“What about consequences for kids?”
“How will he learn that he better not do that again?”
“How will she know who’s boss?”
These are the burning questions I get from parents when I tell them I don’t use punishments in my parenting approach. I have also realized that many parents confuse the words “consequence” and “punishment.”
Let’s start by finding some common ground.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines consequence as “a condition or occurrence traceable to a cause, and punishment as, “suffering, loss, or hardship imposed in response to a crime or offense.”
As a proponent and practitioner of mindful, positive, respectful parenting and teaching, I can promise you that I do not see misbehavior as a crime. Most people convicted of crimes, including repeat offenders, don’t learn how to be safe, productive citizens just because they were locked up in jail.
Inmates who experience reform attribute their positive changes to healthy relationships they developed with mentors or religious leaders and acquire new intrapersonal and interpersonal skills while serving time. Skills that better allow them to meet the demands of life adaptively.
I also do not take offense to misbehavior even when a toddler throws food, a seven-year-old covers her ears while I’m talking, or a teenager storms out of the room huffing and puffing f-bombs under his breath.
I view these maladaptive behaviors as signals indicating the child does not know a better way to handle themselves in the situation. I think to myself, “there are connections to strengthen and problem-solving for us to do.” Furthermore, connection and problem-solving require skills!
Punishment does not teach our children how to solve problems, develop lagging skills, or connect us. Many caregivers have replaced the word punishment with consequences because, truthfully, it sounds better—sort of like why we say veal instead of a baby cow.
Now let’s talk about consequences for kids used in parenting. There are two types: imposed and natural.
Imposed consequences for kids are kin to punishment. I’m not going to lie and say that I have never used imposed consequences, but I can say that I use them sparingly and make sure they fit the bill. Once my son kept leaving his new mini speaker at friends’ houses. I made the unilateral decision that he could not take the speaker with him the next time he went out. (BTW – my son did not learn how to be responsible for his speaker until we sat down and created a proactive plan together.)
Natural consequences for kids are just that – what naturally may happen in a cause and effect relationship.
Catch my drift?
Here’s the most important part: imposed consequences remind children who have skills to meet an expectation to use their skills, and natural consequences may teach children new skills.
You may be thinking, “What about children who don’t seem phased by consequences or even punishments for that matter?” Relying on consequences doesn’t work for those who have children with challenging or concerning behaviors. They’re not great to rely on, even when you have an adaptive kid.
So, how do you find out if you have a truly challenging child? Take this quiz and find out.
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