Discipline and Consequences for Bad Choices

By Kathryn Rateliff Barr
Affirm that negative consequences can be painful, but don't negate the consequences.
Affirm that negative consequences can be painful, but don't negate the consequences.

Children learn best through real life experiences, which can sometimes include facing the consequences of bad choices, according to psychologist Roger B. Allen, author of “Common Sense Discipline.” The pain caused by dealing with the consequences of a bad choice can feel worse than any punishment you determine. Teach your child that mistakes occur and that he can learn from them to help him make better choices the next time.

Forms of Discipline

Discipline is instruction that teaches appropriate behavior and skills. Discipline can occur through experiencing the consequences of choice, following a role model, trying new skills, asking questions and punishment, according to Allen. Allow your child to learn from every form of discipline. Give your child a model she can follow. Allow her to try out various methods of completing a task until she finds the way that works best for her. Answer her questions and provide feedback on how she is doing and allow logical consequences and punishment to deter her from making poor choices.

Setting Boundaries

As a parent, you must set boundaries for your child’s behavior. The rules evolve as your child ages and matures. With a young child, there are fewer rules and decisions. You might start with telling your child he must obey you or that he must treat others kindly. As he learns to obey the simple rules, you can add new rules to the list. You can itemize rewards and consequences with the rules so your child is clear how his choices affect him. When setting boundaries, realize that you cannot control your child’s behavior, but you can control your behavior and the guidance your provide your child, advises therapist and coach, Debbie Pincus, on the Empowering Parents website. Once your child understands the rules, it’s his choice whether to obey or not.

Logical Consequences

Provide logical consequences when your child doesn’t obey the rules, such as having to earn back toys when you pick up her toys because she refused to do so. Logical consequences work because they are directly related to the choice your child makes. When you rescue your child from logical consequences, it short-circuits your efforts to teach your child appropriate behavior, according to Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D., author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Positive Discipline.” Tell your teen that she can’t use the family car if she doesn’t keep her insurance paid and return the car with gas in the tank.

Real-Life Lessons

As a parent, you know there are consequences for bad choices. Your child can learn to make fewer bad choices when the lessons are easy and relatively benign or learn them later as an adult when the cost is much higher. Remind your child that his choices -- not yours -- determine his consequences to reap the best training results. Consistently follow through with the pre-determined consequences as quickly as possible to get the most effective response, advises the Family Education website in a publication entitled “How to Use Consequences.”

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.