Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: What to Do after You’ve Given Your Child the Wrong Consequence

Posted June 5, 2009 by

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Let’s face it, we’re not perfect and sometimes that catastrophic consequence (“You’re grounded for the rest of high school!!!”) is just thrown out there in the heat of the moment.  It’s good to remember that you always have the authority to approach your child and say, “I’ve really given this some thought and I don’t feel like the current consequence is going to help you learn how to do better with X, so I’m going to handle it this way instead.”

I think parents feel a lot of pressure to do what they say they’re going to do, because they know how important it is to be consistent.  I respect when parents recognize how important that is, but I like to remind them that you want to be consistent with what works.

So, if you realize belatedly that you set up a consequence that doesn’t fit the crime, doesn’t really relate to the behavior and isn’t task-oriented, know that you don’t have to stick with it if you can think of a better alternative.  I believe it’s a mistake to stick with something that won’t work out of some rigid obligation to follow through with what you originally planned.

The important thing to keep in mind is that changing your mind after carefully thinking things through doesn’t make you a negotiator.  As a parent, what you want to steer clear of is changing already agreed-upon house or family rules and expectations, just because your child has acted out or is skilled at getting you to budge.

Remember, you have the authority to set the rules, change the rules, and determine what the consequences and rewards are going to be for behavior. The awareness that this is an option for you as a parent can be really liberating.

Look at it this way:  recognizing something probably won’t work out, and replacing it with something that has a much better shot, is a great way to model how to be a superb problem-solver.  It gives you more credibility to identify something that isn’t working — and to come up with a new plan — than it does to keep your word on something that won’t help to change the behavior.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, here’s one important tip: The Total Transformation Program encourages very direct and simple communication, so you don’t need to make a speech about how you’re trying so hard to be a good parent. Just state your idea in a clear and short manner,  “I think I could work on X, and here’s what I’ll do the next time around.”  It’s not necessary to be over-apologetic or over-emotional.

So put on that business-like persona.  It won’t make you appear weak or foolish to own anything that you could do more effectively as a parent, and it helps teach our kids the language and ability to own their behavior as well.


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. Louise Sanborn Report

    Tina, thanks for this great post. I think one of the most powerful things we can do as parents is to admit our mistakes to our kids, even if that means changing a consequence after the fact. My mother was the type of parent who did that, and I always respected her for her honesty — even if I didn’t let her see my respect when I was a teen!

  2. Tina Wakefield Report

    Dale, Thank you for your comment! I do agree that a common complaint from kids is that parents think they are “perfect.” Or on the flip side of that, kids will try to excuse their own inappropriate behavior when they’ve seen you slip up!! Sometimes kids will even ask parents why they don’t get a consequence. Many times, they do know when they’ve crossed the line; it’s up to us to help them learn appropriate ways to behave.

  3. Dale Sadler Report

    I love this comment, “. . . it helps teach our kids the language and ability to own their behavior as well.” One complaint of kids is that, “Parents think they are perfect.” By reevaluating something you’ve decided and admitting that you thought too quickly or reacted out of anger really shows your human side.

    Be sure to reiterate that you are the authority and that you are not negotiating or recanting (your decision and the consequence are still foremost), but rather you are admitting your own fallibility and showing your child that you’re doing your best to be a good parent.

    God Bless.



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