My husband and I are trying to use natural consequences with our thirteen-year-old son as much as possible, but we had a disagreement lately about how to do it. When our son threw a fit because he wanted to meet up with his neighborhood friends (we said “no” because his homework wasn’t done) we told him that he needed to settle down or have some privileges taken away. His bad behavior escalated, so my husband took away his guitar for a week. I feel like it’s never a good idea to take away a creative outlet, and also something that my son loves so much. My husband thought it was a good consequence because it’s the thing that means the most to our son. What do you think?
–Confused about Consequences in CT
Dear Confused about Consequences,
It’s never a good idea to target the one activity that your child loves as a consequence. This feels like punishment to the child. Usually, its purpose is to make the child feel badly so they will change their behavior. However, the feeling that results from punishment will usually be resentment–not regret. Punishment is not effective in teaching your child to stay focused on the behavior you want changed. James Lehman recommends that you use a consequence that is as closely related to the behavior as you can get. This is not always easy or possible, but it is the best idea because it keeps the focus on the problem behavior you want changed. In this case, the problem behavior was your son’s difficulty in managing his emotions. That’s a skill he needs to improve. You did a good job in recognizing this and instructing him to “settle down.” Sometimes it can help to remind your child what works to calm down, such as a physical activity or listening to music. In this case, your son chose to not calm down, and therefore should experience a reasonable related consequence. What might be most appropriate is to ground him to his room for a few hours until he does calm down and can rejoin the family and interact appropriately.
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About Carole Banks
Carole Banks, MSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 16 years, and is a former 1-on-1 Coach for Empowering Parents. She is also the mother of three grown children and grandmother of six.