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Positive Discipline: Signs Your 'Consequences' Are Punishments In Disguise

Signs Your 'Consequences' Are Punishments In Disguise
little girl resting on her...
little girl resting on her...

Chloe wouldn’t clean up her toys after dinner so her mother, who knew better than to yell or spank, tried to use positive discipline and gave her a consequence instead: “You didn’t do what you were told so you will have to face the consequences. No stories at bedtime tonight.”

Is that a logical consequence? Not to my way of thinking. I am finding more and more that parents are confused about consequences — what they really are and how to properly apply them. Let’s take some time to get clarity.

Logical consequences are supposed to replace the use of punishment. In the example above, what the mom is really saying is, “If you don’t clean up your toys, you’ll experience the consequences of your actions — you’ll be punished by not having books read at tuck-in.” Mom is using personal power to make her child do what she wants. It’s autocratic parenting and will eventually incite rebellion.

I understand the confusion. Chloe’s mom has learned that punishment and consequences are being used as synonyms by many well-known parenting experts. I see this mistaken approach in million dollar bestsellers such as “Triple P” and “1-2-3 Magic.”

So let me straighten out the thinking. A logical consequence must include three distinct qualities, and if any one is missing, it’s a punishment.

1) Related

The consequence must be directly related to the child’s behaviour. This is what makes it logical. Most importantly, the child must be able to see the connection. For example, if you don’t put your clothes in the laundry hamper, a logical outcome is that your clothes won’t get washed when it's time to do the laundry. If you tell that same child that they won’t get screen time — one of our favorite things to confiscate — if they don’t put their clothes in the hamper, the child’s perception is that their parents are using their personal power to be mean and make them pay for their mistakes.

2) Respectful

Anytime you show a child disrespect, you are being punitive. (Quick test: Would you speak the same words to a friend or a coworker? If not, chances are it’s disrespectful.)

3) Revealed in advance

The child must be given all the information up front so they can make clear choices in their behaviour. For example: “If you would like to eat, you need to stay at the table. If you get down from the table, you are excusing yourself and we’ll accept your choice and see you at the next meal. Please know there will be no food until that time, so when you get down, you’re done.”

In short: “Stay and eat or get down and wait until the next meal to eat — your choice.” But parents must be sure to actually follow through with implementing the consequence. Too frequently we simply threaten the consequence and the child fails to learn.

Here are a few more examples of appropriate consequences:

  • Can you keep the markers on the paper? If not, we will have to put the markers away.
  • Can you share the iPad with your brother without fighting or do we have to put the iPad away until tomorrow?
  • Can you use the hose without spraying people? If not, I will have to turn the hose off.
  • You need to show me you can take care of your bike. If you don’t put your bike away after you ride it, you will lose your bike privileges for tomorrow.
  • If we can’t get along with our friends, the play date will have to come to an end.


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