You know I despise making ‘deals’ with my kids. You know I cringe when my eldest attempts to make a trade-off with me in order to get something that he wants. You also know I get pretty mad when my beautiful boys refuse to do something I ask, especially when I’m time-poor and hungry! The use of consequence to shape children’s behaviour has become a little controversial. And I’m not entirely sure why.
I think kids need to understand the impact that their behaviour or actions have and, I believe, the appropriate use of consequences achieve this. For example, if you don’t go to bed now, I will not have time to read you a story before my dinner is ready. To me, this provides a logical and understandable explanation for the consequence (ie. not ‘if you don’t go to bed now I won’t read you a story’) and it encourages the child to understand that you have your own needs. As I’ve discussed before, I think the key in using consequences with children is to avoid their use as a trade-off. (ie. ‘if you go to bed now, I’ll read you a story). NO DEALS!!
So, when the Abomb is refusing to hear my request that he cleans up his Transformers so I can vacuum, I am unhappy with him. What I do next is the key. How I communicate to him what I need doing and why is important. I don’t need to say that I’m unhappy with him because he won’t clean up his Transformers. But I do need to let him know that his behaviour has consequences for me and that this frustrates me.
Thing is, I think it’s a good thing if my kids understand that I’m another fully functioning human being and I have needs like theirs. The notion and use of consequence encourages this understanding. So much of our behaviour impacts others. What other people do and how they behave also impacts each of us. This is such an important lesson for kids to understand. I want my children to feel that I respect their needs and will do what I can to meet them. I also want them to appreciate that I have needs I want met, in the same way they do (as do their brothers, their aunts, their friends, their teachers).
I’ve previously talked about Alfie Kohn and his view of unconditional parenting. He eschews the use of consequence and believes that children need to be able to act and behave without their behaviour necessarily meaning anything (unless of course they’re physically hurting others). I can’t help but feel that Kohn is asking us to suppress the way we feel about our children’s actions and behaviour to ensure that our children don’t feel controlled by these feelings. To a degree, I understand that we must not let our feelings manipulate our children into doing or not doing something. However, just because I would like my child to do or not do something, does not mean I’m attempting to ‘control’ them inappropriately or unnecessarily. For me, using consequence to encourage certain behaviours is the opposite. It shows respect for the child and encourages him to be an active participant in decisions concerning his behaviour.
I think there are 3 important aspects to using consequences as a part of positive discipline:
- Explain the consequence so that it doesn’t feel like a random association for the child (eg. If you don’t go and do your teeth now, I won’t have time to read you a story before my movie starts).
- Framing the consequence to reflect both our own and our children’s immediate needs (e.g I know that you would really like a story tonight and I have a movie I would like to watch. If you go and do your teeth now, we’ll have time for your story before my movie begins).
- Showing gratitude to our children for recognizing our needs and acting upon them. (eg. Thank you for getting ready for bed so quickly. I’m just in time for the movie I want to watch).