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Navigating The Path Of Discipline – Effective Ways To Deliver Consequences To Children

Written by: Theresa Alexander Inman, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Theresa Alexander Inman

Discipline is pivotal in child development, it shapes their future behavior and understanding of consequences. I dare say, an understanding of the world. Distinguishing between punishment and consequences is crucial, as the latter focuses on learning and growth. To be clear, punishment simply means the reduction of behavior. Effective consequences reduce undesired behavior. The goal of this article is to guide parents and caregivers through various effective and respectful disciplinary strategies as children learn best through consequences. This simply means what happens after a behavior. When consequences are averted, children develop the belief that they will be ‘cushioned’ from them which leads to an inaccurate view of the world. This may result in them being harmed or unintentionally harming others.

A boy contemplates while his mother holds his hands and explains life to him.

The father of a toddler often engaged in rough-and-tumble play with him, which is helpful in social-emotional development. The area for improvement, in this case, was when the son pretended to hurt the father, and his father laughed. This led to the son hitting classmates and laughing. Until, a classmate hit him back, when no one was looking, and laughed to which he responded, “That’s not funny!” His classmates reminded him that it wasn’t funny when he hit them. And that was the end of it. He learned empathy as a result.


Understanding child development and discipline


Understanding child development is helpful in choosing appropriate disciplinary actions. Note: discipline simply means to teach. It's important to tailor consequences to a child's age. Though children may not necessarily need to have the capacity to understand a consequence for it to be effective. The key here is consistency. Ensuring that consequences are delivered immediately and consistently after a behavior can effectively change it. Consequences should also be meaningful. If the consequence is not meaningful to the learner, no change will occur. For example, using time on device as a reward for a child who prefers to play with trains would have little to no impact on behavior. Relate the consequence to the infraction as much as possible.


Consistency and predictability in discipline help create a sense of security and understanding in children, which is essential for effective discipline. First, let your child know the consequences that will occur when they engage in a given challenging behavior. Yes, even a 2-year-old will get it, especially if you are consistent in delivering the consequence. Note, that consequences are more effective if they occur immediately after the behavior. If they aren’t you may be reinforcing (increasing) or punishing (decreasing) another behavior. Which is why parents sometimes think that the consequences are not working. Consistency and timing are very important here.


Positive reinforcement


Used correctly, positive reinforcement can be powerful in shaping behavior. This approach emphasizes rewarding behavior you want to see more of. Rewards can take many forms, attention, thumbs up, a note... the possibilities are endless! However, it's important to balance rewards and not solely rely on them, as the aim is to foster internal motivation rather than external incentives. Simply put, you want your child to do the ‘right’ thing because it feels ‘good’ to them. Not because they will. ‘get into trouble’ or get something they desire.

 

Rewards are more effective when they are naturally related to the behavior. A child asks to be pushed on a swing or identifies a ball, they get pushed on the swing or time playing with the ball. Delivering treats for correct response is a temporary measure and may not always be effectively generalized. When used, they must be faded systematically. Otherwise, this may be problematic. 


Natural and logical consequences


Natural consequences are outcomes that happen as a direct result of the child’s actions, without any intervention from anyone. For instance, if a child refuses to wear a coat, they feel cold. These consequences are a part of learning from the natural order of the world. This example may be hard for some, a toddler often threw herself to the floor when having a tantrum. All steps were taken to ensure she didn’t hit her head. Until one day, Mom was unable to block and she hit her head on the tiled floor. Needless to say from there on she gently lowered herself and stopped her head from touching the floor. This, I believe will prevent a more serious situation later as she gets older and stronger. Head hitting may then result in a concussion or other serious injury.


These natural consequences are effective because they allow children to experience the direct results of their actions, which can be powerful lessons. However, parents and caregivers need to ensure that natural consequences are safe and not overly harsh. The goal is to allow children to learn from their choices in a way that is conducive to their well-being and development. Generally, when people think of consequences they envision an unpleasant circumstance. Consequences can be pleasant experiences as well! Such as when a child crawls to reach a destination or to get a desired item.


Logical consequences, on the other hand, are designed by parents but are directly related to the misbehavior. For example, if a child breaks a toy, they might be responsible for fixing it, throwing it away, and/or cleaning it up. Another example of this. We were toilet training a two-year-old girl who was non-vocal. Princess stood in front of her little potty, looked at Mom, myself, and my assistant, and smiled before urinating on the floor. Mom looked at me with her jaw dropped and asked what she should do. I responded, have her clean it up! Mom responded that she would get pee on her hands, to which said we have soap and water! Princess wiped the floor and used the toilet from there on! Mom thought it was worth it too! I could share many more examples! Just one more, the child gets what they ask for. The consequence of asking is getting. This promotes asking and may reduce tantrums or other challenging behavior. Natural and logical consequences teach responsibility and cause-and-effect relationships. 


Communication and problem-solving


Effective discipline involves clear communication and collaborative problem-solving. Discussing the reasons behind rules and consequences may help children understand and internalize them. This approach also helps to instill problem-solving skills and moral values. Discussions should take place when everyone is calm and never during a tantrum or adverse situation. Avoid arguing with your child. I would love to record every time I see parents arguing with their toddlers (any child really) and play it for them. When children are involved in developing consequences, they are more likely to adhere to them.


I feel compelled to add. Avoid asking a question when there is no option. I was at a family’s home and the toddler was asked if he was ready to bathe and he responded, “No”. Mom looked at me wondering what she should do! I took Junior’s hand and said, “It’s bath time, let’s see who makes it upstairs first!” He was in the bathroom waiting when we got upstairs.


Consistency and follow-through


Consistency in applying consequences is crucial for their effectiveness. Follow-through is equally important, as empty threats or inconsistent application can undermine the entire discipline process. Balancing firmness with empathy and understanding is key in this process. Does this sound like you? If you don’t get into the bathtub, I am going to… Said the second, third, or fourth time without follow through are just words and your child learns that your words mean nothing. If you are unable to follow through with a request, avoid placing it.


Seeking support


Parents, recognize when additional support is needed, whether from professionals, parenting classes, or support groups. Parenting is not a solo journey. It is done best within a community and with support. Parental self-care and well-being are integral to the family's overall health and can greatly influence the effectiveness of disciplinary strategies. Parents tend to sabotage the process when they are stressed or tired. 


Conclusion


Delivering consequences to children is a complex task that requires patience, understanding, and consistency. The goal of discipline is to teach and guide children toward becoming responsible, empathetic, and well-adjusted individuals. Parents be kind to yourselves, and take care of yourselves, as you navigate these challenges. Understanding that perfection is not the goal, it is continuous learning and adaptation. Don't be afraid to research and try new things or to get a coach.


Follow me on LinkedIn, YouTube and visit my website for more info!

Theresa Alexander Inman Brainz Magazine
 

Theresa Alexander Inman, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Theresa Alexander Inman is a highly qualified parent coach with experience in the fields of infant and toddler development, play-based interventions, behavior analysis, and mindfulness. In her signature method, she uses them as a combined treatment modality to meet the unique needs of the families she serves. She believes learning should be fun and involve the whole family and/or village. Theresa is also an Author (How Can I Help My Child Communicate?) International Speaker and Trainer.

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