Teaching age-appropriate choices and consequences

As a counsellor, I often get asked how best to discipline a child with behavioural problems.  Firstly, it must be said that punishment is not always the answer.  It is advisable to look first at why the behaviour has occurred.  Sometimes kids are tired, hungry or sad.  Other times it could be something more serious like bullying at school, experimenting with drugs, problems with peers or changes at home.

If all of these have been ruled out and you can see that your child is just behaving badly for no apparent reason, then it is appropriate to implement consequences for the bad behaviour.

What is age-appropriate? 

•    If a young child misbehaves, it is appropriate to take away a favourite toy for a period of time. 
•    If a pre-teen misbehaves, it is appropriate to cancel a play date or an outing. 
•    If a teen misbehaves, it is appropriate to withhold pocket money, take away cell phone / computer etc. or ground them for a period of time.

Technologically grounded

Whilst on the topic of grounding, I have heard some very weak efforts from parents in this department.  In past times, grounding meant that kids would not be allowed to see their friends for the duration of the grounding.  That now has to be adjusted to encompass social media.  If your child is grounded, it should mean no contact with friends at all.  No Skype, Facebook, BBM, SMS, Mxit, internet chatting, phone calls etc.

Only if they are properly isolated from their friends will they have the time to consciously think about the punishment and how much it affects them.

“You may choose...”

In order to avoid behavioural problems later on, as children get older, they should be made more aware of choices and consequences.  So, you could start with the young child who says “Can I have that toy in the shop?”  The answer can be either “Yes, but you have to buy it out of your pocket money” or “Yes, but I will only pay for half and the rest must come out of your pocket money.”  “Before you decide, remember you said you wanted to save for that Lego set?  Well if you use your pocket money for this toy, it will take you longer to get the Lego.  Are you ok with that?”

Give the child a chance to make the decision and then accept that decision.  Older children may ask to stay out later that the agreed time on a Friday night.  Your answer could be “Yes, but then you cannot go out on Saturday night as you need to catch up on rest.”  So the choice ends up being two evenings out with a reasonable home time or one night out with a late home time.

The earlier they learn responsibility, the earlier they gain confidence and trust in themselves and you.  Much later on, when faced with hard choices, they will be inclined to think options through more carefully before making an emotional or pressured decision.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

What works in your family when it comes to teaching choices and consequences?
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