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Positive Discipline from A – Z (Part III)

Positive Discipline

Thank you for joining me today for Part III of Discipline 101, today’s segment Accountability & Consequences.  For many parents this tends to be the most difficult part of disciplining their child, in part because most children will resist any form of discipline resulting in elevated anxiety levels for all parties involved which typically leads to parents losing patience and sometimes their composure.  Today I will share “Tools of the trade” with you to help reduce any anxiety that you may feel regarding disciplinary procedures that work as well as how you can eliminate the battle that sometimes ensues.

Thus far in Discipline 101, we’ve learned about how to design an effective discipline plan that both you and your partner can agree upon to be used with your family (Part I).  We’ve focused on methods to discipline without the need to yell or raise your voice by simple behavior modification techniques being implemented into your daily discipline plan focusing on teaching your child to listen in order to encourage them to mind without losing yours (Part II).  Specifically, we addressed:

  • How to keep your cool when parenting and the importance of doing so at all times.
  • Practicing friendly action vs. bullying or intimidation techniques.
  • Win-Win negotiation and its effectiveness for both parent and child.
  • Positive Attention to promote respect and compliance from your child.
  • Using Verbal Discipline as a discipline tool and effective methods to use it.
  • Utilizing Non-Verbal Discipline techniques to elicit desired behavior(s).
  • Practicing positive reinforcement techniques and providing rewards for good behavior.
  • Focusing on listening to your children in order to get them to listen to you.
  • Positive discipline as a method of establishing respect for one another.

Today we will be focusing on Accountability and Consequences.  Teaching our children accountability is fundamental to a child’s growth and development.  It is necessary as it affects how they deal with persons of authority, relate to their siblings and associate with peers.  Without these fundamentals, children may transition into adulthood without understanding that they, too, must be accountable for their actions.

Often, people describe or believe that responsibility and accountability are interchangeable.  They are not. Personal responsibility is one’s ability to take care of oneself by means of, keeping healthy, managing ones emotions, keeping a sound mind, treating oneself and others with respect, and the capability to function within society without superior authoritative guidance.  Short and simple, it is ‘the power or ability to act appropriately. It is defined as a personal quality, not a burden imposed or qualification conferred from without.

Accountability, on the other hand, CANNOT be shared. We often hear the term “shared responsibility”, but there is no such thing as “shared accountability”. Some would call that term an oxymoron. One could define accountability as the “ultimate responsibility”.  Perhaps it would help to think of one of the quotes that former President Harry S. Truman said, “The Buck Stops Here”. It is probably the clearest and most well-known statement of accountability ever made, and it leaves no doubt in one’s mind as to where he ultimate responsibility lies.

Everyday life experiences provide the perfect setting for teaching children accountability and consequence as they relate to the decisions they make.  However, children will continue to avoid the responsibilities in which they’ve been assigned as long as earth rotates and will need to “step-up” and be accountable for their decisions, words, actions and lack thereof.  With accountability come consequences.  Or at least consequences should be enforced in an effort to teach accountability.  (For more on accountability, please review my article entitled, Teaching Children Accountability).  If you intend to teach your child how to function appropriately in society, you must enforce consequences whenever children lack responsible behaviors and demonstrate inappropriate or unacceptable attitudes and actions.

Let’s focus our attention to various forms of discipline that can be used in an effort to teach our children how to be accountable through suffering the consequences for their behavior.

As with personal hygiene, safe driving habits and skills, and responsibility, children must learn what consequences are and why we use them.  They must be taught just like each of the areas above.

Teaching Consequences:

There are two types of consequence:  Natural and logical.

  1. Natural consequences are consequences that result from a child’s own actions. For example, if your child throws his cell phone at the wall in a fit of rage breaking it, he should go without a cell phone until he is capable of replacing it himself.  Additionally, if any damage to the wall results from his poor choice, he should be held accountable and should be responsible for repairing the damage at his expense.  Natural consequences can be the most effective way of teaching children how to learn from the mistakes that they make as the end result is clearly linked to the child’s actions.  Your child will learn from natural consequences that he/she has no one else to blame but himself.
  2. Logical consequences are consequences that you (or you and your child collaboratively) come up with in an effort to teach your child an important lesson. Note:  Please see my article on Joint Problem-Solving as it mimics “How” collaborative consequences can be accomplished through working together to establish relevant consequences.  Logical consequences can be applied to pretty much ANY situation whereas natural consequences cannot.  Obviously a child who jumps on the bed after being repeatedly requested, asked, and reminded to stop would be difficult to allow the application of a natural consequence such as a large gash across his face because he wasn’t listening to of following your instructions to discontinue jumping.  In this case, a logical consequence is more realistic.  For example, making your child sleep on a sleeping bag on the floor vs. allowing him to use his bed which he believe is a trampoline will teach your child that you mean business.  Harsh, not really.  Effective….definitely!  Logical consequence must make sense to the child to be effective.  If your child has broken the window because he was tossing a ball near or inside the house, making him fold laundry offers very little “logic” in an effort to prevent him from throwing the ball and breaking a window or something else.

