Better behaved children at any age using consequences not punishment.

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Consequences versus Punishment

There is an interesting distinction between punishment and consequence.  A punishment is something an adult chooses to give out and is always negative.  On the other hand a consequence happens without choice and happens invariably. Consequences can also be positive. With consequences, the onus is on the child. In effect, the child knows that if they do something naughty or good then the consequence will happen. This helps them to understand that they are the ones who caused the bad or good thing to happen, not you.

Behavioral psychologists say that all our behavior is affected in this way. 

For example, if a child puts bitter lemons in their mouth and don’t like the taste the consequence is negative and they will likely spit it out and not try to eat lemons again. Conversely, a nice sweet tastes good (a positive consequence) and the child is likely to want to eat more!

If your bear this in mind and think about linking negative consequences to bad behavior and positive ones to good, you are likely to produce a well behaved child.

Timing Consequences

One thing to bear in mind when planning consequences is that the consequence should happen as quickly as possible after the behavior you want to encourage, or phase out.

For example, if your child behaves well at the shops and doesn’t have a tantrum, it is best to reward as soon as you leave the shops and also praise them for behaving (if they do) while in there.

If they misbehave and cry and fall to the floor and won’t get up, any negative consequences should also be immediate. Ignore them, and if they continue, take them straight out of the shops telling them they won’t get the present now. You must under no circumstance feel sorry for them and give them the present later.  They will just learn that they get rewarded for bad behavior.

Negotiating Consequences with Your Child

One good way to make consequences more effective, as your children get older, is to involve them in planning them. Ask your child what they think is a sensible consequence for bad behavior or what they would like to be rewarded with. They are more likely to understand and less likely to complain. After all they are the ones who helped plan them!


The other factor in dealing with bad behavior and encouraging good is the circumstances you and your child are in. The situation prior to any behavior is called an antecedent, literally – “before succumbing”.

The antecedents are the situations or “triggers” that lead to behaviors. Bearing this in mind if you know a certain situation normally leads to bad behavior you should try to change it so that it doesn’t trigger it.

For example, if your child has a toy that always leads to trouble, make sure they are not allowed to play with it until they learn to play nicely.

Or you may tell them before-hand that good behavior will lead to a sweet or treat. In this example you have changed the antecedent by informing them of a potential reward and thus set up a new situation.

ABC Model of Behavior

The above ingredients go together to make the ABC (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence) model of behavior management. Use it wisely and you will notice children of all ages will behave better!

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