Just like praise (see my blog post Tips for Making Praise More Effective), there are some things to consider when deciding on a consequence. Consequences can be both positive (rewards) and negative. Some of the tips below are relevant for both positive and negative consequences, but this blog post will focus on tips for making negative consequences more effective. Components to consider include:
Immediacy: the consequence will be more effective if it immediately follows the behavior.
Limit verbals: this is where a lot of parents go wrong. It can be easy to fall into the habit of “lecturing” and re-hashing the behavior with your kiddo. However, this can actually be reinforcing, as you’re giving the child lots of attention and one-on-one time during those fun talks. Therefore, it is typically recommended that you limit verbal interaction – label the behavior and what you’d like your child to do differently, then let the consequence do the “talking.”
Neutral facial expression/voice: I’ve mentioned before that some children are reinforced by parental reactions… there are some kiddos who think it is hilarious when they can get other people worked up. Therefore, try to use a neutral facial expression and neutral voice tone when giving a consequence.
Consistency: this one is SO important. If you decide that a behavior is undesirable, then you have to do something about it every time your child chooses to act that way. If they think they can get away with it sometimes, then they’re going to keep doing it. This is why adults speed while driving.
Size: make sure that the size of the consequence fits what the negative behavior is. Losing electronic privileges for a week might not be appropriate for forgetting one daily chore, but might be appropriate if your kiddo gets in a fight at school.
Follow through: Once you hand out a consequence, you must be able to follow through with it. If you tell your child that they’ve lost television time, then let them watch television with you that night, that consequence means nothing. Therefore, before you decide on a consequence, think about if it’s realistic and something you’re able to follow through on.
I have created the following handout for caregivers. It might be beneficial to print it out and pin it up somewhere as a reminder. A printable file can be found here.