Crafting Effective Consequences
By Jan Flowers, M. Ed,. TJS Learning Specialist
Jan Flowers has been a teacher for 25 years, 18 of those at The Joy School. In February 2018, she presented on the topic of Consistency, Choices and Consequences at the Early Childhood Methodist Conference. Read on for Mrs. Flowers' best practices for giving effective consequences, which she accumulated throughout her career.
Like all parents and teachers, I want to help my kids be successful. But if they do something wrong, I need to hold them accountable. That's where consequences come into play. Giving the right consequence to a child can be a daunting task. Hopefully the tips, guidelines and examples below will make it easier!
Assign Logical Consequences
Some consequences just make sense. For example, if a child won't eat his lunch, you can't force him to do so. Eating his lunch can't be the consequence for not eating his lunch. It's not logical. Instead, suggest something like, "If you don't eat your lunch today, you don't get to pick where we eat tonight."
If a child knocks down a playmate while running, it wouldn't be logical to give her extra chores as a consequence. It's better if the consequence is to check on the child she knocked over to see if he is okay and sit with him until he is okay.
If a child uses disrespectful words, he loses his phone for the night. Tell him, "You can't talk to your friends that way."
Sometimes when a child is talking during class, I'll say, "You're interrupting class, so you're taking up my teaching time. Do you want me to take up your free time?"
Use Currency Kids Care About
You should try to meet kids where they are with consequences. One way to do so is to determine your child's consequence currency, which is something a child really likes. What would your child truly care about if it was taken away? Always have this in your head.
Restate the Reason
Children need to understand why they are receiving a consequence. If your student has trouble verbalizing what led to the consequence, prompt him with a question like, "Why are you having to do this?"
Present a United Front
To ensure consequences aren't confusing and don't lead to more frustration and emotional outbursts, it's important for adults to present a united front. Talk to every adult in the house and your teachers at school, so you're on the same page. If your child comes to you after your spouse already gave a consequence, say, "I agree with Dad's consequence. Would you like us to come up with a new one? It's not going to be as good."
Make Consequences Enforceable
Does your child need her computer for school? If so, you can't completely ground her from it. Also, consequences that are more than a week long are hard to enforce. Your child will forget why she's in trouble, and she'll be angry with you throughout the time period.
Give Yourself Time
Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to do when a child misbehaves. If you are unsure, say, "You know what? I am so upset about this that I don't even know what to do right now. Give me some time to think about this, and I'll let you know what we're going to do." Waiting and uncertainty scare kids.
You can also have your child help come up with a consequence. Sometimes they're too hard on themselves. If that happens, help them come up with a more logical solution.
Let It Go
When it's over, it's over. When I give a child a consequence, I tell them and their parents that I'm not going to bring it up again. If a child comes home and talks about something that happened at school, that's fine. But a parent doesn't need to chastise their child for something he's already been punished for.
Similarly, if Dad handles a situation, Mom doesn't need to address it again when she gets home. Rehashing a situation just riles a child up again.
Real Life Examples of Consequences
The best way to come up with effective consequences is to have experience dealing with them. Over time, you'll have a treasure trove of ideas.
Below are some examples of real behavioral situations parents, fellow educators and I have experienced—in the classroom and at home—and ideas for appropriate consequences.
IN THE CLASSROOM
When a child is being disrespectful in the classroom, I call out the behavior directly to make sure they know what they're doing is wrong, stating, "You're being rude and you're not to talk to me like that. Would you like to go tell the principal what you just said?"
Often the term "consequences" is associated with disciplinary action. However, some consequences aren't punitive as much as they are helpful for all involved. Take the concept of a "rest spot" for example. It's a spot in your classroom where children can go when things get too intense, like a beanbag chair in the corner. If a child is overwhelmed, ask them to go to the rest spot. Make sure you don't call it "time out," as that engenders negative feelings. When a child needs a moment, tell her, "Go to the rest spot, then come back over when you feel ready."
