How Parents Can Destroy The Effectiveness Of Consequences

Parent lecturing child - Love and Logic classes Arizona

Why is it that two set of parents can apply the same consequence but yet get very different results?  Is it because the child that learns from the consequence is good-natured while the other child who becomes resentful is just a bad egg?  Does it all depend on the temperament of the child or does the way the parents apply the consequences have any influence over their effectiveness?

I am reminded of mother whose first reaction when her child did something inappropriate was to say with anger and frustration “don’t you dare do that again.”  Her next reaction was to threaten by saying, “If you do tha

t again you’re going home.”  Needless to say, this child continued the poor behaviors and when the mother finally applied the consequence by abruptly leaving the store, she also threw in a few choice shaming phrases such as, “I can never take you anywhere,” and “Now we have to leave because of you.”  Consequently, rather than learning how to behave in the store, this kid instead learned how to get even with mom by getting her frazzled and frustrated in public.

What a sad, yet common situation for many parents.  They try their very best to discipline their kids by applying consequences.  However, the way some parents apply consequences leaves the kids feeling angry at their parents rather than upset at their own poor decisions.

Love and Logic teaches that when anger, frustration, and threats are involved in applying consequences, the consequences lose their effectiveness.  Additionally, here are a few more common ways parents sabotage the consequences they give their kids:

  1. Using too many words.  When we use too many words when applying consequences we lose our kids attention.  A glossy look falls across their faces and they get lost in the message we are trying to send.  Using too many words also sends the message that the child isn’t smart enough to figure out why throwing a metal car at his sister’s head is a bad idea.
  2. Using sarcasm.  Sarcasm tends to be a passive-aggressive way at getting back at someone without being confrontational.  Sarcasm is often insincere and demeaning.  When we use sarcasm with our kids we teach them to be sarcastic with us and others.  Furthermore, when parents are sarcastic it gets in the way of them using empathy which is the foundation of applying consequences effectively.
  3. Telling the child what the consequence will be beforehand.  Many parents have a hard time with the idea of not telling the child what the consequence will be before applying it.  They feel that it isn’t fair for a kid to get a consequence without first knowing what the consequence will be for the misbehavior.  Truthfully, some kids can handle knowing what the consequence will be beforehand and it actually deters the misbehavior.  But for the majority of clever kids, telling them what the consequence will be beforehand comes across as giving a threat or challenging the child.  When these kids know what the consequence will be beforehand for a particular behavior, they commit a slight variation of the forbidden behavior so that they can say, “But you never said I couldn’t do it that way.”  We are then stuck between trying to be fair and trying to hold our kids accountable.  For example, when Jimmy hears what the consequence will be for hitting his brother, he may do a cost-benefit analysis and decide that the payoff outweighs the negative consequence.  He concludes that it would be worth it to go to his room for an hour if it means he gets to hit his brother on the way there.

So if these are the ways to destroy the effectiveness of consequences, how can we apply consequences effectively?  Love and Logic teaches the way to apply consequences effectively is to show forth empathy and sadness before applying consequences.   A good example of this happened the other night.  About ten minutes after I had put my little girl to bed she came out of her room and told me that she was hungry.  With a sad and soft voice I said something like, “Oh sweetheart, you didn’t finish your dinner and now you’re hungry.  Oh, I hate it when that happens to me.  But I’ll tell you what, tomorrow morning we will have a great breakfast for you.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Good night sweetheart.”

The effectiveness of consequences may be influenced by the temperament of a child, but more influential is the way parents apply the consequences.  If parents apply them with empathy and sadness for their child, parents are more likely to get better long-term results than if they use anger, threats, or frustration.

Thanks for reading.


Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW Child and Family Therapist Gilbert and Mesa ArizonaShiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona.  He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.

He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculumclasses for parents of children with ADHDstep-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents.  He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.

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