When children misbehave, the most common response is to give an immediate consequence. Even if that means taking away birthday parties, future play dates or video games for the rest of their lives, consequences are often thrown at children at rapid speeds in an effort to change their behavior. To these threats, children say, “I don’t care! Take it all away.”
Do they mean that? No. Of course not. Kids care a lot about their birthday parties and their play dates. They care about privileges but in the moment their emotions are in control and they “act” as if they don’t care. Therefore, dishing out greater consequences doesn’t improve behavior, it intensifies it. Children not only have to deal with their anger but also with the new information you’re throwing at them about losing privileges.
The general rule of thumb in parenting is that if you say something, you should stick to it. If you take away dessert, you should really take it away. If you say, “If you do that again, you’re not going to the birthday party,” you should stick to it. The problem is that when simple threats don’t work, parents will do anything to find something that will, which results in empty threats and broken promises.
A better approach is to delay consequences. If your child doesn’t behave, try to remove them from the situation at hand. Without verbal threats, try to get them away from the situation that is troubling. When they have regrouped, then give the consequence. Two hours later when they have moved on say, “The way you acted back there was not okay. You broke your sister’s toy. Tomorrow we will go to the store so you can buy her a new one with your own money.”
This consequence will be effective because #1: your child was calm enough to listen to the consequence and #2: the punishment fit the crime. You are teaching your child a life lesson: you break something, you pay for it.
At the end of the day, your child will actually learn from their behavior at a time when they are calm enough to take it in.