Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: Couple Disagrees over How to Use Natural Consequences for Child’s Behavior

Posted January 25, 2008 by

Dear Carole,

My husband and I are trying to use natural consequences with our thirteen-year-old son as much as possible, but we had a disagreement lately about how to do it. When our son threw a fit because he wanted to meet up with his neighborhood friends (we said “no” because his homework wasn’t done) we told him that he needed to settle down or have some privileges taken away. His bad behavior escalated, so my husband took away his guitar for a week. I feel like it’s never a good idea to take away a creative outlet, and also something that my son loves so much. My husband thought it was a good consequence because it’s the thing that means the most to our son. What do you think?

–Confused about Consequences in CT

Dear Confused about Consequences,

It’s never a good idea to target the one activity that your child loves as a consequence. This feels like punishment to the child. Usually, its purpose is to make the child feel badly so they will change their behavior. However, the feeling that results from punishment will usually be resentment–not regret. Punishment is not effective in teaching your child to stay focused on the behavior you want changed. James Lehman recommends that you use a consequence that is as closely related to the behavior as you can get. This is not always easy or possible, but it is the best idea because it keeps the focus on the problem behavior you want changed. In this case, the problem behavior was your son’s difficulty in managing his emotions. That’s a skill he needs to improve. You did a good job in recognizing this and instructing him to “settle down.” Sometimes it can help to remind your child what works to calm down, such as a physical activity or listening to music. In this case, your son chose to not calm down, and therefore should experience a reasonable related consequence. What might be most appropriate is to ground him to his room for a few hours until he does calm down and can rejoin the family and interact appropriately.

Every month, you’ll have a chance to ask Carole Banks, LCSW and 1-on-1 Coaching Manager, your most pressing parenting questions. Please submit them to


Carole Banks, MSW holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of New England. Carole has worked as a family and individual therapist for over 16 years, and is a former 1-on-1 Coach for Empowering Parents. She is also the mother of three grown children and grandmother of six.

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  1. Empowering Parents Coach Denise Rowden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

    To “Frustrated & out of options”: We appreciate you sharing your story with us. It can be worrisome when your child begins school and there are concerns he may not be ready. It’s understandable you would be afraid about the school not letting your son attend because of this issue. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s not unusual for kids to have “accidents” in school, especially in the beginning grades. Most schools are equipped to handle these types of issues. It may be helpful to speak with someone in the school about your concerns so you and the school can work together to come up with a plan for how best to address this situation. It also may be helpful to speak with your son’s pediatrician and therapist to see if they may be able to help with this process. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this challenge. Take care.

  2. froggy1015 Report

    My DS (5 yr old) has had problems with potty training. He had a little trouble but has been peeing in the potty since 3. The last 2 years we have been trying to get him to poop on the potty (we are told, “can’t feel it coming”, takes too long”, and others). We have been to the pediatrician & tried the miralax route. It did not help getting him to go on the potty but we have regular bowel movements. We went to the Gi specialist. There is nothing physically wrong but tried laxatives to help with the feeling of having to go. This did not help & only gave him multiple episodes with diarhea. We have been seeing a social worker who believes he will do it when he is ready. HES FIVE and school starts soon. I have not advised them yet. We had 4-5 weeks where he did it and was hoping that it would continue to get better. It is worse and I have run out of options. The therapist agrees that holding him back would do more damage than good since he is very bright. The challenges of school & other kids may help. I am scared to let the school know that they will not let him go. He knows how to change himself and have even starting making him responsible for cleaning his soiled clothes.
    Any suggestions/help is appreciated.
    Signed…Frustrated & Out of options.

  3. Carole Banks Report

    Dear ‘tntbes’:

    Parenting is a demanding job. It takes a lot of our energy to stay focused on what needs to be done in the moment. Somehow, in your busy day, it’s important to find time for yourself–to re-energize to meet the challenges of being a parent. It can be particularly challenging if you have a child with a learning disability, such as ADHD.

    It sounds like you do a great job of recognizing the need to find a balance between being supportive of him but also challenging him to do things for himself, and the balance between commenting on what he does well and remarking when he needs to do a better job.

    Kids with ADHD hear a lot of criticisms during their day. That’s why it’s important to pick your battles so you’re not discouraging your child. One symptom of ADHD is emotional dysregulation. This causes them to over-react. Because they are overly sensitive, try ignoring some inappropriate responses and immediately praise appropriate responses.