When choosing consequences to teach your child a lesson, whatever the lesson you are attempting to teach and/or reinforce, you must make certain that the consequence is relevant such as mentioned above.  Because, when the crime doesn’t fit the punishment children become confused and cannot connect the dots.  After all, remember the purpose of effective discipline is to teach your child, not simply to punish him/her.  There is the other extreme which is not holding children accountable for their actions and allowing them minimal consequence.  In order to avoid the pitfalls of both “ineffective discipline techniques” above we will review additional pitfalls that will result in “teachable moments” going to waste:

  • Attempt to expedite the consequence (punishment). If you allow too great a delay between the inappropriate action and/or behavior aka “the crime” before enforcing the consequence aka “the sentencing” you will lose the effectiveness and “teachable moment”.  Unless you are delaying punishment due to your level of anger which is warranted as you are more likely to make poor discipline decisions, you should exercise a speedy consequence.  Additionally, there are times when you are unable to discipline your child due to surroundings which may embarrass your child therefore resulting in your need to postpone the consequence.  Make certain, should this be the case that you let you quietly let your child know that he/she will be punished but that you will deal with the situation in a more private setting such as your return home.  REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THROUGH!!!
  • Selecting overly lenient consequences. If your consequence is something that your child can live with, again, he/she may likely commit the same offence.  Children will weigh the cost of punishment against the reward (offence) and decide if the punishment is worth it.  Make certain that you utilize the “teachable moment” to make a difference in your child’s future decisions with the lesson being deterring him/her from a future recurrence of the behavior in question.
  • Implementing punishment that is overly strict. This one typically occurs when parents “react” instead of responding to the offence the child has committed.  It is a frequent result of “anger” leading the way.  This type of punishment categorized as “over the top” is one that makes teaching a lesson less effective than by choosing “logical” consequences.  Parents should remember the ultimate goal of disciplining their children is to teach them to make better choices.  If you are incapable of “calming yourself” in an effort to effectively determine a logical consequence it is alright to express your need to evaluate the situation more clearly in order to make a better discipline decision.
  • Choosing humiliating consequences. Child experts agree that is imperative that you avoid discipline techniques that are designed to embarrass, humiliate or degrade your child and this doesn’t imply that it must be in front of others to create the end result.  Children may comply with your ineffective disciplinary effects at first, but as they grow and mature your tactics will be clearly seen as unfair and cruel by your child.  Often this type of discipline can lead to feelings of resentment and typically erodes the bond between parent and child.  It is not uncommon for a child that experiences this type of discipline to attempt to “get even” with the parent resulting in repeated episodes of misbehavior.
  • Choosing unenforceable punishments. Choosing discipline that is too difficult to enforce, or is unenforceable, is pretty much ineffective.  For example, your teenager uses the family car and fails to put gas in the tank returning it home with not enough to make it to the gas station on your way to work.  Consequently, you run out of gas.  Your discipline:  you tell your teenager that he may not use the family car for two weeks and that he’ll have to walk to martial arts.  Problem:  you live twelve miles from the facility in which your son has lessons.  Bigger Problem:  you either punish yourself by becoming responsible for “driving” him to lessons and waiting until they are completed in order to “drive” him home; or he misses his lessons for two weeks which does not make good use of the dollar spent paying for the lessons; your son catches a ride with a buddy which isn’t something you consider safe.  This is an unenforceable punishment.
  • Choosing punishments that punish everyone. Disciplining your child who is behaving rudely and disrespectful in the car on your way to the movies with the entire family by turning the car around and heading home is disciplining others who have not been disobedient, disrespectful or rude.  What lesson are you teaching?
  • Long-lasting punishment. Sometimes parents “react” by putting the cart before the horse when it comes to assigning discipline.  For example, taking away privileges such as cell phones, computers, gaming systems, AND watching television for an entire month vs. taking away one privilege at a time for less time.  Grounding your child until he’s 20 may sound like a brilliant idea, but is it effective?  Let’s find out.
  • If you take EVERYTHING that your child enjoys away at one time, what do you have left should the punishment be ineffective? What you’ve done is exhaust your “privilege bank” and have no other valuable tool in which to utilize.  By taking away privileges one pea at a time – and one day at a time instead of a month at a time, you’ve turned that one-month chunk of time into 30 separate things you can take away.
  • Grounding or punishing your child for extended periods of time leads to rebellion making the consequence counterproductive. Extended consequences often lead to your child feeling hopeless in that he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to behave long enough to have his privileges reinstated.  When a child loses all hope, he/she also loses the incentive to behave.  This situation often results in major battles between parent and child.

