Improving child behavior depends on the child’s learning that there will always be consequences for his or her actions. They either happen naturally or are created by parents to fit the misbehavior.
When my two-year-old threw Cheerios on the floor around her high chair, I picked them up and said, “No. Do not throw food on the floor. If you do it again, I’ll take your bowl away.” She laughed gleefully as she threw down another handful. She wailed when I sat the bowl on the cabinet. That was a consequence that I created to fit the misdeed: “Throw food on the floor, and you may not have the food.”
When creating an appropriate consequence, be sure that it connects in some way to what the child does. He might clean up the mess and put his crayons away for a few days because he wrote on a wall.
A consequence that is relevant to the misdeed will be more effective than a spanking or other unrelated punishment.
My four-year-old son fell and opened a small gash on his forehead when he was jumping on the bed. The consequence of his disobedience was pain. I didn’t have to do anything for that to occur. He needed no additional punishment, but I did explain to him that I made the “no jumping on beds” rule for his safety, and that breaking the rule caused the accident.
The decision to let consequences occur naturally depends on what is safe for the child. Obviously, we don’t let a young child learn that it’s unsafe to play in the street by getting hurt. A related consequence could be restriction to the fenced back yard.
The key to the effectiveness of naturally-occurring consequences is letting them happen. The child whose bike is stolen because he leaves it out will need to earn the money to replace it. If a parent repeatedly rescues a child from the consequences of disobedience, he or she will grow up to be an adult who expects constant rescue.
Do you find it difficult to find the right consequences to improve child behavior? Are you inclined, like I was, to want to rescue your child when there are uncomfortable results from their actions?