Our poor children. They're growing up thinking that consequence is the synonym for punishment. It has become a euphemism for "the bad thing that's going to happen if you don't cut that out." Teach your children that a consequence is the result of any action and can be positive or negative -- a punishment or a reward. If your child picks up her toys while you get dressed, the consequence will be that you'll have time to go to both the supermarket (yuck) and the library (yeah!). If she doesn't pick up her toys, you'll have time only for the supermarket (yuck).
Why Teaching About Consequences Works
Impressing this cause-and-effect message on children throws the ball in their court: Whether your daughter gets to go to the library is up to her. "It teaches children a sense of responsibility," Dr. Elias says. " 'If you don't help out, I have more to do, and then I won't have time to do other things.'"
How To Do It
Make a habit of explaining to your child the reasons behind your requests. Offer occasional rewards for good behavior, Dr. Severe suggests. A trip to the ice-cream stand, he says, can be prefaced by saying, "You two shared so nicely today that I thought we could have a little treat."
When punishment does become necessary, connect it to the behavior that led to it. Lisa Brinkley, a Poughkeepsie, New York, mother, says, "If my 6-year-old hits somebody, his action figures are taken away. He knows that if he shows aggression, that's what's going to happen. He understands it."