When Do Children Understand “Consequences?”

Candywantitsig

Why is it so difficult to teach children that actions have consequences?  The question might be, “Why do children not choose the best course of action?”

It is difficult because of caregiver/parent’s unrealistic expectations of children’s brain development. Honestly, I think every parent should take an online course about brain biology when they have a child! Brain growth occurs at different ages, and when parents understand the appropriate ages, they will learn when it is best to expect that children can base decisions on understanding consequences. Most parents give children “consequences” as a punishment much too young an age, when they can’t yet understand them.

The prefrontal cortex is the last section of the brain to fully develop and is responsible for behaviour control and critical thinking. Before age 6, children are pre-operational in their thinking, which means they do not have the ability to think out plans and imagine consequences of those decisions. They do not have all the information in order to make the right decision. When they reach school-aged, from ages 6–13, they get better at understanding consequences and can make decisions. However, they do not have abstract thinking skills yet. School-aged children are still operational in their thinking which means they understand what is tangible and what is in their immediate environment – things they can readily see, hear, touch, smell and taste. They can’t think conceptually until the teen years, so they don’t understand the “gray” areas of decisions, or theory or ideology. Consequences demand that the chooser understands all aspects of the decision in order to make an informed choice.

Children are able to begin understanding consequences around age 6 and are much better at it around age 13. Parents and caregivers need to adjust their expectations accordingly. And consequences should never be given to punish children for their decisions. They need an adult/caregivers help to problem solve a solution instead of “pay” for their behaviour with a “consequence.”

Are Consequences Punitive?

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In groups, I get asked all the time if consequences are punitive.  It depends.  Consequences are natural outcomes that occur if a parent intervenes or not.  Yes, consequences happen to kids all the time when they are out and about in the world.  The rest of the world will issue consequences to your child, but only you, as the parent, will take the time and effort to problem-solve with them. Children will get consequences from teachers, coaches, police, and other adults.  That’s okay.  Those people are not building a life-long relationship with your child.  You are. When you take the time and effort to problem-solve, you are giving your child valuable life and relationship skills – negotiation.  Your communication lines will remain open and you will enjoy a wonderful relationship with your child.  Here are the differences between consequences issued by a parent in the name of punishment, and problem-solving which is a form of non-punitive discipline.

Respectful Cell Phone Contract

CELLPHONE CONTRACT FOR DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP

A Contract for Digital Health and Safety between Parent and Child

Date:_________________

CHILD

  • I agree to always ask you for help, explanation, advice and information regarding anything I can’t handle myself on the cell-phone, Internet and computer/video gaming platform.
  • I agree to abide by safety and health precautions as outlined between you and myself.
  • I agree to never meet strangers in person without your knowledge.
  • I agree to discuss and solve any problems that arise from meeting your needs and mine.

 

Child’s Signature__________

PARENT

  • I agree to discuss and solve any problems that arise from meeting your needs and mine.
  • I agree to never confiscate your cell-phone, TV, computer, tablet, music player or video game console.
  • I agree to abide by the same health and safety rules for my usage as well.

 

Parent’s Signature__________

 

MUTUAL HEALTH AND SAFETY AGREEMENTS

  • Tech-free zones will be meal-times, church, socializing with relatives, and when visitors drop by.
  • All electronics will be turned off 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Everyone does 30 minutes of physical exercise every day.
  • Giving attention to people takes precedence over attention to electronics.

Date We Will Review Contract To Ensure It’s Function For Child and Parent_________

Child and Parent’s Signatures__________________________

Consequences or Problem-Solving?

In parenting classes, I often get asked the following question:

When I give my 11 year-old daughter a consequence, she insists that I am being mean to her. I believe that it is respectful discipline. What is the difference between consequences and a punishment?

Brain development stage: Between the ages of 5 and 12, most children figure out that they are not choosing the consequence, and it is the parents imposing the order on them in the name of discipline. If the child doesn’t see the point, she may experience it as a punishment.

