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Creating Effective Consequences
Q: You speak a lot about imposing consequences for unacceptable behaviors from middle-schoolers (cursing, disrespecting, not following household rules, etc.). What do you consider good and effective consequences for 11- to 13-year-olds?
A: Consequences are most effective when predetermined by the parents and children when everyone is calm. They should be stated positively and should be specific. Consequences should relate somehow to the misbehavior, not the attitude. Finally, there must be follow-through and consistency.
Parents have to choose which battles are the most important for themselves and for the child. For example, can you live with a child's "trashed" room? Can you close the door and say "When your clothes are picked up and the carpet vacuumed, you may go to the mall with Laurie." It is important to follow up by stating either "Yes, you did clean your room as I asked, so you may go with Laurie" or "I'm sorry, you chose not to clean your room, so you may not go to the mall with Laurie." Then walk away. My caveat is never to argue with teens. We adults always lose. Don't take their behavior personally. Keep your respect for them even if they act disrespectfully to you.
Consequences should not punish the parents and should not be unreasonable. For example, grounding a child for a semester doesn't work and it is unreasonable because they are not usually capable of sustaining hope.
You are the expert on your child. I do not have a set list of consequences. You will come up with the ones that help your child grow. Your school or local library will have many books on parenting with suggested consequences. Don't be afraid to let your child be frustrated. That is how we learn.
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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.