Reality….And The First Rule Of Effective Consequences


One of the questions often sent to me concerns choosing the right consequence for a particular problem.  In one sense, if we only focus on consequences, we will miss the boat.  In other words, choosing the right consequence is important, but only if we have honored other critically important aspects of our parenting (more on these in the upcoming weeks).

For today, let’s discuss how to approach consequences, so that the decisions are not so complex.

Terrific Parenting Begins With Reality Based Perspectives.

As we approach consequences, we tend to make the issue significantly more complicated than it need be.  One way to simplify our struggle over consequences is by becoming more ‘reality based.’  When we honor reality, and we honor the rules of reality (life} and this points us to a simpler view of things.  It also helps to direct our parenting because it gets rid of the false stories or lies that we have in our head.  It is these ‘lies’ that really get in the way of our inherent good judgment.  What are some of these stories that cause problems?

  • We’re told to over-protect our children, because they are not capable of handling disappointment or frustration (lie).
  • We’re told that our children are fragile and can be easily ‘broken’ and therefore we treat them with as if they were going to ‘break’ (another well proven false story).
  • We’re told that we should listen to them, and therefore their opinions become the source of our judgments when choosing consequences (bad idea).
  • We’re told to talk to children when they aren’t following the rules, rather than have clear limits and consequences (set-up for failure).
  • We’re told that sometimes even reasonable consequences, if too upsetting, could harm our child (false).

These false lessons keep us away from the reality that allows us to be more reasonable and to trust our judgment.  If we set limits, there must be a consequence to maintain the limit (for most children).  With the consequence to enforce the limits, it just a threat.

Let me repeat:  WITHOUT a consequence to maintain the limits set by mom or dad…it’s just a threat.

And threats tend to have a short life of effectiveness.  Your children ‘get on to you’ and soon…you find yourself frustrated, upset and losing your cool.

First Rule of Effective Consequences:  NOW…Not Later.

Our brains learn from immediate feedback.  Thus, when it comes to consequences, the single most important rule is immediacy.

When we look at how the human brain is designed to learn, we see it’s strongly biased toward learning from the consequences of immediate choices.  If we make a choice, and there’s an immediate consequence, we get it.  We get it very quickly.  We get it without a lot of angst or anxiety.

If a consequence is to make a consistent and predictable difference, it needs to happen very soon after the behavior occurs.

Where do both children and adults struggle?  We struggle when consequences do not occur at the time of action.  When consequences are delayed, we as humans struggle.  This is true for children.  This is true for adolescents.  This is true for adults.  This never changes.

Therefore, terrific parenting argues that we understand this law, and use it in our parenting.  While not always possible, we want to tilt our home environment to make certain that consequences occur quickly and predictably… so that the learning occurs quickly and predictably.  This eliminate the struggle about when a consequence should occur.  If a consequence is to be effective, (generally) it needs to be immediate.  Delayed consequences have a very weak overall impact.

Next time, we will discuss how to create a highly predictable set of consequences, which removes your ‘in the moment’ decisions.  Until then, email me with questions at ParentingHelp@TerrificParenting.com.