This is the topic I am most frequently asked to write and speak on and it's the one that parents come to chat to me about the most. Interestingly it's the most misunderstood of all the parenting topics because parents can feel they're already giving consequences when they're actually giving punishments.
I was standing near a mum recently and she spotted her son sneaking another biscuit. She immediately said “If you eat that you won’t get your ipad for the rest of the day.” It isn’t relevant and it’s confusing for a child (or a tween or teen).
If I don't put my bins out on a Monday night nobody comes and switches my WIFI off. I get bin overflow, possibly rats or mice and certainly a stinky bin area.
If your response to their poor choice has got nothing to do with the choice it’s not a consequence it’s a punishment. If they’ve stolen biscuits from the biscuit tin, let the consequences be food related. If they’ve wasted your time delaying their bedtime, let the consequence be time related. That way, your boundaries and consequences are more effective in leading them to think about the outcome next time because they're directly linked to the issue.
Once you see how effective and nag-free your life has become it's tempting to set a consequence for every area of their lives. Don't do this, they'll feel hemmed in and you'll get exhausted. The chances are they're pretty good at lots of different things but also that they have areas of weakness. Go for one area of weakness at a time, whether that's time, mess or manners. This way you are gently growing their character rather than setting a maze for every choice they ever make. For example, we don't run things into school if they've forgotten something. However, we have a child who works hard at never, ever forgetting anything. So on the one occasion when she did forget her kit I was more than happy to run it in because I knew she really had developed character in this area.
However, here's an area where we needed a character prune: Our children had a habit of leaving their shoes in the hallway. It wasn't long before it looked like a second hand sale. No amount of reasoning seemed to register the point that I wasn't keen on the mess in the hall. Time for a logical consequence.....
Each time they left a pair in the hall I would take them down to the shed and line them up neatly with the other shoes I was accumulating. When they were flying out of the door to see a friend, for rugby or any other reason, there was a panic in the hall "Where are my shoes/rugby boots/sliders?" I was able to calmly tell them that they were in my way so I have popped them in the shed.
Now you might be wondering how this could help our relationship as a frustrated child realises they have to hot-foot it to the end of the garden (come rain or shine). Well, I would contest that another five or ten years of nagging is far more of a detrimental, dripping tap on our relationship than the realisation that they get to choose whether to leave their shoes lying around or put them away. But yes, I concede that the realisation isn't fun for them and they don't turn around and say "what a smashing idea, Mum/Dad."
In order for this Logical Consequence to be effective, you do have to refrain from smug satisfaction, 'I told you so' lectures or irritation.
Let the consequence do the teaching.
As parents we love to ensure an outcome. ' Logical Consequences' is countercultural because we don't get to shout about how we feel. We stand back and allow them to see what the natural outcome is of their choice and whether or not they want to learn and grow to do things differently. It's difficult to do it justice in a blog, but in upcoming blogs I'll expand on the theme such as why consequences have to be enforceable, when not to use them and how to hold your nerve and I'll also
give you lots more examples.
Do please message me with areas for which you'd like suggestions.