• Dr. Luisa Bryce

Consequences that actually work


Will you really make him eat his breakfast for dinner?


Why do we threaten our kids with consequences we can’t possibly stick to? Like when you say to your child, “If you don’t stop whining right now, I’ll never buy you anything again!” Yeah right. For me, this one’s a no-brainer. We give kids consequences that don’t work for the same reason we do a million other things in life…. Why do we drive with the gas light on for 30+ miles, just hoping we won’t be that idiot on the side of the road? Why do we order dinner out for the fourth night in a row, even though we know it’s cheaper and healthier to cook? And why do we throw all the laundry in the washer in a jumbled heap, without separating whites and colors?

Simply put, it’s a heck of a lot easier. It’s inconvenient to gas up the car, make dinner, and separate the laundry. And honestly, who really cares? Who cares if you eat out too much, and who gives a flip if your clothes are a little discolored? The “gas-in-the-car” example is a little more critical because this situation could potentially be dangerous. But seriously, in the short-term, these things don’t really matter. The problem is, in the long-term, ease and convenience catch up with you, and you end up spending extra time dealing with the consequences.

The very same is true with parenting. Giving kids consequences that don’t work is a quick fix, but it inevitably leads to issues in the long run. And they’re kids, not laundry. So they do really matter.

Expert blogger Jessica, author of Long Days, Short Years, recently wrote a hilarious and yet poignantly true post detailing the worst consequences ever. Check out: If you don’t pick up your room… to read about the ridiculous consequences we’re all guilty of using at one point or another.

Another absolute truth when it comes to parenting is this: IT IS HARD. And it’s complicated. And people (myself included) will give you all sorts of advice on how to do it. So how do we avoid giving stupid ineffective consequences that will teach our kids nothing? We realize and accept we can’t totally avoid it. And we laugh about it. And we look on the bright side because we can decrease the frequency of using consequences that don’t work. Here are a few quick tips on how to get your kid to do what you want:

  1. Give choices, not ultimatums. Kids tend to be pretty gutsy and will act willful if you give them the opportunity. Plus, they like to think they have some control over things so let them think they have a choice. For example, instead of saying to your child, “If you don’t wear a coat, we’re not leaving the house” say, “Which coat do you want to wear, your blue one or the orange one?”

  2. Be consistent. If you set a rule, you must stick to it. If you waver even once, your incredibly smart and perceptive kiddo will take advantage. So if you say to your teen, “No screen time until homework is done,” you have to stick to this rule, no matter what. If this feels too rigid, build exceptions into the rule (For example, specify “No screen time until homework is done with the exception of every Friday.”).

  3. Focus on the positive and try to ignore the negative. Catch your kiddo doing something you want and genuinely provide him/her with praise. Be specific in offering the praise, such as, “Jenny, what a fantastic job you’re doing helping your brother wash his hands! I love it when you are such a helpful big sister.”

Have other thoughts or ideas about consequences? Please share! Your feedback is important and welcome.

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