moment of conflict creates has created a new level of understanding for our children that helps choice and consequence be truly connected.
QUESTION: How do you teach your children that their choices are always followed by a consequence? Do you do anything in particular to help them understand that this is important?
CHALLENGE: Try using the system described in the article for a week or two. Perhaps you could rotate it with other disciplining solutions that are working for you. It might be especially helpful when you need to help your children understand the principle of choice and consequence, or when your energy for discipline is low but you want to maintain consistency.
Edited by Amanda Lewis & Becky Fawcett.
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos/Kittisak with graphics by Anna Jenkins.