This post may contain affiliate links. Read my whole disclosure here.
Inside: What if consequences for kids weren’t an effective discipline tool? If you use consequences with your child and they don’t seem to work, here are some great positive discipline alternatives to try!
Using consequences as a discipline tool is something that I hear all the time! In many cases, consequences are considered a positive discipline tool and a better alternative to punishments.
But here is the truth: classical consequences are neither a positive parenting tool nor an effective way to discipline children. In fact, consequences charts have nothing to do with positive discipline!
The reason is very simple: they work exactly like punishments. If the child does something wrong, the parent uses a consequence to punish the child for the behavior. They may seem like a gentler method but they are not!
When I first heard this, I was confused.
Especially when I heart this approach during a parenting conference:
Consequences that are enforced by the parent are the same thing as punishments. Using the idea of “consequences” instead of “punishments” is only meant to make the parent feel better. For the child, there is no difference if we call them “consequences” or “punishments”. What they experience is the same.
Hearing this intrigued me and made me want to learn more. And today I want to share with you what I’ve learned about using consequences for kids as a positive parenting method.
Consequences for kids: How to use them the right way
The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that the only consequences that are really a positive discipline tool are natural consequences.
Natural consequences are those consequences that will happen without the parent’s involvement.
Here are some examples:
- “If you don’t put your jacket on in the winter, you’ll feel cold outside.” “If you run on a slippery floor, you can fall and hurt yourself.”
- “If you don’t eat anything for breakfast, you’ll get hungry while we are in the park.”
- or “If you throw your toys on the floor, they might break and you won’t be able to play with them anymore.”
All these consequences will happen naturally, without any intervention from the parent.
It’s good for kids to experience them because they can be great life lessons. If a child gets out without a jacket and feels cold, they will be more willing to wear the jacket next time.
On the other hand, there are those consequences that are enforced by the parent: “If you don’t clean up your toys, we will not go to the park today” or “If you don’t eat your lunch I will take away your toys” or “If you don’t wear your jacket when it’s cold I’ll put you in a time-out”.
These consequences for kids are in fact punishments. No matter if we name them “consequences”, they are still punishments. They wouldn’t happen without the parent’s involvement. They don’t teach the child a helpful lesson. Their purpose is just to make the child feel bad for something that they did.
photo credit: Olga Bogatyrenko / shutterstock.com
Positive alternatives to consequences for kids
It is good for children to experience natural consequences. They give them a better understanding of the consequences of their actions. And they help them learn how to do better next time.
Parent-enforced consequences do have better alternatives. I wrote more about alternatives to punishments here: What to do instead of punishments? 5 gentle ways to discipline young kids. They apply to consequences too and they are gentle ways to handle those difficult disciplining moments.
But there are also other ways to transform consequences into positive ways to discipline.
1. Replace consequences with “before and after” sentences
Here are some examples that illustrate how this works.
– Parent-enforced consequence: “If you don’t clean up your toys, we will not go to the park today.”
Alternative: “We will be able to go to the park after you clean up the toys.” or “I need you to clean up the toys first and then we will go to the park.”
– Parent-enforced consequence: “If you don’t brush your teeth you’ll not get a story before bedtime.”
Alternative: “Let’s go brush your teeth quickly so that we’ll still have time for a story before bedtime.”
2. Offer an explanation and let the child make a choice
Here are some examples that illustrate how this works.
– Parent-enforced consequence: “If you don’t stop whining and let me do my grocery shopping in silence, I’ll not take you to the park.”
Alternative: “We only have an hour for grocery shopping and going to the park. If you help me with the shopping we will be able to finish quickly and have more time to spend in the park. What do you think, would you help me with the groceries?”
photo credit: veryulissa / shutterstock.com
3. Set limits with empathy
Sometimes offering explanations and letting the child make a choice is not a viable option. For example, if the child hits another child or does something that puts themselves or anyone else in danger. Or if the child breaks an important rule that you already agreed on.
For these situations, a great strategy is to set limits with empathy and teach the child how to do better. Setting a limit doesn’t have to involve a punishment. There are better alternatives that both stop the behavior and help the child learn how to behave better the next time.
If you want to find out more on how to do this, here is the strategy that we use and that works great for us: How to set limits with young kids in an effective and gentle way in 3 simple steps.
More about why consequences are not good for kids
I know that there are plenty of resources and articles recommending consequences for kids. But this doesn’t mean that they are good for your child.
Here are more articles about consequences and their impact on kids:
- This is why behavior charts are not as good as you think
- Do “consequences” help children learn better behavior? (by Hand in Hand Parenting)
- What’s the Difference Between Limits and Consequences? (a great article by AHA Parenting).
There are better alternatives to classical consequences. They are more effective and in the long run, they can make discipline a lot easier!
>> Want to remember this? Share these ideas to your favorite Pinterest board!