Limits and consequences are also a vital tool in behavior management. Limits are set to help your child to understand respect for himself and the world around him. The purpose of using consequences is to motivate children to make responsible decisions, not to force their submission. Consequences are effective only if you avoid having hidden motives of winning and controlling your child. Try not to establish rules solely for your convenience and always make sure you have realistic expectations. A child must have the cognitive capacity to understand the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules before the consequence is given. For example, an 18-month old child does not understand that he can get burnt from touching the stove. If he does not understand, he can’t be held responsible and should not receive a consequence. Instead, a parent can use distraction techniques or can arrange the environment to secure safety, such as putting up a safety gate when the stove is hot.Consistency and follow-through are crucial when using limits and consequences to change a problematic behavior. If a limit has been established and been broken, a parent needs to follow through with a consequence. Any flexibility will teach the child what he can get away with in the future. In other words, mean what you say.
It will help you to set reasonable limits if you remember that your child needs freedom to explore, to learn and to discover. The right of children to play freely and to learn by doing things themselves must be acknowledged.Here are some important guidelines when setting limits and consequences:
- The person whose rules were broken is responsible for enforcing and administering the consequence whenever possible. For example, school rules should be enforced at school by the teacher.
- One consequence per violation should be enforced.
- Be both firm and kind. Firmness refers to your follow through with the limit and consequence. Kindness refers to the manner in which you present the choice. A consequence should not be perceived as a punishment if it is to deter the behavior in the future. Be firm with the problem; be kind with your child.
- Consequences should be over as quickly as possible so a positive family atmosphere can be reestablished.
- Whenever possible, offer you child the chance for a do-over before enforcing a consequence. Give the child another chance to practice an appropriate behavior and be successful.
- Follow through with consequences as soon after the violation as possible so the child connects the consequence with his/her action.
- Be in control of yourself when administering or enforcing consequences. Any show of anger and frustration, such as yelling, name calling, criticizing or rage by the parent, cancels the effect of the consequence. Remember: it is you AND your child against the problem, not you against your child.
- Be patient. It will take time for the consequences to be effective.
- If you make the child feel bad, he’ll hold on to the behavior as part of his arsenal against the parent and this will not foster a parent-child alliance against the problem behavior.
- Consequences must be planned in advance. You should be prepared with a list of consequences you can call upon when the situation arises. Both parents should agree in advance what is an appropriate consequence.
- Choose consequences related to the violation, whenever possible. For example, if your child exhibits antisocial behavior, sending him to his room is a logical consequence (not as a punishment). If he’s disrupting the rest of the family, logically he needs to leave the room so as not to disturb the rest.
- Make sure the consequences you choose do not negatively affect you or the rest of the family more so than the child receiving the consequence. For example, limiting TV or cancelling a weekend outing may affect you and other siblings.
After all, our kids are not our enemies. They don’t wake up in the morning thinking how to make us miserable. They are children, our son, our daughter, they are the most important thing in our lives, by far, and our love for them should be unconditional.