Guidelines for Setting Consequences
Bernadette Mayek, Family Living Educator — Waupaca County, University of Wisconsin Extension
Reviewed September 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.
Reasonable consequences are tools to use when nurturance, prevention, and guidance tools don’t work and your children misbehave. Consequences teach a child what not to do. Consequences alone, however, cannot teach children the values and skills that are important for self-worth, problem solving, and self-control.
Consequences need guidance to be effective. Guidance is the core of effective discipline — teaching children what is right and wrong, helping them learn how to take responsibility for their actions, and teaching them how to relate positively with others.
Follow these guidelines for effective consequences.
- The consequences must occur close in time to the misbehavior.
- Children must be able to tell right from wrong.
- Children must realize that the unpleasant experience is the result of their own deliberate misbehavior, not their parents’ anger.
- Consequences must be consistent.
- The consequence must make sense and not be more severe than the misbehavior.
- Respond in private.
- Use consequences rarely.
Each of these nonviolent consequences is an alternative to spanking. These tools must be used with the nurturance, prevention, and guidance tools.
- Expect repayment (6-18 years) — Insist that your child reimburse others for losses she caused. Help her make a plan for doing so.
- Use a time out (3-12 years) — Time out is a way of correcting behavior by placing your misbehaving child in a quiet place alone for a few minutes and then talking about the problem. Time out is a short, boring time away from other people. The younger the child, the shorter the time out. A good rule is to use one minute for every year of the child’s age. You can use time out with children when they are noisy, fighting, or doing something so annoying you can’t ignore it. It is best to approach time out as a way to calm everyone involved, not as a way to punish your child. Never send a child to a locked room, confined space, or other frightening location. .
- Allow natural consequences (all ages) — Let your child experience the natural results of his or her misbehavior. These results shouldn’t be harmful to your child, but unpleasant enough to motivate your child to change.
- Introduce logical consequences (all ages) — Impose a sanction that is reasonable and logically connected to the misbehavior. The child is “disciplined” by this consequence of her action. If Amy persistently leaves her toys in the yard after finishing play, place them in a bag and put it out of reach in the garage. For more information, check the “Natural and Logical Consequences” fact sheet (also available online).
- Express strong disappointment (all ages) — Describe your own honest feelings of discouragement or concern about your child’s misbehavior. Children want to please their parents; your disappointment is a punishment.
- Lose a privilege/earn back a privilege (ages 4-18) — Loss of a privilege can be an effective tool. For example, if a child continues to ride his bike without a helmet, the bike could be taken away for a period of time. Explain what you’re taking away and why in a firm but friendly manner. Make a bargain with your child. If there is something she wants to do, find a way she can earn that privilege by correcting a misbehavior.
- Ground the child (6-18 years) — If your child understands that he has misbehaved by missing a curfew or traveling into forbidden territory, limit him to home or yard for a reasonable length of time.
Harrelson, P. O. (2009). Guiding the behavior of young children. Petersburg, VA:Virginia State University.
Smith, C. A. (2010). Consequences. In Responsive discipline: A decision-making approach to guidance in parent-child relationships.
Steinberg, L. (2004). The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
University of Minnesota Extension. (1995). Positive parenting I: A video-based parent education curriculum. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension. This product is no longer available.
Using Natural and Logical Consequences — Get step-by-step instructions for using natural and logical consequences and see examples of this strategy in action.
What About Spanking? — Find out more about pros and cons of using spanking as a discipline tool.