“Since you didn’t pick up your toys, you can’t watch your favorite TV show before bed tonight!”
Sound familiar? Taking away privileges from young children that do not have a logical or direct connection to the action, and take place long after the misbehavior, does not work for several reasons. The punishment needs to be logical and immediate for children to make a connection between their actions and their consequences. Delayed punishments often result in a second meltdown when the time comes to follow through with the consequence, rather than teach them not to repeat the behavior. When time difference between the misbehavior and the punishment is too long, young children are not able to make a connection between the two or learn how to make a better choice in the future regarding their actions. Here are some things to keep in mind when addressing your child’s misbehaviors.
“THE PUNISHEMENT MUST FIT THE CRIME”
What this means is that the consequences your child receives must have a logical and natural connection to their actions; they must be somehow related. If a child is not playing with their toy appropriately, then they should lose their chance to play with that toy for as long as you feel fair. You can say, “It looks like you are not ready to play with that toy right now because you are throwing it around and it could break. We have to take care of our toys. You lost your chance to play with this right now and you can try again later when you are ready to take care of it.” Be sure to give them a chance later to try and be successful with this toy. When a punishment is not related to the misbehavior in anyway, such as loosing TV privileges for not cleaning up toys, the young child does not see the connection and doesn’t relate their punishment to what they did wrong. While this may work for older children, it is important to remember that young children have shorter recall abilities, memories and cannot think in the abstract, consequences need to be clear, concrete and immediate.
“NOW NOT LATER”
Consequences need to be immediate so the young child can make the connection between their actions and its resulting consequence. Young children may forget what they did when they got in trouble and cannot connect the punishment to their earlier actions. Furthermore, parents often waiver and do not follow through with their set consequences when they come too long after the misbehavior. Children will learn a pattern in which mommy and daddy don’t mean what they say, and you may lose control and trust.
“SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY”
Following through with your word is vital when dealing with young children. Children learn quickly, if and how they can manipulate you, and whether you mean what you say. It is important to follow through with the promises you make to your child, especially when it comes to enforcing consequences. Children need to know that they can rely on you, trust you, and know what to expect from you; consistency is key. Offer your child a warning or a chance to correct their behavior. Let them know what the consequence will be if they do not change their behavior or action. Be sure that whatever consequence you offer is one that you can follow through with if your child continues to misbehave.
Your body language and tone must match your message. Young children often rely on people’s body language and non-verbal cues to understand what is happening around them. When addressing your child’s misbehavior, you must use a stern voice, a serious face and not be hugging, holding or nurturing your child at the time. Hugging your child or rubbing their back are ways to show you care and love your child. However, they can convey a mixed message to a child when you are trying to make a point or enforce a rule. Always stay calm but be sure your tone and body language convey the message you are trying to get across to your child.
“CLOSING THE CIRCLE”
After the consequence is enforced, revisit the incident and give them a chance to be successful the second time around. Make sure your child understands what they did and why it was not a good choice. Ask them questions, “Do you know why you lost your chance to play with your toys?” “Was that a good choice?” “How can you show me you know what to do now?”. Children need closure in order to move on. Closing the circle for them by having a conversation about what they learned offers them closure and helps ensure they understood why they received the consequence.