One of the central tenants in our philosophy of healing parenting — in addition to nurturance and compassion — is the importance of structure for a child with attachment issues. Limits, rules and consequences help children feel secure and learn from their mistakes.
At the same time, we stress that punishment does not work. It fosters resentment and rarely teaches your child what you want them to learn.
Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that parents are often unclear about the difference between a consequence and punishment. So, the question is:
How do you deliver an effective consequence without being punitive?
The following is a list of tips for successfully giving a consequence:
Connect with eye contact – Eye contact is the best way for you to know that you have your child’s attention. It establishes an emotional connection and helps you give and receive clear messages.
Be aware of nonverbal messages – Watch your body language, facial expression, and tone. You want to be firm, but empathetic. Get down to your child’s level, eye to eye. Don’t intimidate.
Set the stage – Your child will be most receptive when you are in the right frame of mind and can set aside time to focus on your child without distraction.
Focus on the behavior, not the child – It is important to get across that you disliked what your child did, their behavior and actions and that it has nothing to do with how you feel about them. You do not want to contribute to your child’s feelings of rejection and low self-esteem.
Work as a team – Make sure that both parents are on the same page when it comes to behaviors that are tolerated and those that aren’t as well as the consequences.
Be consistent — Do not deliver a consequence for a certain behavior at one time and then overlook the same behavior the next time. Your child will be the most successful when you are consistent and predictable.
Control your anger – Yelling, criticizing, lecturing and losing your cool do not provide a positive role model of coping and communication. This kind of response shows your child that they are in control of your emotional reactions.
Don’t threaten or give warnings — Give your child only one warning. This allows your child to correct their behavior, make a better choice and feel successful. Multiple warnings only undermine your authority.
Give positives – Make sure to also give your child positive consequences for good behavior and choices. Smiles, hugs and words of appreciation are very powerful to a child.
Make it relevant – The consequence should mean something to your child. Even if your child claims not to care, you know what is meaningful to them.
It doesn’t have to be immediate – Once your child is over the age of 5, the consequence does not need to happen immediately. Give yourself time to calm down and think about what you are going to do. Just let your child know that they made a bad choice and that they will receive a consequence later.
Don’t overdo it – Don’t constantly give consequences or make them too severe. You do not want your child to feel perpetually punished, become hopeless and lose the motivation to change.
Don’t give up – The key is consistency over time. Don’t get discouraged if providing consequences doesn’t seem to be working immediately. It takes time to change.