    In this article from the author of Total Focus,Dr. Robert Myers, “Turn Around Your Child’s Behavior:The Power of Positive Praise” (
    he writes: “A new study conducted in Germany found that boys ranging in age from 6 to 12 who were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were highly motivated to perform tasks successfully when they received ample doses of social reinforcement — i.e., smiles from the researchers. In other words, social reinforcement improved their attention, concentration and impulse control (some of the primary symptoms of ADHD). Other studies have indicated that positive social reinforcement also improves memory ability for these kids.”

    We appreciate your question and sharing your experience with readers and hope this information will be helpful to you.

  4. tntbes Report

    tntbes Says:
    July 8th, 2009 at 6:43 am

    We have a difficult issue with my 16 year old stepson. He wants constant validation, but puts very little effort into anything. The only expectations we have are that he clean up after himself and do his school work. He has no chores and doesn’t have a summer job. He has not finished the classes he agreed to take last year and is suppossed to be finishing them over the summer. He’s done some, but then decided it wasn’t worth finishing the rest. My husband adopted him when he was eight and he was going to spend some time with his biological dad’s family with the requirement that he finish his school work 1st. He’s worked on it maybe 2 or 3 days over the course of the summer. He says we don’t praise him enough and only give him negative comments. We do praise him whenever he does something helpful or does a good job of something, but it feels like praising him for minimal effort is kind of dishonest. Do I praise him for doing his own dishes when there’s still food left on them? I have tried really hard not to make negative comments because I know that hearing negatives constantly is not healthy, but the problem with this is that if we don’t draw attention to his behavior it increases, more food left on the dishes, more inconsiderate behavior like eating entire packages of food that were meant for the whole family. I really try but it seems like I can only keep quiet about this stuff for so long before blowing up, and I know that doesn’t help matters. I think the hardest thing for me is how rude he is to his sister (not my daughter biologically, but my husband’s, I’m step to both) She is 8 and tries hard to keep the peace, I don’t want her growing up thinking she has to be the victim in her relationships. If she teases him or tries to annoy him I call her on it but that doesn’t happen that often, while he belittles her at every opportunity. I understand that he has had a hard time, bith his parents are addicts, but their mother’s drug use has effected her too. When she has tried to take her anger out on other kids I have sat her down and said, “It’s OK to be angry, I understand that you are, but you don’t have the right to hurt others just because you’re feeling bad. Everyone has hard times and problems, you don’t know what your friends may be going through, it may be that their lives are just as tough as yours. If you are sad and need to be alone it’s OK and if you want to talk about it I’m here, but you will treat others with respect.” This worked really well with her, (meaning she still gets sad of course but understands how to deal appropriately with these feelings) but not so the older one. Granted he has been shuffled around more, but though he is adopted, in our home, he has been offered all the same opportunities she has, more actually as is age appropriate.

    So anyway the other day he sat down, at our urging, to take a test that he should have done months ago and very rudely told her she’d have to be quiet, she’s been playing with the cat. So without argument she stopped what she was doing and sat down to practice at her keyboard with her headphones on, and he still complained. I couldn’t hear anything that possibly could have interfered with taking a test. This from a kid who plays his ipod with headphones so loud it disturbs everyone else in the car and when asked to turn it down either refuses or complies and turns it right back up again. Just one of the many anoyances I put up with to avoid being negative. He does have ADHD, but it seemed more to me that he was simply preventing her from doing what she wanted just because he wasn’t able to do what he wanted. Their dad took his side, which he often does because Nick will make everyone miserable anytime he doesn’t get his way and it’s easier to give in. Chloe knew she was being treated unfairly and went off to cry, Nick blew through his test in 5 minutes skipping every other question because he hadn’t bothered to read the material and I then lost it. I guess I just feel like he uses his tough early life and ADHD to get everyone to make accomodations for him to the degree that we are all putting more effort into his life than he is. I also think this is not helpful to him because I doubt he will get far using these excuses with an employer. So I called him a spoiled brat, which also wasn’t helpful albeit true, and now he’s staying out all night and not speaking to anyone. I know I shouldn’t have said that but how much do we all have to accomodate him? And how do I not loose my temper? While on the one hand I have compassion for him, on the other I am totally and completely fed up.

