5 Simple Tips to Set Consequences that Work



Dear YPP,

“My 7 year old son has started to become a bit destructive with things and just recently threw a toy down the stairs and it broke. It was his little brother’s favorite toy and he is really upset. We got a call from the Day Care he goes to saying that he has also been a bit destructive with the toys there. We don’t know what to do. Please help.”

Dear Mum,

Thank you for reaching out to us regarding your son. Please be assured that this is not an unusual behavior and many kids go through this stage but, having said this, it is something that you probably want to nip in the bud.

In these situations I like to think about what we would like the child to learn from his actions and the use of consequences can be a useful parenting tool for dealing with such things.

Consequences do not need to be really harsh and nor must they be seen as a punishment in order for them to work. They work best when they are applied consistently, firmly yet kindly and teach the child a valuable lesson: one that they can learn from and which satisfy these 5 R’s:

  • RELATED and RELEVANT – if consequences are not seen to be related and relevant to the behavior they can be seen as punishment ie. “You just broke your brothers favorite toy, there will be no iPad for a month”. There is no logical cause and effect or connection between breaking a toy and losing iPad privileges
  • REASONABLE and RESPECTFUL – they don’t always need to be harsh, just logical, so that they learn from the experience and are dealt with respectfully
  • RELIABLE to enforce – if the consequence is so complicated to see through, you are unlikely to commit to it and be consistent in the application of it

The bottom line is that we want this child to know that destroying toys is not acceptable. I like to ask the child what he would like to do about it to encourage him to think about it and perhaps come up with a viable solution. Ask questions and remain curious. Perhaps something like this:

Mum: Your little brother is really upset because his favorite toy is broken

Son: Well I didn’t mean it, it was an accident.

Mum: I know that it might have been an accident, I didn’t see it happen, but regardless, I would like you to think about what you could do about it?

Son: I could fix it but I don’t have any glue and besides Dad is best at that. I will never be able to fix it anyway. Can’t Dad just do it for me?

Mum: Maybe Dad could help you? How would you feel about asking Dad if he would help you fix the toy?

Son: Okay

Son: Dad, would you be able to help me fix the toy I broke, I don’t think I can do it on my own and I don’t even know what glue to use?

Dad: Sure, when do you want to do it?

Son: Now

Dad: Unfortunately I can’t do it right now but I could help you on Saturday morning. I know we usually go to the bike park on Saturdays but this is important and it needs to be done first.

Son: But I want to go to the bike park, it’s not fair….

Dad: I know that you love to go to the bike park with me on Saturdays but this is the only time I could help you and you have to fix it. We will try to fix it then. What do you think we will do if it won’t fix?

Son: I don’t know, give it back to him broken and tell him I tried to fix it but couldn’t?

Dad: How would you feel if this was your toy and it was returned to you broken?

Son: I wouldn’t like it

Dad: What else could you do?

Son: I could buy him a new one?

Dad: Yes you could but it will be very expensive for you to replace. How about a compromise and we go to the Dollar Store and you can buy something you know he would like with some of the money from your piggy bank?

Son: You mean I have to pay for it?

Dad: Yes because you broke it.

If we reflect on this process: there was a cost to him in terms of time, fun and perhaps cash AND he missed out on doing something he loves in order to find the time to fix the toy. There were also lots of lessons learned: to treat toys respectfully, to learn how to fix things and that if you can’t fix something, you have to come up with another plan which can mean replacing what you broke. This is probably exactly what might happen in real life if as an adult if you accidently break something that is not yours.

This consequence satisfies all five R’s and I think that your son will learn some valuable lessons from this and think very carefully about perhaps being reckless with toys in the future!

If you have any other challenges where you are struggling to find a suitable and viable consequence for something, please drop me a line. I also wrote a blog last year on “Setting Consequences” which explains it a bit more, please find it here.

Partnering You


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