The value and importance of ngā hua me ngā hapa, consistency and consequences, and how to put them into practice.
Consequences and consistency
Te mahi pone – ngā hua me ngā hapa – consequences and consistency
The Six Principles of Effective Discipline – A resource for whānau supporters – Module Three.
Being consistent in your interactions with children is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. To be consistent, your words and actions need to match.
For example, if you shout at a child when telling them not to shout, you are giving inconsistent messages. The child gets a mixed message and does not learn the lesson you are trying to teach. Children learn by watching your behaviour and listening to what you say – and comparing the two.
Children also learn from watching how we adults behave towards each other. If we are caring and gentle, children are able to watch and learn how to be caring and gentle. If we yell and hit each other, children will copy.
Children see through the 'do as I say not as I do' approach pretty quickly. We cannot teach our children how to behave by doing the opposite ourselves.
This poem expresses the results of not walking our talk.
How a Child Learns
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, she learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, she learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, she learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, she learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, she learns to like herself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world.
© Dorothy Law Nolte, 1972
Children also learn from finding out the results or consequences of their behaviour. For example, young children will repeatedly turn a light switch off and on (if given a chance to!) and eventually they realise that the light switch controls the light. Likewise, they learn that touching something hot can burn them. The good news is that if we wish to be truly effective at teaching or correcting our children about our values, beliefs and expectations – whilst avoiding shame or pain – we can.
Consequences are the things that happen as a result of something. In the context of discipline, they’re most often the results of a child’s misbehaviour. Natural consequences are those that follow on naturally from a behaviour, for example, the natural consequence of running out onto the street may be getting hit by a car. Logical consequences are those that follow according to reason or logic, for example, running out onto the street may result in being kept inside for a period of time.
The 3 Rs
To use consequences as a tool to change behaviour, they should be:
- related: there should be a close connection between the behaviour we want to change and the consequences we use. The connection may be direct or indirect.
- reasonable: the consequences should not impose unfair hardship or expectations on the child.
- respectful: the consequences should respect the child’s rights and dignity. Children should never feel humiliated or powerless as a result of our actions.
The following story illustrates the use of consequences to change a child’s behaviour.
Max loved Rocky, the family dog, but he suddenly started hitting him. Max’s mum was nervous that the dog, even though it was an old family pet, would bite Max. She kept telling him not to hit him, but Max kept doing it. Max’s mum put Rocky outside, where he stood at the sliding door looking in at Max with a sad dog expression. Max kept asking if Rocky could come back in, but his mum said no because Max kept hitting him. The next day, Rocky was allowed inside and Max didn’t hit him. He got a big hug from his mum – so he gave Rocky a big hug too.
The consequence was directly related: the dog was put outside when Max hit him.
His mother’s actions were reasonable: Max and the dog were safe.
The consequence was respectful: the mother respected Max’s ability to take responsibility for his own actions.
The use of logical consequences like having children clean up their own messes, or natural consequences like children being late for school when they don’t get up in time, can be effective and help children to develop responsibility.
What are natural consequences?
It’s not always obvious what the natural consequence of a behaviour might be. A good test is to ask yourself “What would happen if I did nothing?” In Max’s case, the natural consequence of Max hitting the dog could have been that the dog bit him.
As adults, we can find many examples of natural consequences. For example, the natural consequences of not putting our rubbish out on the right day is that our rubbish stays around for another week. If we let the dishes stack up for days and days, we run out of plates. If we keep driving when the petrol gauge is on empty, the car will stop. Unfortunately, there are some we don’t heed, for example, some of us smoke even though we know the natural consequence is likely to be serious illness. Sometimes, the natural consequences for children may be dangerous, and we have to intervene. However, if there is no serious safety issue involved, natural consequences are almost always effective.
What are logical consequences?
Logical consequences often involve some form of rule that has been imposed by those in charge. For young children, this means parents and other caregivers, early childhood centre staff, teachers and perhaps people in the community such as shopkeepers, the local librarian or the swimming pool attendant. The consequence may be indirectly related (but consistent) and should always be reasonable and respectful.
There’s a fine line between a logical consequence and a punishment: the trick is to make sure the child knows what the consequence for unwanted behaviour will be, then to apply the consequence calmly and neutrally. As adults, we experience logical consequences all the time, and many involve official laws and rules.
Examples of consequences
Here are some behaviours followed by possible natural and logical consequences for children. Some natural consequences are dangerous – don’t use them!
Child always puts their shoes on the wrong feet.
- Natural: They’ll get sore feet. They may be laughed at.
Child takes longer and longer to get ready to leave the house for creche.
- Natural: They're late and miss out on fun.
Child won’t get dressed without a lot of help and coaxing.
- Natural: They have to go to kindergarten in their pyjamas.
Child persists in ripping a book.
- Natural: Book destroyed – doesn’t have it any more.
- Logical: You put the book away.
Child dive bombs others in the pool.
- Natural: Dangerous: don’t do it! Other children are hurt.
- Logical: Attendant bars the child from the pool for a week.
Child refuses to put away their toys when they've finished playing with them.
- Natural: Toys get into a big mess. They can’t find ones they want.
- Logical: The child may not get out a new toy until the used ones have been put away.
Children fighting in the car.
- Natural: Dangerous: don’t do it! Distracted parent will have a crash.
- Logical: Parent pulls over, stops the car, tells the children they’re not going anywhere while they fight, and waits calmly till order is restored.
“If logical consequences are used as a threat or imposed in anger, they cease being consequences and become punishment. Children are quick to discern the difference. They respond to logical consequences; they fight back when punished.”
Rudolf Dreikurs, 1964
Using the 3 Rs
If we keep the 3 Rs in mind and ensure that we are not using consequences to impose our will, we will ultimately be successful in guiding our children to take responsibility for their behaviour. If we only manage 1 or 2 of the 3 Rs, then it is likely we will not experience success in getting our children to learn the desired lesson.
Think about this question:
“When you're handling children’s misbehaviour, what are the ideal outcomes that you would like to achieve?”
Typical replies may include:
- I want them to learn to behave differently.
- I want them to take responsibility and make amends.
- I want them to become more responsible.
They might also include:
- I want our relationship to still be in good condition afterwards.
- I want them to change their behaviour but still feel good about themselves.
Now, in the house that you grew up in, were the words discipline and punishment used differently from each other? For some people, the answer is “Yes” and for others it is “No”.
Over the years, these words have often had their meanings blended together. However, pick up a dictionary and you will find that they are very different. Take a look:
Discipline: “to follow and learn”
Punishment: “to suffer for an offence” or “to subject to severe penalty”
Hmmm . . . It appears that discipline fits with our ideal outcomes and punishment does not! The trouble is that, often, much of the parenting toolkit that we have inherited has included many ideas on punishment and very few on discipline.
Many people believe that a child won’t learn the lessons of life unless there’s a bit of suffering to make it stick. This is simply not true! A child may well remember the pain or suffering inflicted and avoid behaving that way again, but their behaviour is motivated by fear, not by a growing sense of responsibility. Affection and respect do not imply a lack of firmness.