Discipline Kids with Positive and Negative Consequences

Increase Good Behaviors and Decrease Negative Behaviors

Time-out is an effective negative consequence.
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It can be tempting to only think about consequences in terms of the negative, like putting your child in time-out when he hits his sister. But, positive consequences for good behavior can also be an effective discipline tool.

Consequences influence how likely a child is to repeat a specific behavior. Negative consequences deter bad behavior. Positive consequences increase the chances that your child will repeat a good behavior.

How Consequences Work

Consequences provide motivation, even for adults. For example, you most likely go to work because you want to receive a positive consequence in the form of a paycheck. And perhaps you try not to speed while you are driving because you want to avoid the negative consequence of getting a speeding ticket.

Make Consequences More Effective

One of the keys to making consequences effective is that they must be consistent. If you only send your child to time-out half the time when he hits his brother, he may decide it is worth the risk to hit his brother again. However, if he knows each aggressive behavior always results in a time-out, he will likely stop hitting his brother to avoid the consequence.

Consequences also work best when they are immediate. This is why saying, “Just wait until your father gets home” isn’t likely to discourage misbehavior. Children need immediate feedback for their positive and negative behaviors.

This is true for positive behaviors as well. If kids have to wait two weeks to earn a reward, it may not reinforce good behaviors today. Offering an immediate positive consequence will increase the chances your child will repeat that behavior.

Positive Consequences

Take a look at how you respond when your child behaves.

What do you do when your child follows directions or when she's playing quietly? If you're like most parents, you might say nothing.

Good behaviors often go unnoticed. Reinforcing it with a positive consequence can actually encourage it to continue longer or more often. Your child doesn’t need a reward every time he does what he is supposed to, but praise or a small reward once in a while can be effective.

Examples of Positive Consequences

Positive consequences come in many forms. Attention is one of the biggest reinforcers. Talking to your child, playing with her, and acknowledging her can encourage her to keep up the good work.

Praise is another great positive consequence. Saying, “Thank you for putting your dish in the sink as soon as you got up from the table,” will encourage your child to do it again next time.

Other positive consequences can include tangible rewards. Rewards might include things like earning a new toy, but rewards don’t always have to cost money. Free rewards can include things like earning a chance to play a game with Mom, staying up 15 minutes later, or a trip to the park.

Some children respond well to token economy systems that allow them to earn frequent reinforcement. Tokens can later be turned in for privileges or rewards.

Make Sure Negative Behavior Results in Negative Consequences

Negative consequences need to be given to discourage negative behaviors. However, many children inadvertently receive a lot of attention for negative behaviors, which can be reinforcing.

For example, a child who is a picky eater may receive a lot of parental attention as his parents frequently point out his eating habits, ask him repeatedly to eat, and beg him to eat “just one more bite.” These types of behaviors may encourage him to continue with his picky eating habits. So beware of the attention you give to children and consider ignoring mild misbehavior as a negative consequence.

Examples of Negative Consequences

Negative consequences can include anything that would discourage your child from exhibiting the behavior again. Consequences should be age appropriate and may be specific to your child’s personality and activities.

A child who loves to play video games may respond well if video game privileges are lost for the evening due to not following directions. Sometimes it makes sense to offer natural consequences or logical consequences, depending on the behavior and your child’s needs.

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