  5. Barbara Report

    I have been in an ongoing power struggle with my 13year
    old daughter. Her dad has been on drugs and alcohol for
    years. His sister and mother always spent time with my
    daughter on his weekend. I found out that his family had
    been talking bad about me, when my daughter began dis-
    respecting me it all spilled out. I cut down on the time
    I allowed her to go up their house. Then they have
    gotten the dad sober and have me in court asking for
    custody. They have more money than I do and they are
    always buying her love. She sincerely says she hates me
    and wants to be with them. How do I get things back
    under control? I have tried so hard to love her and
    win her back and discipline just drives her away from
    me I don’t know how to break this fog they have cast
    over her, that she needs to live there. HELP!

  6. Sarah Report

    I need some serious help with my almost 4 year old and toilet training. I have tried no pants on and he runs to the potty and pees. But I am trying to teach him to go every hour or so so that he can know the feeling and start to ask to go. He will sit on the potty for hours and not go. He doesn’t mind the potty. What do I do. I successfully trained my older son at 2 1/2 yrs. I realize they are all different, but he will be four in January and will not be able to attend school if not trained. Help, Help, Help!

  7. M Santalla Report

    I need help with a power struggle with a 13 year old boy and his parents (us)… son doesn’t want (refuses) to get his longish hair cut, we (parents) want it cut… I have cancelled a recent hair cut
    appointment so we can talk it over together, but that has resulted
    in nothing but my son “winning”.
    What to do?? Has anyone experienced this before??

    Should I let it go and concentrate on bigger issues??/

    Hair is a mess!!

  8. Alisa Cook Report

    There’s a great technique called ‘Positive Time Out,’ (Nelsen, etal) that is an incredibly effective way to teach children (and adults) how to take a cooling off period before trying to resolve a conflict. When we’re super angry, scared or otherwise upset, the part of our brain the thinks logically, and filters words and behaviors, literally shuts-down, and all that we’re working on is raw emotions. So, it’s important to cool off – modeling that for the children in our lives, and teaching them this important life skill.

    Then, after the cool down period, we talk – well, more importantly, listen by asking ‘curiosity questions,’ like:

    What happened?
    What did you think was going to happen?
    What’s your plan?
    How can we solve this?
    What were you trying to accomplish?
    What can be done differently?

    The trick is to ask these questions with your agenda put away – we’re really trying to teach self-reflection skills here as well.

    Just some thoughts to add to the discussion.


  9. Susan Eisenhauer Report

    I would like some advice… I have a 5 year old who has been in “playtheraphy’ for 1 year. We took him to a pshyciatric doctor and he stated that our son matches all but 2 of the criteria/symptoms of bipolarism but that we could not get a concrete diagnosis till he is atleast 6. It is helping but his “fits” are esculating. We can control/calm him down most times. He has a 2 1/2 old brother who is starting to copy his (big brothers) reactions and actions. Also big brother has now made little brother the target when he is angry; it use to be me. He first started when he was about 3 months old with head butting. Worst event was when he was 4 he tried to push me down the stairs. How do I 1st protect the little one from the big one and 2nd teach the littleone that he should not copy his brother?

  10. Carole Banks, LCSW Report

    BadDad » I don’t think that its “wrong” when you decide something is not working and you change directions. I would simply tell him, “I’ve decided that we are going to do this differently.” However, if we loose our tempers as parents and take away the thing our child loves for long periods of time, in those instances, it can be a great opportunity to role model to your child how to turn things around. You could say, “I was very upset when I asked you to give me your camera for a month. I’m thinking that instead of that, let’s have a consequence that is more related to the behavior I’d like you to work on.”

  11. BadDad Report

    Carole–I’m a bit concerned now because I realize I’ve been taking my son’s favorite thing–he loves photography, and is quite good at it, so I’ve taken away his camera on occasion–from him as a “consequence” when he doesn’t listen. How do I retrace my steps??? Should I tell him I was wrong? Help!

  12. Jennifer67 Report

    Carole–thanks for this great advice. I have been confused about this myself–sometimes it’s hard to know what a good “natural consequence” is…and I want to make sure that in the end, I am teaching my daughters to be good people who take accountability for their actions. A pretty tall order, maybe, but who ever said being a parent was easy?



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