We’ve just addressed “pitfalls” that can easily destroy effective discipline techniques.  Teaching children how to learn from their mistakes is more easily accomplished when parents are taught how to determine effective consequences.  There are many forms of discipline that parents have used throughout the ages.  Many result in the desired modification of behavior(s) in our children while others are simply ineffective and pointless.  Being able to determine what will work best is a key element in “teaching” our children right from wrong.  Obviously, the most important area to consider in choosing discipline tactics is the age of the child.  Discipline must be age appropriate if you have any desire for it to be effective.  Additionally, being able to choose discipline and/or consequences that are relevant to the child’s likes, dislikes, temperament and offence must be considered too.  Let’s review some discipline techniques that can be used at home, grandma’s house or at school.

Forms of Discipline:

Most parents, teachers and caregivers are familiar with “Time Out” as a form of discipline.  But, time out isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Obviously this is a form of discipline that must be age appropriate as telling your sixteen year old to go sit in the “no no” chair isn’t going to go over well.  Additionally, telling your 1 year old to sit in the chair and face the corner without moving, giggling and/or making a sound is like telling your husband “not” to snore.  It just isn’t going to happen without supervision (or a very thick pillow).  Time out should probably not begin until a child is 18 months of age and is less effective once a child is seven years old.  Using time out is forcing your child to remove him/herself from a particular situation so that he/she can reconsider his/her behavior.  For example, if your seven year old son is picking on his younger brother at the dinner table by making faces and he is instructed to go to timeout for five to seven minutes, he’ll probably return to the table with a new mindset and his energies no longer focused on his younger sibling but on eating the food upon his plate….which is probably cold by now (natural consequence).  You’ve just utilized timeout in an effective disciplinary manner.  To make timeout effective, let’s talk about things to consider:


  • Understanding Timeout. A child must understand why he/she is being sent to timeout in order for it to be effective as a form of discipline.  They must also be taught how timeout works.  Explaining why your child is being placed in timeout and what he/she is to do while in timeout is necessary for it to be meaningful to your child.  Simply shouting, “go to timeout” when your child is banging a spoon on the table isn’t going to get the point across and discourage him/her from repeating this behavior.  By explaining to your child that he/she is being sent to timeout because of the inappropriate behavior of banging his/her spoon on the table, your child will first understand his/her offence.  You will also need to direct your child to “think about what you should have been doing” – eating your soup, and how you will not repeat this behavior again.  You can also identify the hazards associated with the offence.   For example, “you could have accidentally hit your bowl with the spoon causing it to spill on you and that could burn you”.  Children need the entire picture painted in order for them to understand.  In time, they’ll be able to replicate this process without your assistance.
  • Choosing an Effective Timeout Location. Choosing a location that is “distraction free” is important so that your child can focus on his behavior instead of what his younger sibling is doing in the family room.  If your child is young, serving timeout in the same room with you might be necessary in order for you to observe and insure his/her safety.  If the child is older, another room in the house (not his/her bedroom) might be considered.  Why not his/her bedroom?  Timeout should not be served in a child’s bedroom as we do not want a child to associate “misbehavior” with going to his/her room.  A child’s bedroom is a space that a child should recognize as “his/her” special place and by associating it with a negative could prevent him/her from having a private place to escape when he/she needs time alone from others.  These days, timeout goes by a variety of names such as “naughty spot” or “timeout spot” and even “attitude adjustment area” which is what I referred to timeout within my classrooms.  Today parents can purchase “specialty rugs” that can be placed anywhere and which children are expected to sit within.  This could be a good alternative to a chair which a child may inadvertently flip over if behaving disobediently within.
  • A timer or clock should be utilized. This is a key element in utilizing timeout.  If you don’t have a timer or clock that can be used, get one because if you don’t the entire time your child is in timeout he/she will be asking you if their time is up.  Just like when traveling – are we there yet?  Instead of focusing on their violation, they’ll be violating their consequence by communicating with you.  Place the timing device where the child can clearly see how much time remains.  Additionally, it is always a good idea to have a device with a sounding alarm so that you don’t become side tracked leaving your 5 year old in timeout for twenty minutes.
  • Length of time matters. Timeout isn’t intended to be a life sentence.  It is only to provide your child enough time to think about their actions, review their decision to misbehave and come up with alternatives to their inappropriate behavior.  It is suggested that parents utilize 1 minute of timeout for every year of age.  Too much time in timeout can actually be counterproductive.
  • Timeout is your child’s problem – not yours. This can be especially difficult for parents to enforce but extremely necessary in order to have the desire impact and results.  For the child that refuses to serve his/her timeout, a clear statement must be made regarding the fact that everything the child enjoys will not exist until his/her time in timeout is finished.  For example, no television, music, conversations with friends that may call, and even participation in “practice”.  With the elimination of all things important to your child, including food & beverage, your child will be more inclined to serve his/her time.  Note:  As difficult as it might be for parents, hugging or coddling a child who has been sent to time out is a “no no” as it may encourage your child to repeat the offence in order to get this type of attention.  I’ll address a more appropriate time for hugs & kisses below.
  • Allowing time to be postponed. Sometimes we cannot enforce a timeout when the misbehavior occurs such as in the morning when your child is on his/her way to school.  You need to let your child know of the consequence and that immediately upon return from school he/she will serve the required timeout.  If you typically provide a snack upon your child’s return from school, this too, will need to be postponed until his/her timeout is complete.
  • Silence is golden. When your child is serving a timeout and he/she insists on talking, yelling, crying, antagonizing a sibling or you, and perhaps kicking the chair you’ll need to maintain your silence and reset the timeout clock.  This may go on several times before your child realizes that you aren’t playing games and that he’ll/she’ll have to conform to the rules of timeout.

