Consequences: My Child Doesn’t Seem to Learn from Them

Posted December 15, 2011 by

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I have a child in my home who does not learn from consequences. He does not seem to see any connection between his actions, the effect it has on himself or others — or that the same thing happened last time he did it.  You can imagine how frustrating this is.

We are working with therapists and psychiatrists on this issue. We do not change the consequences each time we find something is not working. I’m sure we did that at first, trying desperately to find something that would connect the dots in this child’s head. There were stretches of YEARS of consistently using the same consequence. It got to the point that the consequence did not matter, but the fact that we were being consistent and following through at least meant to us that we were not giving up or giving in.

I wrote a blog recently about labels and if we “loved them or hated them.” My point was that labels could in fact be helpful when determining why children did the things they did. I needed to know where my kids were coming from and  having a label or diagnosis empowered me. I was able to look up definitions, symptoms; see what was similar about my child; see what worked for other parents dealing with the same behaviors. Sometimes it was helpful knowing that children with “this or that” frequently act “this way or that.” Sometimes I would think, “did the child read the manual?” He does exactly what the book says he will do and for all the reasons listed, as well. BUT we are doing everything we are told to do in response and the behaviors don’t seem to change. We need to be consistent, offer structure and routine.

Logically I know this particular child is not doing this to ME, but it certainly can start to feel that way, especially when I’m standing on my head and doing back flips to do all the “right things.”  Sometimes it’s hard not to take a behavior personally.

When we look at the research about children with the “label” this child has, we do not see good outcomes. Therapists tell us these are difficult children to work with, because something happened in their early years that cannot be undone. There are voids that cannot be filled. They have set ways of thinking and reacting to situations from their past experiences. Very rarely can they unlearn these behaviors. This was how they survived previously. They do not realize that they no longer need to rely on those maladaptive behaviors.  We are told that one day, something will click. It may be years.

We continue to offer the same consequences, although now we look at how the consequence can benefit US as a bonus to possibly, hopefully one day teaching this child cause and effect.


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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  1. Manny (Edit) Report

    Have you tried reinforcer sampling with your child? That is, asking him what his likes and dislikes are — especially tangible ones — so you can make use of those things as consequences? A consequence won’t be effective unless it means something to the child.

  2. Mandy (Edit) Report

    Emmie, I certainly can empathize with your situation. I have two girls, both with prenatal exposures that affect their behaviors in a variety of ways. In particular, the slow or seemingly nonexistent link between cause and effect for them. Believe me, I understand how incredibly frustrating it is to impose the same discipline for the same behavior time after time after time…

    That said, I have seen progress in some areas over the years. I believe that your consistency will win out in the long run and I commend your efforts. Hang in there, it sounds like you’re doing your best and no one can expect more from you. Throughout all this, remember to praise yourself once in a while for being such a conscientious mother. I wish you all the best.

  3. articles on parenting (Edit) Report

    Hi Emmie, I can feel that you are about to give up.. Although I honestly cannot relate to your situation because my daughter is only 3 months old, I just felt the urged to tell you that you can make it through, just be more patient with your children, its not easy raising them.. But I know somehow you can get through it since you have the support of your husband and a psychologist as you mentioned. Why not divert their attention to other productive things like arts, music, sports etc., I wish you luck and will be praying for your situation.. Happy holidays! 🙂

  4. Anonymouc (Edit) Report

    My 12 yr old SS is the same, I have been in his life since he was 3 yrs old and the rules in our home have always been the same we adjust slightly to fithis needs as he grew up. He lived full time with his mother and part-time with us until he was 7 yrs old when he came ot live with us full-time. He feels that he is entitled to what ever he wants. He lies, steals, and cheats nad has not reason to. We have also been consistent with his consequence and had him in therapy and no one can figure out why he does the things that he does. Any advice would be great to help try and get him back on track before it is too late. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  5. Melody (Edit) Report


    I understand your frustrations and your thought process. I too have two children 10yrs. and 9 yrs. who are “diagnosed” ADHD, anxiety, and bipolar. I have the feeling it is more than that though and you seemed to have touched on it in regards to the holes or missing pieces of information that patterned their behavior at a young age. For us, the “experts” are looking at the fact that there is not only a familial history of mental illness (bipolar as well as schizophrenia) there, but developmental delays as well.

    I like to think that behaviorally challenged kids are often struggling with neurological challenges that CAN be reprogrammed and we just have to figure out how. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’m continuing to look for them…

  6. tigerblue (Edit) Report

    Dear, my 17 year old grandson was taken away by me from my daughter when he was 9 months old. He was passed around from crack house to crack house until my wife and I(not his real grandmother, she has nothing to do with him) rescued him and nursed him back to health. He was a crack baby, and we know now suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. I know I overcompensated in raising this kid, he was always slow in school and was held back because he could not keep up. When he was in 5th grade, we discovered that what he could do well was sports, especially football. He went on to be an outstanding football player and I admit I was vicariously living through this kid. I did a lot of the things I know now I should not have done. Today he is impossible and probably on the brink of throwing his career and his high school away.. He is for sure a narcissistic personality disorder kid. The prognoses for this is not good, but now the whole family is sick of him and his behavior(his sense of entitlement, his using people, no feelings for anyone, he lies, cheats and steals) I could go on and on. I love him with all my heart, but do not like him one bit. We are at our wits end what to do about him.. he will be eighteen in 8 months and says he wants to move out(I will let him of course; I wish I could do it now) we are at a loss and broken-hearted because of this kid and what we know is in store for the rest of his life.. just venting. thanks.



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