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Steps for Using Consequences to Stop Misbehavior

Step 3: Give a consequence

Girl laughing while sitting on dad's shoulders in winter

Once a warning is given, you must always follow-through with a positive or negative consequence. Give a positive consequence if your child did what you asked. This lets her know you like the choice she made. Positive consequences include praise, hugs, pats on the back, or other things. Give a negative consequence if your child didn’t do what you asked.  This lets her know you do not like the choice she made. Ignoring, distraction, time-out, and delay or restriction of privileges are examples of negative consequences. It is a good idea to try ignoring or distracting your child as potential consequences. If these do not work or are not possible, think about the common sense consequences related to the misbehavior.

Ignoring

When you ignore, you take all your attention away from your child and her behavior. Ignoring usually helps stop behaviors that your child is using to get your attention. This includes behaviors like throwing tantrums, whining, and interrupting. When you are ignoring, you do not look at your child or talk to her. Ignore all protests or excuses to get your attention. Click here to learn more about when and how to ignore. The general rule is that you ignore the behavior until it stops. Sometimes this is a long time. You may feel like it will not stop the behavior. But, if your child is trying to get your attention and you continue ignoring, the behavior will eventually stop. Once you have ignored the misbehavior, you can redirect your child’s attention to something else.

Distraction

Distracting your child can also be helpful for managing and preventing misbehaviors. When children are distracted, their attention is redirected to something else. If their attention is on something else, they cannot continue misbehaving. Distraction is easier to use when you plan in advance how you will handle situations that may be hard for your child. For instance, if your child misbehaves when you go out to dinner or on long car trips, bring crayons and paper or small games that can help distract your child.  You can also use games like “I spy” to help change your child’s attention to a positive activity for the two of you.

Delay of a privilege and logical (or common sense) consequences

Delaying a privilege means that your child has to wait to get something she likes. When you remove privileges, you take away things or activities your child likes. For young children, the privileges you remove need to be logically related to the misbehavior. This is called logical or common sense consequences. As an example, you might take away a toy your children are fighting over.

Time-out

Time-out takes your child from where the misbehavior is happening. Time-out moves your child to a place free of anything or anyone that might provide attention. Click here for more information about time-out and how to do a time-out. Time-outs should be used immediately for misbehaviors. You can use time-outs for not following directions and breaking household rules. Time-outs may also help when your child is doing things that are destructive or dangerous.

Remember that young children have short attention spans. It is the responsibility of parents to make sure a child understands what she did wrong. The consequence should not be excessive. For example, the consequence for throwing a toy could be taking the toy away for a day or part of the day. It may be too much to remove the toy for an entire week. When the child gets the toy back, she will likely have forgotten why it was taken away in the first place. Also, taking away the toy for a week limits your child’s chance to show she can play with her toys the correct way. You will not be able to praise and reward good behaviors if there isn’t an opportunity.

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