Observation is necessary.  After a child serves timeout it is sometimes necessary to closely monitor his/her actions in order to allow you the opportunity to praise him/her for improved behavior.  If, however, the misbehavior continues, you’ll probably want to “teach” your child more appropriate behavior(s) to avoid him/her getting back into trouble for the same offence.  When I was teaching and my children were of the age that timeout was appropriate, prior to releasing them from timeout they were required to 1) apologize for their inappropriate behavior; 2) identify the inappropriate behavior or actions; 3) explain to me how they were going to modify this behavior in the future to insure that they wouldn’t commit the same offence.  This technique reduced nearly 95% of repetitive behavior both at home and in my classroom.  Upon releasing a child from time out, I always provided words of encouragement and a hug to let the child know that even though his/her behavior may have been inappropriate and/or “bad” he/she was not and I still loved them.  Sidebar:  I will be addressing “how children should be taught to apologize” in another article next week.

  • Timeout when away from home. Children choose some of the worst times to act out requiring us to enforce timeout.  Some children behave inappropriately while you’re in the grocery or other type of store; some will wait until you’re in the dressing room in the clothing store; and some will challenge you while driving down the highway.  They know exactly when to ruffle our feathers knowing that we’re somewhat defenseless.  If this happens to you, you’ll need to have a plan.  For example, suppose you’re in a restaurant and your child begins to misbehave thinking that punishment isn’t possible.  You need to make it a point to enforce timeout to prevent this type of behavior from occurring again.  Ask the waiter if you can utilize an empty table for timeout, I’m sure they’ll agree as your child’s behavior is likely disturbing other customers and they’d all like it to stop.  If, however, you are unable to enforce timeout where you are, explain to your child that it will be served upon arrival at your destination.
  • Overusing timeout. Over-utilizing timeout results in its ineffectiveness.  It should be used sparingly and perhaps for a few specific situations such as those taking place in the presence of other people. An example of a good time to use a timeout would be when a child that is acting out during a playgroup or on the playground.  Removing the child from the desired environment where he/she can no longer participate will have a stronger impact than placing a child in timeout for dumping his/her glass of milk on the floor.  A natural or logical consequence would probably be more effective in correcting this type of misbehavior.

