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Giving Consequences That Work

​​​This information is included in our Guide to Parenting Teens. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Sometimes parents feel that no matter what they try, the consequences they give their children are not effective. It is important to remember that change takes time. A consequence may not change a behavior the first time it is used, especially with teenagers. You need to be patient and look for small improvements in behavior, giving the consequence time to work.

In some cases, parents give too many negative consequences. Likewise, too many positive consequences can result in a teen who gets too much for too little. When parenting, try to strike a balance between negative and positive consequences.

If you do not give consequences immediately and consistently, your child will not always understand the connection between his or her behavior and the consequence. As a result, the consequences are less likely to affect future behavior.

It is a good idea for you and your spouse to establish some positive and negative consequences in advance. This way, your tolerance levels are the same and your teen will know what to expect if he or she behaves in a certain way.

Here are some parenting tips to remember when delivering a consequence:

  • Be clear - Make sure that your teen knows what the consequence is and exactly what he or she did to earn it.
  • Be consistent - Do not give a big consequence for a behavior one time and then ignore the behavior the next time it occurs. Talk to your spouse about how to address behavior and provide similar consequences.
  • Be brief - Sometimes clear messages regarding behavior are lost if you lecture endlessly.
  • Follow through - If you tell your child he earned a negative or positive consequence, follow through with it. If your daughter talks you out of a negative consequence or if you fail to provide the promised reinforcer, there is little incentive for your daughter to engage in the appropriate behavior in the future.
  • Be as pleasant as possible - Research shows that teenagers are more likely to respond positively and learn more from adults who are calm and reasonable, even when the adult is giving negative consequences.
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