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Home Craft How to Parent With ‘Connected Consequences’ (and Why You Should)

How to Parent With ‘Connected Consequences’ (and Why You Should)

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Photo: Anna Nahabed (Shutterstock)

As the parenting trends drift further away from punishments and hard discipline, there is still a conflict among parenting communities—and maybe even within your own household—over how to get kids to do what needs to be done without being either too harsh or too permissive. We’ve talked about natural consequences for our kids, like letting them learn from their own mistakes or lack of preparation. A new term to consider as you’re helping your child connect their actions to the result, especially if you are the one doling out the result, is “connected consequences.”

What is a connected consequence?

A connected consequence is the equivalent of making sure “the punishment fits the crime” for the gentle parenting set who maybe don’t want to punish their children. Rather, the thing that happens after a behavior is either a natural or manufactured consequence of the action that came before it. For example, if a child does not put away their dirty socks in the hamper, the natural consequence would be that they don’t have clean socks for soccer.

Sometimes, as parents, we manufacture these consequences to make a point. If your child never seems to have their laundry where it’s supposed to be and it’s becoming an issue, the connected consequence you manufacture can be that they don’t get to go play video games until their laundry is dealt with. The consequence is connected to the event or behavior that is causing an issue. In this case, it is time spent on a chore being taken from leisure time. Time is connected to time.

What we do wrong so often

TikTok star Kc Davis (Domestic Blisters) has explained it well with real-life examples: In this video, she breaks down the importance of evaluating whether or not you are giving your child a “connected consequence” or a threat.

What the video points out that so many of us do, especially when tired, stressed, or touched out, is to threaten and punish kids when they’ve had a behavior we don’t want to enforce. If the kid with the laundry all over the house pushes your buttons and you’re not thinking of a connected consequence, you might simply tell them they don’t get to play video games all week, rather than just until they’ve finished the chore.

That’s more “punishment” than “consequence.” Because the video games themselves are in no way connected to laundry, the consequence is not connected to the behavior you’re trying to correct or change. It’s unlikely your child is going to connect these dots as easily—more likely, everyone is going to be mad and resentful, and the cycle will continue with the next chore or the next power struggle.

How to tell the difference between punishment and consequence

In an article for VeryWellFamily, Sarah Vanbuskirk explains that the difference between a punishment and a consequence is that “Punishments are about making kids suffer or feel shame for their mistakes. They may be intended to make kids feel bad. While consequences may involve some discomfort, the goal is for the child to link their behavior with the results of their actions to gain the needed motivation to make a different choice next time.” Keep this in mind as you are choosing your reaction to a behavior.

Another thing we do as parents is give too big of a consequence. We usually do this because we are so completely fed up with a situation that has gone on over and over. Your child never puts their laundry away and their attitude sucks, so you not only take away video games, you get rid of the video game console. But with these “too big” reactions, the punishment does not match or fit the crime, and your child is less likely to connect the consequence to their action—they will only feel the devastation of losing their game.

Even worse is resorting to corporal punishment—research shows that corporal punishment, using pain to “teach a lesson,” and name calling, excessive yelling, or humiliations, don’t work to change a child’s behavior and can cause lasting psychological damage.

How to model connected consequences

By modeling connected consequences for kids, and also by thinking out loud and explaining our logic as we do it, we will show them the difference between threats and punishments and natural and connected consequences for their actions.

So, when your child does something that needs a consequence, explain why you are enforcing this boundary. “I see you have chosen to break our agreement that you clean your room after your playdate. Until you clean up, you cannot ride bikes with the neighbor kids.”

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