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How to Create Effective Consequences for Your Adolescent’s Choices

Natural or contrived, consequences are difficult for all parents. Whether it’s to identify what the consequence should be or implementing the consequence, it often can feel overwhelming and really just be an undesirable experience.

It makes sense, as when we feel a consequence in our own adult lives we are usually eager to move through it. However, an essential part of parenting is to help our children understand that there are consequences to decisions and actions.

Natural consequences are ideal as they allow for consequences to be relatable and timely. They even allow for the natural lesson of pointing out choice; if a different choice had been made, then one would not be dealing with this consequence.

However, the paradox of natural consequences is that oftentimes they are delayed or not impactful enough in the short term for adolescents to grasp and understand the long-term effects of certain actions. As adults with fully developed brains, we can see the bigger picture more easily than our children can.

This is not to say we shouldn’t allow for natural consequences, it’s just to say that in daily parenting, where consequences are often needed, natural ones can be limited in their effectiveness.

This leads to the world of parenting with contrived consequences which becomes even more complex. Contrived consequences are deliberately created and can often times feel forced, awkward and artificial.

This can be exhausting for parents and it makes sense that we would want to avoid engagements in life that feel forced, awkward and artificial. However, we have to put our own discomfort aside, so that we can teach our children the importance of decision making and accountability.

Here are some basic tools and approaches to help you create and implement effective consequences with a bit more ease.

1. Create a basketful of meaningful and impactful consequences

There is always the debate as to how relatable a consequence should be and that it should make sense and correspond to the actual infraction.

Solutions Parenting Support takes a slightly different approach.

Let’s take curfew, for example. If your child is late for curfew, and nothing terrible happened because of their lateness, but you still need to enforce rules within your household, then it works really well to utilize a contrived consequence around the curfew such as requiring that they adhere to an earlier curfew the next time they go out.

The impact of using consequences as a way to teach your child comes from relating the consequence with things that are important to your child. In adolescence, priorities tend to be: curfew, phone, gaming devices, cash, and car. If you use our approach, then you proactively create a basketful of consequences related to these priorities, so that you can easily pull from the basket and know that no matter which one you choose, it will pack a punch.

2. The art of delivering the consequence

Remember, your child does not have your adult brain. Your child’s brain is not fully developed, it doesn’t crossfire like your adult brain does and the child’s brain can get easily stuck on one side, usually the emotional side of their brain.

Bringing in your logical side of the brain too quickly will almost always limit your ability to connect with your child in a difficult moment and will absolutely limit your ability to redirect their behavior.  

It’s important for parents to recognize when your child is stuck in their emotional brain and have patience with them by connecting and supporting them emotionally first before delivering the consequence.

3.  Timing is everything

Timing with consequences falls into two areas, the timing of executing the consequence and the length of the time of the consequence. Not only can a child get stuck in their emotional brain but a parent can also get stuck in their emotional reactiveness.

It’s important to make sure that when implementing a consequence, you as the parent are in your rational, cognitive brain, which allows you to respond to the situation.

If your emotions are high, you will react and that will not serve anyone. Allow yourself the space to move through the emotion before implementing the consequence.

There is no magic time that says you have to implement the consequence within a certain time period for it to be impactful, the success is truly in the delivery.  The length of time of the consequence should be manageable for you as a parent as well as to give your child the opportunity to reflect on his behaviors.

The ultimate goal is that the consequence allows for your child to feel the impact for a period of time so that there is an opportunity to make a different decision the next time.

4. Take advantage of the teaching moment

The definition of discipline is to teach, so it’s important whenever you are implementing a consequence that you find a way to share what you would like your child to learn in the moment.

This can be as easy as saying, “You have lost your phone privileges for two days due to your disrespect and my hope is that next time you can find a better way to communicate your frustrations with me.”

Remember, consequences are not enjoyable for anyone so take the emotion out and put the intention in.

Take time in the next few days to create your basket of consequences, it’s a great starting point in finding ease as a parent in implementing consequences

Warmly,
Hilary Moses, Jen Murphy and
 Jen Rapp Sheridan
Solutions Parenting Support


If you are the parents of a child in long-term therapeutic treatment or a wilderness program or you’re a professional working with families who could benefit from our services, please feel free to contact us at (970) 871-1231 or head here for a detailed list of services provided.

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