Following Through With Consequences

by Marcie
two kids cleaning the outside of the refrigerator

I have often been asked how I follow through with consequences when I have so many children. To tell the truth, I have only had 2 children who I even need to give consequences to. My other children have been really respectful and obedient. They see the point in doing what I ask and just do it.

This post is for those who struggle to follow through with consequences or have children who see what they can get away with.

Avoid stating consequences as much as possible

My first advice for parents is to try not to state consequences at all. For example I’m not going around all day, “If you don’t pick up the books you have to sit on the stairs.” “Clear your table or you won’t get dessert.” “Stop bugging your sister or I’m taking away your toys.” 

Instead, affirm their actions and feelings and then make a request as nicely as you can.

For instance, if they’re asking to go outside and have just finished reading a huge pile of picture books I will say, “Playing outside is a great idea! It’s a beautiful day. Before you go out please clean up the books.” Or “Let’s look around and see what we can clean up so when we come back in, the living room will look nice.” Almost always they cooperate when phrased this way and I don’t have to give a command and consequence.

A few more examples

1.) Your child has just finished drawing a picture, shows it to you, and is about to walk away.
Say, “Oh I love your picture! It looks like you’re done drawing and wanting to play with blocks now. Please clean up the art supplies first. Do you need help or can you do it?”
Sometimes I add a logical reason like dinner is almost ready and I’m going to set the table soon (we do art on the table.)
Don’t say, “If you don’t clean up the art you can’t play with blocks”. Or “If you don’t clean up art we can’t eat dinner.” That just makes a child want to challenge you.

2.) Your child has grabbed a toy from another child.
In a very nice voice say, “You took the car that Eli is playing with. Please give it back to him. Let’s look for a car you can play with. Do you see one in this pile you’d like?” OR
“That jeep is really fancy and would be fun to play with. But Eli is still playing with it. Please give it back. I see a camper you can play with and pretend to go camping with Eli.”
Don’t say, “Did you take Eli’s car? You need to go to timeout.” or “If you take his toy again you can’t play anymore.”

3.) Child starts to walk away from game.
Say, “I see you don’t want to play the game anymore. Please come back and put it away.”

4.) Child is throwing the game pieces.
Say, “I see you don’t want to play the game anymore. It looks like you’re disappointed you lost. Please put the pieces in the box nicely.”

For the disobedient child who does need consequences for motivation

I reserve statements with consequences for the truly defiant child who won’t obey any other way. This is definitely the case for my 9th child right now.

HERE’S A QUICK STORY

This morning my 4 year old, Andy, wouldn’t clear his breakfast table so I said he wouldn’t be able to get the school lunch. [We were picking up school sack lunches (quarantine) and taking them to the park, which was a treat for my kids b/c we homeschool.] He just kept saying he didn’t have to clear and he was going to get the “school wunch.” I set the timer and nicely explained, “When the timer goes off and you still haven’t cleared, you won’t be able to get a school lunch. I know you can clear quickly if you choose to and I hope you do because you love the lunches but if you don’t you won’t. That’s the rule.” Andy didn’t clear so I had to follow through. He made his own lunch and brought it to the park and looked longingly at everyone else’s lunch. He pawned a few bites off his little sister and I felt bad for him but I knew I had done the right thing. Hopefully it’s the last time that will happen. 

7 children having a picnic on the grass
Picture of picnic where Andy, in blue/yellow coat didn’t get a school lunch but brought his own.

Stating the Consequence

Here’s my rule for stating the consequence: If a child ignores your request, try one more time. If he still doesn’t obey, then state the consequence.