If you elect to use timeout as a form of discipline you will undoubtedly experience the child who refuses to remain in timeout. In this event should it continue for an extended period of time, perhaps utilizing another form of discipline would be more suitable.  Removal of a privilege, going to bed earlier than usual in an effort to get adequate sleep so that he/she may have a better attitude and make better decisions the following day, etc…would be a form of a logical consequence.  Time out will eventually prove ineffective and you may choose alternatives to time out. Obviously, there will be children who do not respond positively to time out as a form of discipline.  When this occurs, you’ll want to have a “back up” plan established, ready and waiting

Alternatives to Time out:

  • Taking away privileges. Most parents consider privileges something that a child is allowed to do that otherwise he/she would not. For example, in the case of a teenager, using the family vehicle can be considered a privilege which makes taking it away an excellent form of discipline or as a consequence in an effort to teach responsibility and accountability or in an effort to modify a behavior or eliminate a behavior.  For others, a privilege such as use of a cell phone, television viewing privileges and/or access to a computer or video games might be viable for obtaining the desired behavioral goal.  As with any consequence, the more logical the consequence the more effective it will be in eliciting the desired behavior.  Such would be the case of a parent overhearing his/her child using profanity while talking on his/her cell phone to a friend.  Obviously this behavior is inappropriate and offensive and should be handled in a manner that will get the point across.  A logical consequence would be taking away his/her phone privileges (and phone) for a couple of days in an effort to “clean up” his/her vocabulary.  This is not to say that the punishment MUST relate to the particular crime but that you will get more bang for your buck when the punishment fits the crime.
  • Eliminating opportunities for social engagements aka “Grounding”. This is typically a better form of discipline and consequence for older children that have opportunities to engage socially with their friends after school and on weekends, although it is effective for preteens as well.  Preventing your child from participating in a swim party, or going to the movies with friends makes a statement that your child’s behavior, attitude and perhaps grades will have to improve before they will be awarded an opportunity to socialize other than during school hours (which is obviously not the best time and could be the reason for their situation in the first place).  This is a great motivator for “getting one’s act together” and was used effectively with me in order to motivate me to earn a better mathematics grade when I was in high school.  Cruel – it will seem like the end of the world to your teenager that cannot attend the school dance because she didn’t make curfew two times in one month.  Guess what, she’ll think twice about being late again.
  • Spanking as Discipline. Obviously this is a form of discipline that is very controversial and one that I’m neither suggesting nor denying be used as a disciplinary tool.  I’m simply going to address it as I know some families utilize this form of punishment in their homes.  A swat on the bottom to obtain the awareness of your child that is running toward the street unaware of the cars passing by or to the hand of a child reaching toward the lighted burner of the stove may be considered an appropriate form of discipline in an effort to prevent injury and keep your child out of harm’s way.  The ultimate goal of discipline and teaching consequences is to “TEACH” your child to make better choices NOT to instill fear.  We want children to respect us – NOT be afraid of us.  If you choose to use spanking as a form of discipline, let me share a few statistics with you so that you are aware of the ramifications.  A)  Research suggests that children who are spanked regularly as a form of punishment are less trusting of their parents and feel less of an emotional bond with them; B) The more frequent and/or severe the spanking, the less connected a child tends to feel to others; C) Spanking has been associated with a lowering a child’s self-esteem as he/she may begin to see themselves as unworthy.  D)  Spanking has a tendency to send mixed messages to the child in that parents that spank their children for hitting others is illogical to the child suffering the spanking.  They will question why they are being “hit” for “hitting” someone else.  E)  Parents that choose physical force to get their child to do something that is required or desired teaches children that aggression is the way to get what they want.
  • Positive Reinforcement & Rewards. When teaching children right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate and acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors using a positive approach in the form of rewarding the positives instead of always punishing the negatives is an excellent way to encourage desired behaviors.  Incentives are very powerful tools when attempting to modify child behaviors.  This is true for young children and adults too.  Positive vs. a less punitive approach will help your children learn to address their behavior without tearing them down and possibly having a negative impact on their sense of self.

Positive discipline includes everything from establishing rules and expectations for your children to follow and/or meet, emphasizing listening skills on both your part

and that of your child, and choosing consequences that will provide teaching opportunities vs. intimidating your child into submission.  Consequences are vital to teaching your child accountability and inducing responsible behaviors.  If administered correctly, your child will immediately benefit and begin modifying the behaviors needing to be changed.  If, however, your punishment(s) don’t provide the learning opportunities that you’re hoping will be reflected in your child’s future decisions and actions, you may need to re-evaluate the consequences you have in place.

This concludes Part III of Positive Discipline from A to Z.  Please join me next week for Part IV of my six-part series when we’ll isolate specific types of inappropriate behaviors and identify methods of effectively altering them in a positive manner.

All Rights Reserved.  Use of any part of this article without prior written consent of the author, Randa Roberts, is an infringement of the Copyright Law.  Permission to print, republish, reference or use any portion of this article must be granted in writing by the author.

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