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April 1999 - Volume 2 - Issue 4

Discipline Without Blame
By Nancy Samalin with Catherine Whitney of PARENTS Magazine.

As any parent knows, one of the most difficult tasks we face is teaching our children to think, reason, plan ahead, and anticipate the results of their action - in other words, how to be responsible. The best way to accomplish this is by establishing that every behavior has consequences, whether they occur naturally or we have to create them.

When I discuss the importance of teaching children about consequences, parents often respond, "Aren't consequences just a fancy way of saying 'punishment'?" In fact, the two are opposites. Punishment is usually ineffective because its aim is to make the child feel bad, not to help him behave differently the next time. Teaching consequences gives children a way to anticipate the results of unacceptable behavior, and to participate in a plan to change that behavior. Think of it as a more advanced version of telling a toddler, "Hot!" In order to keep her from touching the stove. That's not punishment, is it?

The problem solving approach does require some patience. Your child won't always cooperate right away or come up with a positive solution. Usually, just by giving your child the chance to form his own plan, you let him know that you see him as capable of solving his own problems, not merely as a victim of his inappropriate behavior.

Here Are Some Things To Remember:

  • Effective consequences need to be taught in a calm, rational atmosphere.
  • Establish consequences in advance. Instead of throwing up your hands in mid crisis and yelling, "I've had it! No television tonight!" Explain in an emotionally neutral way that whether or not the child gets television in the evening is entirely up to them.
  • Parents respond by announcing a sanction that they know will make a big impression -- for example, banning television for the evening. However, while that may get you the response you want in the short run, it doesn't encourage lasting improvement in a child's behavior. To do that, you need to create a consequence logically suited to the unacceptable behavior.
  • By responding unequivocally and not judging children. Parents can make a clear connection between the negative behavior and the consequence.

    One way or another, kids ultimately discover that their behavior has a deep effect on others. And because the way children feel about themselves is critical to the way they treat other people, teaching them about the consequences of their behavior in a respectful, supportive, consistent way encourages them to give their fellow human beings the same consideration. When you use threats and blame, the best you can hope for is that your child will behave out of fear of getting caught and punched. You're far better off making your child part of the solution instead of the problem.

What Is A Fitting Consequence?

If your child ... You can say ...
... keeps climbing to the top of the jungle gym when you've repeatedly told him not to go above the third rung. We're leaving now. The rule is that you're not to go higher than the third rung. Because you keep going to the top, we can't stay here.
... throws a ball and breaks your favorite lamp. Let's both work out a way for you to pay for a new lamp, either with your allowance or by doing extra chores for a while.
... refuses to share a game with his sister that belongs to both of them. I'm putting the game away for now. When you're ready to share, you can have it back.
... continues to ride her bike after you've asked her to stop and come in for dinner. I'm sorry, but you can't ride your bike afer dinner because you didn't stop when I asked you to.

June 1997, Copyright 1997 Gruner + Jahr Publishing. Excerpts reprinted from PARENTS magazine by permission

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