Calls to Parents
Calling parents is a consequence that can be positive or negative depending on the situation. Sometimes you have to let parents know about an issue that happened in class. I try not to do anything negative with parents online, so instead of emailing, I call. Letting parents know about behavior can be a meaningful incentive for a child.
If you have a child who's often in trouble, be on the lookout for positive behaviors to reinforce. For example, if you see a child who doesn't pay attention to social cues interacting well with others, take a picture, then say, "I just saw you doing this. May I send this to your mom?" Send the picture to the child's parent and say, "I just want you to see how well he's playing with his friends." Some parents never get a good call or email.
If you're having a personal space issue in your classroom, one strategy is to tell students they should get really close together, and see how long it's comfortable. They will want their space fairly quickly.
If it's a recurring problem, have students put their hands on their heads or in their pockets when lining up. A great way to help kids visualize personal space is to have them stand inside small hoola hoops to demonstrate how close you should stand to your friend. Show everyone instead of just calling out one child. Teach kids how to ask for personal space when they're not getting it. If you teach them together, they have a shared understanding and vocabulary.
Another example is to liken personal space to a bubble. Say, "You don't want to pop someone's bubble. What happens when we play with bubbles? We pop them, and then we're sad." Reinforce positive behaviors with words or a small reward, like saying, "Wow! You've really been watching your bubble today," or giving them a bottle of bubbles.
While some of the previous examples may benefit parents, the situations below are specific to consequences at home.
Things You Don't See Happen
Two kids are in the back room fighting over video game controllers. If you ask what happened, you get two different stories. If that happens, both kids lose video game privileges. It's not fair to the one who didn't do it, but they'll stop coming back to you with this problem. You can also tell them they need to handle this on their own. Help them come up with strategies. Ask, "How can you keep from arguing about this so I don't have to get involved?"
If your kids are arguing in the car on the way to a restaurant, you can't force them to stop bickering. Instead, come up with a consequence. "You're arguing, so we're going home." If that's your only night out, say, "Next week we'll get a babysitter for you and we'll go out to dinner alone. Maybe the following week you can join us again."
You can't force a child to stop having a tantrum. Instead, give him options. Explain to him, "You need to go upstairs. You can't scream and cry in the hallway. You can stay and be calm with us or you can go upstairs." If the child refuses, offer options like, "You can go upstairs quickly, or I will help you go upstairs." If helping is making it worse in this situation, offer different options like, "Apparently you need to have time by yourself. Where would you like time by yourself? Here, or in your room?"
Timing and recording tantrums helps kids understand what they're really like in those moments. Take a video of the child throwing a tantrum, show the child the video, tell the child how long he threw a fit for and ask what he thinks about it.
Remember the tip to call parents? Well, the reverse work as well. Kids don't want to be in trouble at school. In fact, Joy School parents have told us they found success using teachers as a tactic. "I'm going to tell Mrs. Flowers about this" can stop the bad behavior sometimes.
Keep in Mind
My final tip on consequences: if you let yourself get upset, your child won. They're pushing your buttons. If you escalate, you're never going to win. Temper your consequences with love. Know that your kids wouldn't act this way if they knew how it was affecting the people they love.
Children who have consequences are set up better for success. They learn that their actions affect other people.
*This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of KeyNotes, an annual publication of The Joy School.
About the Author
Jan Flowers is from White Deer, a small town in the Texas Panhandle. She has lived in Houston since 1985. Jan earned a Bachelor of Science in Community Health from the University of Houston and her Master's degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. She began her teaching career at The Parish School, taught preschool and the bridge class at St. Luke's Day School for several years, and did private tutoring for several years. She became familiar with The Joy School when her nephew, Michael, became a student here. Jan has taught for more than 15 years at The Joy School and loves every minute. She feels the students, parents and coworkers are fabulous. Jan has been married to her husband Larry for more than two decades. They have two dogs, Dahlia and Lucie. Jan and Larry love going to Maine in the summer.
Bachelor of Science in Health from University of Houston
Master of Education from University of St. Thomas