Beyond Punishment: How To Teach Responsibility

Last month we explained why punishment is ineffective in building character, creating responsibility and encouraging growth.  This month we will discuss two more helpful tools for teaching children to learn from their mistakes and make helpful changes: consequences and a solution-focused approach. 

First, it helps to understand that contrary to popular belief, consequences are NOT punishments.

Punishments are done by the parents to the child, they focus on past behavior, create fear and resentment and damage a child’s feelings of worth.

They are often delivered in anger and lead to an erosion in the parent-child relationship.

Remember, it is your relationship with your child that determines how effective your discipline is.

Consequences are either natural (e.g., if you don’t wear a jacket, you get cold) or are logical.

Logical consequences are designed by the parent to teach children responsibility for their actions (e.g. you forget to put your clothes in the hamper, they don’t get washed).

Consequences are delivered respectfully, are reasonable and are related to the problem.

It is the child’s responsibility to honor the rules and agreements of the family, not the parent’s job to control and manipulate to get what they want.

Another even more positive approach is to focus on solutions instead of on the problems (e.g. how can you remember to put your clothes in the hamper?)

This can be even more effective than the traditional consequences when used properly.

These are some thoughts of a child who is solution-focused or experiences a consequence:

“Uh-oh. That didn’t work out too good for me.

“What should I do now? I don’t want that to happen again.

“Is there anything I need to do to make things right? Well, mistakes are for learning and I learned a few things.

“My relationship with my dad is important and I want him to trust me.

“I am capable of coming up with solutions to my problems. I can ask for help if I need it.”

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Which approach would you prefer?