When Consequences Donít Work


Your son rides his bike without a helmet. Again.Youíve nagged, begged, pleaded, and informed him of the dangers of riding without.Next, youíve issued Consequences!Youíve taken the bike away and put it in the garage for a day, then a week and then, a whole month.Youíve done everything the parenting books say for a consequence to work.Itís reasonable.Anyone can live a day without a bike.Itísrespectful.Youíre not hitting or calling him names.And itís related.No helmet, no bike.Simple to understand.†† But the problem is that he is still riding a bike without a helmet! And the situation could turn into a huge power struggle every time you take the bike away.


Clearly, the Consequence has not worked.Why not? Often, consequences are disguised as punishments.They do not help in making amends, cleaning up, fixing things, nor do they solve problems.†† Children really need to see the purpose in logical consequences and very often, there is no real purpose, other then to inflict pain and inconvenience for the child until they change their behaviour.However, children will not change their behaviour until the underlying feeling or need has been addressed and a solution found.


In this instance, the consequence was issued as more of a punishment then a solution.Taking the bike away does nothing to solve the problem of why the helmet is unacceptable to the child.†† How to tell the difference between consequences as a solution and consequences as a punishment?If you are threatening a consequence, itís probably more of a punishment, and not a workable solution, and even with the three Rís, (respectful, related, reasonable) it wonít work to bring about a change of behaviour.


What to do?Sit down with son and probe why he doesnít like the bike helmet.Perhaps itís in an inconvenient place to access.He needs a solution to make it handier to use.Perhaps he just never can remember.He needs solutions to help him remember.Perhaps a visual picture on the door might work.†† Perhaps the helmet doesnít fit right or looks goofy.He needs to obtain a different helmet.This isnít all on the parentís shoulder to fix.Involving the child in finding a solution is essential in developing their problem solving skills, creativity, and teamwork, as well as making it more likely they will accept the solution chosen.


So, make sure that the consequences are solution focused rather than pain focused.A common concern is, ďWonít my child ever learn the consequences of his actions if I donít set up logical consequences?ĒOf course he will.The rest of the world will be happy to teach your child the logical consequences of his actions and sometimes it will be painful and inconvenient for him, but only you, the parent, can provide the safe haven of your loving relationship to teach him how to solve problems, make restitution and amends.Thatís the harder job.But the bonus is that youíll enjoy less power struggles and more connection, teaching, and learning, in your relationship.


Judy is a certified Parent Effectiveness Training Educator, writer, and mother of five children and is currently offering the one-night LAST CHANCE DISCIPLINE workshops for parents of toddlers, preschoolers, and school aged children.Email jarnall@shaw.ca or visit www.attachmentparenting.ca for dates and locations of workshops.


Copyright jarnall@shaw.ca