Parenting | Ten Ways to Use ‘Consequences’ in Parenting

choiceWe all experience the consequences of our behaviours everyday in both positive and negative ways.

When parenting, consequences are used to support children to learn to make the right choices, the choices that will lead them to more positive responses. At times parents can forget this and start to use consequences in their parenting as punishment with little learning.

Consequences, if used well, will support a child’s learning and help them become responsible adults, making good choices most of the time, none of us are perfect!

These following tips may support you to implement consequences wisely:

  1. Never put a negative consequence in place for your child’s behaviour until you have ensured all the positive parenting behaviours are in place. These consist of praise and encouragement; positive language; assertive listening; clear and direct communication; positive reward focusing on what the child is doing well more so than on what the child is not achieving. If you feel you have mastered all these techniques and put them into practice every day then you can explore consequences as the next step to take.
  2. The greatest mistake parents make when using consequences is that they make them too big. They often cannot follow through on them. This tells you the consequence was not planned so therefore was not effective.
  3. All consequences must be planned. Children must be told in advance of the behaviour that is not acceptable and that when they choose to behave in such a way there will be a consequence. Talk with your child about what the fair consequence will be, Agree on it with them.
  4. Children have to choose and not be forced out of fear to make the right choice. When children do make good choices in their behaviour it is crucial to praise them for that. Never miss praise worthy action, they are small and meaningful at the time.
  5. Never shift the boundaries of what is agreed. If you decide on the spur of the moment on a new harsher consequence then you have lost the battle immediately and what your child will learn is that adults are dishonest and do not follow through. If your child feels they are being treated unfairly then they will not choose to behave, they will most likely choose to act in such a way as to let you know how unfairly they feel treated.
  6. Choose reasonably small consequences to start with. Take away an activity from your child such as their favourite toy for one hour- if you start with the biggest consequence then you have no room to move. Firstly remove one small but meaningful privilege and then if your child continues to choose to misbehave then remove another.
  7. Do not be ruled by your mood. Parents can often let go of behaviours when they are in good form and implement harsh consequences when in poor form. Really this is not teaching children anything other than adults have power and can use in whatever way they choose. This is not the message you wish to send to your child. If you over punish then you need to step back, apologise to your child and start over with them. Sit your child down and tell them what the issue is. Hear from your child what the challenge is for them. Then make and agree a plan.
  8. For children under three years of age it is much more appropriate to ensure you are parenting with positive rewards. Young children will not understand the consequences and will most likely just be left feeling hurt and scared. Children have to be old enough to reason with.
  9. Put consequences in place for you as a parent also. We are our children’s most effective role model. If you are not modelling the correct behaviours then talk with your child about this also. No double standards for parenting. You also need to choose how to behave. Often when we parent we misbehave in ways we never would in the work place. Give your children some power to help you recognise the negative choices you make and tell them what you are going to do about it.
  10. Team work is what families are about. Talk with each other, understand each other’s needs and work together to formulate new plans and new ways to live and learn from each other.

This ’10 Ways to’ article is by One Family’s Director of Children & Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, as part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips. You can read the full series here.

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Find out more about our parenting skills programmes and parent supports. For support and information on these or any related topics, call askonefamily on lo-call 1890 66 22 12 or email