Teaching Children That Choices Have Consequences

Experiencing the consequences of his choices is one of the most effective ways a child can learn self-discipline. These lessons really last because they come from real life. Most success in life depends on making wise choices. Being able to think ahead about the positive or negative consequences of an action and choose accordingly is a skill we want our kids to learn.

Building a youngster's natural immunity to bad choices—

Natural consequences are situations that are not controlled by anyone. Kids learn through natural consequences, and parents use natural consequences as teaching points. There are parents that believe in giving children rules and regulations, and then if that child does not follow through, in some cases, he or she receives a natural consequence for their actions. For instance, a house rule might be “no running in the house.” A youngster bumps into another youngster because of running and hurts himself. A parent might want to use the natural consequence to emphasize the reason of the rule and remind the child to follow the rule on the spot. Natural consequences sometimes are more powerful than other discipline strategies since kids learn through their own experiences rather than words being told by someone else.

Natural Consequences represent the natural flow of events without interference of the parent. Natural often deals with the environment and is a direct result of the youngster’s actions. In essence, if it's not morally or physically harmful, let the youngster experience the natural consequence of his/her actions. For example, the youngster who refuses to eat will go hungry or the youngster who does not wear mittens in cold weather has cold hands – and he parents stand aside and do not become involved.

Letting natural consequences teach your youngster to make right choices is a powerful learning tool. Experience is the best teacher: He's careless, he falls; he grabs something hot, he gets burned; he leaves his bicycle in the driveway, it gets stolen. Wise moms and dads protect their kids so they don't get seriously hurt, but do not overprotect to the extent the youngster doesn't learn the consequences of his folly. Some bruises and scrapes along the way are unavoidable and educational.

Kids make poor choices on the way to becoming responsible grown-ups. Kids must experience the consequences of their actions in order to learn from them. Within reason and safe limits, let your child explore, fail, bump, and learn. Expect him to help clean up his messes. Let her experience the penalty for not completing homework by bedtime. After years of small pricks of consequences, the youngster enters the teen years at least partially immunized against bad choices, having had some genuine experience with decision-making. Kids learn better from their own mistakes than from your “preventive lectures.”

Adolescence is a time when the consequences of wrong choices are serious. The youngster who has learned to deal with small problems is more likely to be successful with bigger ones. Being a wise “choice teacher” means keeping a balance between overprotecting your youngster and being negligent ("Let him fall, he'll learn.") In the first case, the youngster enters adolescence with little practice at handling inevitable conflicts and risks. In the second case, the youngster feels no one cares. Either way, there are rough times ahead.

Sometimes the best solution is to offer your youngster guidance, state your opinion, and then back off and let the consequence teach your youngster. Use each consequence as a teachable moment, not an opportunity to gloat. Avoid sentences that begin with "I told you so..." or "If you would have listened to me..." But to be sure that your youngster learns these little lessons of life, and talk through each situation. Replay the tape so that your youngster gets the point that choices count, and his actions affect what happens. You want your youngster to realize that he is happier and his life runs more smoothly when he makes wise, though perhaps not easy, choices. Let the consequence speak for itself. The youngster spills her Coke, and there's no more Coke – without your commentary.

Use logical consequences to correct—

Besides letting natural consequences teach your youngster, you can set up mother/father-made consequences tailored to have lasting learning value for your youngster. Consequences can be by parental design. For example:

• Child parks his car in the street rather than in the driveway risking having it towed >>> after forewarning is ignored, parent parks the car in the driveway, and the child must pay a towing fee to get his keys back

• Child leaves her toiletries in disarray throughout the bathroom each school morning >>> after forewarning is ignored, parent confiscates all items for a period of time (technique works with clothes and toys as well)

Logical consequences:
  • are not used to threaten or intimidate a youngster
  • are used as an alternative to punishment strategies such as reprimands or scolding
  • are used to help guide kids in the right direction by guiding them to face the results of their behavior
  • refer to the actions or responses that are implemented following a youngster’s inappropriate behavior that serve to discourage the youngster from engaging in the behavior again
  • should be presented to the youngster as a choice; the youngster may engage in the expected behavior to access an activity, object, person, or material – and the options should be related to the task by being logically linked to the current activity and the resulting action
  • should not be used if the youngster does not understand the options and is not able to make a decision about the action to choose
  • should result in rapid changes in the youngster’s behavior within the targeted routine or activity; if the problem behavior persists, the parent should think about why the youngster is engaging in the behavior and consider the use of other approaches to assisting the youngster

The process is a learning experience for kids, teaching them that they have responsibility for and control over their own behavior The consequences of their actions are logical because they are clearly related to the youngster’s behavior. Kids usually accept logical consequences when the consequences are framed in a guiding way rather than when they are framed as punishment. Kids learn that the choices they make have consequences, whether positive or negative. They are taught that they are responsible for their own behavior. Logical consequences help guide kids in learning how they are expected to behave in the real world.

When choices are provided to the youngster, they should be stated calmly, clearly, and respectfully. Logical consequences should not be arbitrary, threatening, or punitive. The tone of voice used can mean the difference between logical consequences and punishment. Threats usually tell kids what not to do rather than teach what they can do in order to get what they want. The options that will be used for logical consequences are planned in advance of the situation and presented to the youngster prior to when the undesired behavior is expected to occur. The youngster is made aware of the options and is guided to understand what may result from his or her action.

For the most learning value, balance negative with positive consequences. The youngster who frequently practices the piano gets the thrill of moving through his books quickly and receiving hearty applause at his recital. The youngster who consistently takes care of her bicycle merits a new one when she outgrows it; otherwise, she gets a used one. The youngster who puts his sports equipment away in the same place each time gets the nice feeling of always being able to find his favorite bat or soccer ball.

In these examples, no amount of punishment could have had the lasting teaching value of natural and logical consequences. With punishment, kids see no connection between their behavior and the discipline. With consequences, the youngster makes the connection between the behavior and the results. You plant a lesson of life: ‘take responsibility for your behavior.”

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