Here are the differences:

  • Consequences are parent imposed. The conflict is now between the parent and child. Problem-solving is the parent and child working together to come up with a solution to fix the problem. The conflict is now between the parent-child team against the problem (even if the child caused it.)
  • Problem-solving is a more real-world skill. It teaches kids how to fix things, make restitution, repair relationships and make things right.
  • Consequences are focused on the child, where problem-solving is focused on the end result; a common goal.
  • Consequences tend to be one solution. Problem-solving can be many solutions that would take care of the problem. The goal is repair, whereas the goal of consequences is to teach the child a lesson, which is punitive.
  • Consequences are almost always designed to hurt a child – either financially (pay for a broken item), socially (grounding or taking away cell phone), emotionally (time-out) or physically (hard physical labor). Problem-solving is designed to be pain-neutral. The goal is not to hurt the child, but help the situation. The goal is to fix the problem. Sometimes that is financial or physical, but the payoff is that the child feels good that they are now owning the solution and not just the problem. Children are very fair and more likely to dive into helping fix the problem when they know they caused it, because the focus is no longer on what they did, but what they can do to make it right. When they can put effort into fixing the problem, they feel better about themselves, learn real-world solutions and will make better decisions in the future.

Parents argue, “Yes, but it works!  Consequences change my child behaviour!” That may be correct, but the price is impaired communication.  Parents wonder why they don’t enjoy the open, caring, free communication that they once had with their child. They wonder why they are receiving attitude and silence. Pushback of imposed consequences comes in many forms. Ditch the consequences and use the adult method of problem-solving.

 

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Consequences Versus Problem-solving

Unschooling To University Book is Ready to Launch – Help us Kickstarter It!

Help us get the word out! We are promoting the concept, research and implementation of SELF-DIRECTED EDUCATION (both in and out of school).  I’ve had to wait until we had our third university graduate. We’ve launched a project on Kickstarter! For as little as $10, (in which you get a copy of the book), you can support the costs of launching the book titled Unschooling To University: How to impassion your disengaged learner. Just go to Kickstarter.com, register as a guest (anonymous), and search for Unschooling To University or Judy Arnall. Thanks!

Order This Book in Kickstarter

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/judyarnall/unschooling-to-university-book-project?ref=discoveryUTU Chris cover5

Dads Matter!

This is one of my favourite videos that show the brain science behind why Dad’s matter just as much, but differently, in the parenting relationship.

Why Dads Matter – Same love, different approach

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Screen Time Mitigates Summer Learning Loss

Summer

This meme has been floating around my groups and I have to say that I totally disagree with it. First, I am the worst model of this. Email comes first in the morning with my cup of tea. Every person has to find a routine that works for them.

Second, it sounds so dictatorial. Real relationship parenting starts with a conversation of concerns. I wouldn’t have a list like this for my husband as it is too disrespectful and neither would I have it for my children.

Third, the list defeats the intent. I can see a kid getting through this list in a half hour and then spending all day on electronics. When the parent’s protest, the kids says, “I followed the rules!” All the things on the list should be done without an expectation of reward.  Kids naturally like to help.  It will come with age and maturity, not bribery.

Fourth, children naturally develop self-control as they age. They naturally decide when and how to get dressed, shower, tidy their room, help out with dishes, and clean a room.

Fifth, as an unschooler who has never put limits on screen time when my kids were older than 6 years (there are lots of research that show children under six are at risk for language development with increased use of electronics), Canadian Pediatric Society Announces a New Position Statement on Screen Time for Young Children    I see no problem with hours and hours on screens with older children. The kids learn so much from the internet and playing video games. I do encourage the kid’s self-discipline to build in some exercise time, in their day. They are already very creative on screens with making memes, mods and stuff. Summer learning loss never happens when kids are allowed access to the internet – in fact, they have the time to learn what they truly want to learn, not what the government dictates what they want to learn. Here is a good article on why kids should be on screens all summer!  https://www.ucalgarymag.ca/issue/spring-summer-2017/article/unlocking-skills-power-brain-games

University of Calgary Magazine Article on Why Gaming is Good for the Brain