Let’s use the first example above about kids going outside. First I’ve said, “Please clean up the books before going outside.” If Andy were to ignore me then I’d state my rule, “Books need to be picked up before you go outside.” Or, “You can’t go outside until all the books are put in the book basket.” If he were in one of his stubborn moods and said he didn’t want to or he would when he came back in, that’s when I would state consequences of, “If you don’t pick up the books, you can’t go outside.” He can refuse and scream and throw a fit but the rule stays the same: books have to be picked up before going to the next activity. I don’t address the screaming; that’s a secondary behavior. I stick with the primary behavioral problem we’re talking about: picking up the books. If he is getting worked up I walk away and act as cheerfully as I can. I go do my own thing, begin dinner prep or whatever, maybe whistle while I work to show his behavior is not ruffling my feathers. Usually he will see the discussion is over and he has to pick up the books. Occasionally he tries to make a run for it and I will gently catch him and take him to the books and encourage him to hurry so he still has time to play outside before dinner.

Another story of following through with the consequences

The other day I told the kids they could watch a show from 2:15-3 but their rooms had to be clean. This was the only time they’d watch a show as neighbors were coming at 3. At 2:15 I checked them and everyone had cleaned except Andy. I told him nicely because he hadn’t cleaned his room with Samuel, he couldn’t watch a show today so don’t come asking for one. And I went to my room to finish my quiet time. He yelled after me, “How mean of you!” which is his go-to phrase these days whenever I tell him his consequence. He finally cleaned sometime after 3 and asked to watch a show but I had to stick with what I’d said and told him it was past show time and it was now play time. I told him he could play with the neighbors or help me start dinner. His response was another, “How mean of you!” But I didn’t cave in.

The rest of the day went the same. He didn’t eat dinner so he didn’t get a cookie my daughter was making. He wouldn’t put his pajamas on by 8:00 so I told him he wouldn’t get a song at tuck-in. I can’t remember what else, but it was a day for testing the rules and seeing if I was going to hold to the consequences. He dawdled all day and refused to obey anything I said, just to see if what I said would happen really would. And then when he got the consequence I was “mean.” But I stuck with it and explained as nicely and as simply as I could. I told him everyone has to follow rules. I can’t run a red light and then yell at the policeman, “How mean of you!” when he gives me a ticket. Telling him everyone has to follow rules and get the consequences and explaining a few usually gets him to understand better but some days I feel like he still has a long way to go. 

The next day whaddya know? Anderson cleaned when I told him to, ate his food cheerfully (he’s always been my best eater actually, so I know it was just a battle of wills the day before), and generally tried to obey. I’m sure it won’t last because he’s always struggled with obedience–he just always thinks he’s right and can disobey and still get what everyone else is getting–but this boy has taught me the importance of following through with consequences.

To Recap: Steps for getting children to obey and following through with consequences if they don’t.

Affirm the child’s actions or feelings (“I know you’re feeling comfy reading on the couch, )

State the request (but will you please come set the table?”)

Restate the request (“Anne, will you please come set the table?”)

Don’t address the secondary behavior (If she slams her book down while coming, ignore it. Just say, “Thanks, Honey. The casserole is ready. Would you like to pick a fruit to go with it? or “Tell me about the book you’re reading.”)

Stay calm

Don’t engage with any arguments. (If she argues that she always has to set the table and she’s wrong, hug her, thank her, talk about something she wants to talk about. Let her choose something–the fruit, veggie, the type of juice–so she has control over something. If she’s right that it’s not her turn thank her for telling you and call the child whose turn it is.)

State the consequences and walk away cheerfully. (“We need to eat dinner right now so we can be on time for rehearsal. If you don’t put your book down I’ll come take it from you.)

Again, my kids are really obedient, especially in this type of request. They know we need to eat and leave on time. Which brings me to the point that the more children understand the why they need to do something the better. And the more they feel you respect them, you appreciate them, you show they have great value in the family, the better obedience you’ll see from them. You got this!!

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3 comments

Carleigh February 23, 2023 - 12:14 pm

For someone with a toddler, I needed this advice! It’s so hard to keep my cool with him – so I hope to keep this in mind when I need to teach him to listen & follow Mama.

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Brittany February 23, 2023 - 12:28 pm

This was honestly such a great reminder for me today! We have had a lot of trouble with the toddler trying to skip naps and I have been bad with the whole consequence thing!

Reply
Madeline February 23, 2023 - 4:40 pm

Great tips! I love how you gave so many options to rephrase your request without making it seem like a challenge.

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