Consequence is the New Punishment

Consequence is the New Punishment

By Gonan Premfors

Many parents use consequence as a parenting tool for fixing bad behavior. But in reality, they are misusing the term, as they are really using a punishment for their children under the guise of a consequence. This can be confusing to both parent and child, so let’s remind ourselves the difference between the two:

Punishment: the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense
Consequence: a result or effect of an action or condition

As we can see, the definition of punishment uses much more aggressive wording, which has a negative connotation and puts the “perpetrator” (or child in this case) on the defense and always in the wrong. If a child is mean to their sibling, they lose a privilege or activity. If they refuse to eat their dinner, they won’t get dessert. As they get older, they may then lose their phone, or laptop, or car, etc.

These kinds of punishments require parents to constantly “up the game” or raise the stakes, which may work for a short term gain. But in the long term, it becomes detrimental to the relationship between the parent and child. Punishing a child disempowers them, creating a power struggle where children will then start to claim power elsewhere. They may start to lie and later create and improve their manipulative strategies.

Punishment is ultimately a shallow attempt at correcting behavior rather than looking at what is causing the behavior in the first place.

Dr. Michael Karson speaks to how punishments do NOT work in Psychology Today “As soon as the child thinks it’s not being watched (as soon as the situation seems different in some way), the tendency to engage in the behavior will reassert itself.”

So, how did we start using a consequence instead of a punishment in parenting? Perhaps it is because “punishing” a child has become taboo thanks to supporting evidence and research. In the last few years, we have noticed that parents in our workshops have replaced the word punishment with consequence, due to its constant use on television and in some questionable educational programs for parents. But parents still misunderstand the term and when heated, they may “threaten” their child with a “harsh consequence” like, giving away all the child’s toys when they don’t clean up after themselves.

But some appropriate examples of natural consequences would be:

A child wakes up late, and therefore misses the bus to school
A child does not study for a test, and receives a bad grade

So children can learn from natural consequences like these, but it is important for parents to have conversations about the experience afterward. That way, children learn a lesson from an actual experience they had and the choices they made. And hopefully, they will keep those in mind for the future and make different choices.

As we help parents explore and utilize natural consequences instead of punishments or consequences (under the guise of a punishment), we will help nurture long-term relationships and not just short-term gains at the expense of the child’s development into an enriched, responsible adult.

Gonan Premfors

Gonan is the originator of the philosophies behind Gozamm, the home of the Parentology, Trust and Open Heart workshops. An industry thought-leader and a perennial innovator, Gonan is setting trends in the realms of families and business worldwide. Her eclectic background; being born in Turkey, married to a Swede, having lived in the Middle East for 25 years and now living in California, she truly brings a new dynamic perspective to an important field. -- view all articles