Episode 055: No Consequence Works. What Do I Do Now?

What to do when no consequence or discipline seems to work for your child. 8 parenting tips from child therapists

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Research shows that one of the best ways to train a child out of a negative behavior is to give the child an appropriate consequence when they use inappropriate behaviors. But what do you do if no consequence seems to work?! This is not an uncommon scenario for parents of strong-willed kids. Today, we again interview two therapists Stephanie Carbajal, LCSW and Mike Fitch, CMHC to ask what they tell their clients who are having a hard time finding an effective consequence. 

EIGHT Things to Try When No Consequence Seems to Work

1. Know that you are not alone:

This isn’t really something to try, but something that’s just a relief to know.  There are many parents who are struggling to find an effective consequence for their child.  You are not alone.  Strong-willed children are a joy and a challenge to raise.  One of those challenges is finding something that does work for your child.

NOTE:  If you have child with anxiety, depression, or trauma they may not respond as well to consequences.  We recommend you try the ideas below.  If you continue to not see change, we suggest you seek a competent professional’s to help you and your family.


2. Customize consequences to your specific child.

Discipline is not a one size fits all. Each child is born with different strengths, weaknesses, temperaments, and motivations.  Therefore, you will need to customize your approach with each child.  The process of customizing does include some trial and error.  That can feel really frustrating and take some time.  However, if you stick with the process, you will eventually find something that works.

Parenting tip: When testing out different consequences, you need to try it CONSISTENTLY and for at least a couple of weeks before you adjust a try something different.  Read more about that in #6.


3. Try some rewards, but not the typical reward you’re thinking of.

Sometimes when we’re working on extinguishing negative behaviors, we get too focused on ONLY negative behaviors.  If a child feels like their parents don’t see any good in them, it can lead to more negative behaviors.  Our kids need us to tell them what they are doing well.  Do a quick self-evaluation.  Are you pointing out at least 5-10 things each of your kids do well each day?

If not, here’s what we suggest:
NOTE: For a full podcast episode on this topic click here.

  1. Get a small mason jar or clear cup for each child in the family (you may want to label each jar)
  2. Get some craft fuzzies
  3. When your child does something positive follow these steps:
    1. Say the child’s name
    2. Tell them SPECIFICALLY what they did that was positive
    3. Ask them how they FELT when they did that positive thing (for really little kids, you may need to just tell them)
    4. Put a fuzzy in the jar
    5. When the fuzzy is full, the child earns a “Relationship Reward”.  A relationship reward is a special activity for the parent and child to do together.  It’s purpose is to help the child feel special to you and connected to you. An example might be having a picnic on the floor with your child’s favorite dinner or letting the child stay up late to play games with you.

4. Try at home play therapy to help your child feel more connected to you.

Children generally behave better when they feel connected to their parents.   At home play therapy is a heavily researched way to connect deeply and quickly with our kids of ALL ages.

Here’s a quick overview of how to do at home play therapy:

  1. For twenty minutes a couple of times a week, go somewhere in the house with your child where you can be together one-on-one.
  2. Let them pick the activity you are going to do (for a younger child, this could be playing with a toy.  With an older child this could be watching their favorite YouTube videos or listening to their favorite music).
  3. For the entire twenty minutes let your child lead the activity.  You DO NOT take charge ever (unless they’re doing something dangerous)
  4. Your only jobs during this time are to be present in your child’s world AND to “narrate” what is happening like a sports caster narrates a sporting event.  For example: if your child is building something you would simply say “Oh look, you’re putting those blocks together” or “You really like this video”.

Why at-home play therapy works:

It helps your child feel special to you and SEEN by you.  It also helps your child feel safe showing you what’s important to them.  That creates a special bond between you and the child.

Play therapy also helps parents.  During the play therapy session, you get to just enjoy your child.  You don’t have to tell them what to do or what not to do.  You aren’t focused on their negative behavior.  Rather, you just get to see how beautiful they are.  It’s also kind of relaxing.  Grown ups don’t take a lot of time to just relax and be in the present.  This allows you to do just that.

NOTE: To listen to a whole podcast episode on at home play therapy, go here.

5. Learn about more options

Know that there is something that works for each child-you just might not have found it yet.  You may need some extra tools from a professional or from another parent you trust.

Mike Fitch likes to use this analogy.  Imagine that you are trying to build a house using only a screw driver.  That would be a challenging experience.  It would be easier if you had a screw driver, a hammer, a saw, etc.  The same is true of parenting.  You may be working really hard at trying to find a consequence that works, but you may need someone to give you some additional tools, tools you’ve never thought of before.  Needing additional tools doesn’t make you a bad parent.  In fact, we think that seeking out tools makes you a great parent!  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tool belt full of options?

6. Try being consistent for a little longer.

One of the first questions Mike asks his clients is “How long have you tried and how consistent have you been?”  He says that parents usually get a little embarrassed because maybe they haven’t tried a specific consequence long enough or they haven’t been 100% consistent.  If this is you, please don’t be embarrassed.  However, you do need to know these facts:

  1.   It can take up to a month of you being absolutely consistent before a child will start to change their behavior.  Your child is used to behaving a certain way and it can take weeks for him to change.  It also takes time for a child to believe that you are going to be consistent.  However, with consistency, even the toughest child can change.
  2. Letting a behavior slide even once a month can reinforce that negative behavior.  This is just the way that the brain works.  Does it stink for us as parents?  Yes!  But now that you know this, you know how consistent you’re going to need to be.  Man, it’s inconvenient but worth it in the end.

7. Think about what motivates your child.

Some consequences don’t work because they are too small and the child doesn’t care about it.  On the other hand, some consequences don’t work because they are so extreme that the child loses hope and motivation.  The best consequences are big enough to motivate the child to not misbehave, but small enough that the child isn’t in trouble all of the time.

NOTE: For an entire podcast on consequences, go here.

8. Be open minded.

Mike has many parents who refuse to try any of the ideas that he gives them.  They’ve decided that nothing will work and the whole sessions they say that over and over again.   You need to have an open mind that something could work even if it takes a lot of effort on your part.

Happy Parenting

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