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Discipline Kids with Positive and Negative Consequences

Increase Good Behaviors and Decrease Negative Behaviors


Young boy sulking in corner
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The consequences kids receive for their behaviors determines how likely they are to repeat that behavior. This is true for both positive and negative behaviors. Offering positive consequences for good behaviors will encourage children to continue exhibiting that behavior. Providing negative consequences for misbehaviors will discourage your child from repeating that behavior again.

How Consequences Work

Consequences provide motivation, even for adults. For example, you most likely go to work because you want to receive a positive consequence in the form of a paycheck. And you most likely try not to speed while you are driving because you want to avoid the negative consequence of getting a speeding ticket. Parents can use consequences to help motivate their children to behave.

Making Consequences More Effective

One of the keys to making consequences effective is that they must be consistent. If you only send your child to time out half the time when he hits his brother, he may decide it is worth the risk to hit his brother again. However, if he knows each aggressive behavior always results in a time out, he will likely stop hitting his brother to avoid the consequence.

Consequences also work best when they are immediate. This is why saying, “Just wait until your father gets home” isn’t likely to discourage misbehaviors in the meantime. Children do best when they receive immediate feedback for their positive and negative behaviors. Consequences should be used to discipline your child without shaming. This is what differentiates a consequence from a punishment.

This is true for positive behaviors as well. If kids have to wait two weeks to earn a reward, it may not reinforce good behaviors today. Offering an immediate positive consequence will increase the chances the child will repeat that behavior.

Read More: 6 Ways to Make Consequences More Effective

Positive Consequences

Positive consequences are the ones that reinforce good behaviors. It’s important to take a look at how you respond to your child when your child is behaving. For example, what do you do when your child follows directions? The response you give determines how likely it is for your child to follow directions the next time you ask.

Unfortunately, good behaviors often go unnoticed when there aren’t any positive consequences. Your child doesn’t need a reward every time he does what he is supposed to, however some positive reinforcement can encourage the behavior to continue.

Examples of Positive Consequences

Positive consequences come in many forms. Attention is one of the biggest reinforcers. Simply giving your child attention during good behaviors can encourage your child to do it again.

Praise is another great positive consequence. Saying, “Thank you for putting your dish in the sink as soon as you got up from the table,” will encourage your child to do it again next time. Showing your child you notice those good behaviors and providing some praise can be an excellent motivator.

Other positive consequences can include rewards. Rewards might include things like earning a new toy, but rewards don’t always have to cost money. Free rewards can include things like earning a chance to play a game with Mom, staying up 15 minutes later, or a trip to the park. Some children respond well to token economy systems that allow them to earn frequent reinforcement in the form of tokens that can later be cashed in for rewards.

Make Sure Negative Behaviors Result in Negative Consequences

Negative consequences need to be given to discourage negative behaviors. However, many children inadvertently receive a lot of attention for negative behaviors, which can be reinforcing. For example, a child who is a picky eater may receive a lot of parental attention as his parents frequently point out his eating habits, ask him repeatedly to eat, and beg him to eat “just one more bite.” These types of behaviors may encourage him to continue with his picky eating habits. So beware of the attention you give to children and consider ignoring mild misbehavior as a negative consequence.

Examples of Negative Consequences

Negative consequences can include anything that would discourage your child from exhibiting the behavior again. Consequences should be age appropriate and may be specific to your child’s personality and activities. For example, a child who loves to play video games may respond well if video game privileges are lost for the evening due to not following directions. Sometimes it makes sense to offer natural consequences or logical consequences, depending on the behavior and your child’s needs.

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