Setting consequences that fit the behavior, not just the age

As parents, one of the most challenging aspects of raising children is figuring out how to discipline them when they misbehave. Many parents default to using age-appropriate consequences, such as time-outs or taking away privileges, but this approach may not always be effective. Instead, parents should focus on setting consequences that fit the behavior, not just the age.

What are age-appropriate consequences?

Age-appropriate consequences are consequences that are tailored to a child's age and developmental stage. For example, a time-out may be an appropriate consequence for a three-year-old who has a tantrum, while taking away a phone may be an appropriate consequence for a teenager who breaks curfew. While age-appropriate consequences can be helpful in some situations, they may not always be effective. For example, if a child engages in a behavior that is dangerous or harmful, such as using drugs or alcohol, simply taking away privileges may not be enough to deter them from continuing that behavior.

Why focus on behavior-specific consequences?

Behavior-specific consequences, on the other hand, are consequences that are tailored to a child's specific behavior. In other words, they match the severity and impact of the behavior in question. For example, if a child breaks their neighbor's window while playing ball, an age-appropriate consequence like apologizing may not be enough. Instead, the child may need to work to earn money to pay for the repairs, as well as face additional consequences such as losing the privilege of playing ball outside for a period of time. By setting consequences that fit the behavior, parents can help their children understand the seriousness of their actions and the impact they have on others. This can help children learn to take responsibility for their behavior and make better choices in the future.

How to set behavior-specific consequences

The first step in setting behavior-specific consequences is to identify the behavior that needs to be addressed. This may involve talking to your child and finding out what happened, or observing their behavior and identifying patterns. Once you have identified the behavior, think about the impact it had. Did it hurt someone else? Was it dangerous? Did it break a rule? Based on the severity of the behavior, come up with a consequence that matches it. This may involve brainstorming with your child to come up with ideas, or setting the consequence yourself. Make sure the consequence is something that your child can realistically accomplish and that will have an impact. For example, if your child breaks a rule at school, a consequence like writing a letter of apology to the teacher may be more effective than simply taking away screen time.

How to enforce behavior-specific consequences

Once you have set a behavior-specific consequence, it is important to enforce it consistently. Make sure your child understands exactly what the consequence is and why it is being enforced. If your child protests or tries to negotiate, stand firm and remind them of the impact of their behavior. If they complete the consequence successfully, make sure to praise them for their effort and their willingness to take responsibility for their actions. Remember that setting behavior-specific consequences takes time and effort, but it can be an effective way to help your child learn to make better choices and take responsibility for their behavior. By focusing on the behavior at hand and setting consequences that match it, you can help your child understand the impact of their actions and become a more responsible and empathetic person.