How to Use If...Then Warnings to Stop Behavior Problems

Use Warnings to Teach Children Self-Discipline

An if...then statement usually puts an end to behavior problems fast.
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If you tend to give your child multiple warnings, even though you say things like, "I'm not going to tell you this again," your child might learn to tune you out. It's important to teach your child you mean business the first time you speak. 

How to Give an Effective Warning

If…then statements can be a great way to address a variety of behavior problems. It can be an effective tool for children and teens of all ages.

If…then statements are along the same lines as counting. Where 1-2-3 Magic encourages parents to say, “1…2…3,” before following through with a consequence, if…then statements clearly outline to kids what the consequence will be and what behavior they need to change.

Examples of If…Then Statements

While there are lots of different times you might provide your child with an if...then statement, here are a few examples:

  • If you don’t pick up the toys right now, then you will have to go to time out.
  • If you don’t comb your hair right now, then you're going to have to go to school with messy hair. 
  • If you don’t turn off your video game right now, then you won’t be allowed to play it again for 24 hours.

How If…Then Statements Work

Giving an if…then statement simply means you are offering a single reminder that your child needs to change his behavior. Then, it is up to her to make the choice. If she doesn't change her behavior, follow through with a negative consequence.


It is also a great way to avoid power struggles. Instead of arguing with kids to get something done, if…then statements make the consequence and your expectations clear.

Offering a warning can reduce the tendency to nag. It also reduces arguing and yelling. By giving kids one reminder, it gives them an opportunity to take responsibility for their own behavior.

One Warning Only

Only use if...then statements if you're fully prepared to follow through with the consequence. If you don't enforce your consequences, your warnings won't be effective. Potential consequences can include things such as time-out or loss of privileges.

Don’t use if…then statements for serious behaviors that should result in an immediate consequence. For example, if your child hits, give him a consequence right away. He shouldn’t receive a second chance or a warning in the form of an if…then statement.

Reminders About Rewards

You can also spin if…then statements into positives. Using Grandma’s rule of discipline, you can remind kids about the positive consequences of doing something.

For example, remind a child, “If you eat all of your dinner, then you can have dessert.” This reminds kids they have a choice and if they want, they can choose to earn a reward.

Tips for Using If…Then Statements

  • Only give children an if…then statement once. If you repeat it over and over kids won’t take you seriously and it defeats the purpose.
  • Give kids about five seconds to begin to comply. If you say, “If you don’t put your shoes on right now, then we won’t go to the park,” give your child about five seconds to absorb what you’ve said and make a move toward putting on his shoes.
  • Offer reasonable consequences. Avoid saying something like, “If you don’t put your bike away right now, then you’ll never be allowed to ride it again.” Instead, make consequences time sensitive. Usually taking away a privilege for 24 hours is plenty.
  • Use a calm tone when giving if…then statements. If you yell or sound really angry it is less likely to be effective.
  • Pair if…then statements with a ​reward system or token economy system. Offer a reminder about the behavior needed to earn the reward. For example, say, “If you don’t feed the dog before dinner time, you won’t earn your token.”

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