The Value and Importance of Choices With Consequences

As parents, our job is to teach our kids to become successful and healthy adults. Our kids might feel that responsible and healthy choices are too restrictive. They might feel we are taking their freedoms away. We can teach our children that choices have consequences, leading to more or fewer freedoms, depending on the choice. To teach our kids to behave responsibly, consequences need to offer our kids a feeling of control. To understand the link between control over choices and consequences, let’s look at why kids engage in maladaptive behaviors, like addiction, promiscuity, cutting, and running away.

Control Over the Environment

What is the root of most dysfunctional behaviors? What is the underlying cause of a crisis or meltdown? Generally speaking, these behaviors are due to an actual or perceived loss of control. Even the threat or fear of losing control can cause a crisis, such as a panic attack or an outburst. When our kids feel like they have little or no control over their environments or their internal emotional states, they might resort to abnormal behaviors to meet their needs.

When we use consequences for behaviors and actions, we need to look at what behavior will be reinforced. This means looking at what is crucial for them to gain or to avoid. If our children use negative behaviors to control their feelings, people, or objects, we can teach them healthy alternatives to meet their needs. When we teach responsibility, we are not taking freedoms away from our kids; instead, we give them more control and help them make healthy choices.

What Is “Responsibility,” and How Is It Connected to Freedom?

According to Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey on “Sticking to Consequences and Making Them Stick,” “responsibility is a source of power” and not used to get over things and control children. Our kids want power and control, and that is why they might resort to sex, drugs, driving too fast, cutting, or other risky behaviors. But, as Aaron Huey says, “responsible behavior is the prerequisite for privacy, choice, and freedom.” 

Teaching our kids to be responsible is not about punishment or telling them what to do. Instead, we can use consequences to guide them to making the right decisions to get what they want or need. As parents, when we use well thought out consequences for our children’s poor choices. We can leverage our kid’s wants to help encourage them to meet our expectations. 

How Can I Create Consequences That Will Stick and Teach the Right Lessons?

When confronted with challenging behaviors, like drug or alcohol use, running away, legal troubles, or other issues, we might not be sure how to steer our kids back on the right path. We might be shocked by the severity of the behaviors or struggle with our knee-jerk emotional response. Remember that you are not alone! Parents everywhere deal with challenging issues when raising their kids to become healthy adults. Finding support and advice from other parents or professionals can be one of the first steps to setting consequences for your child. 

Keep the following tips in mind when setting consequences for your child’s maladaptive behaviors:

  • Give ourselves time to calm down and keep our emotions in check.
    • When faced with challenging behavior, like finding drugs in our kid’s room, our knee-jerk reaction might be to yell at our child.
    • We might need to take a moment to calm down and thoroughly consider how we will proceed to deal with this issue.
  • Consequences for behavior do not need to be immediate! 
    • We often think that the consequence needs to follow the behavior immediately for a consequence to stick. 
    • Breathe and take your time to think of a natural consequence. 
    • We can take our time to come up with a consequence for bad choices by saying something like, “I need some time to think about how to deal with this.”
  • Prepare for a power struggle!
    • When you set a consequence for your child, like “because you failed in your classes this semester, you cannot go out on Saturdays until you get your grades to a passing level. You will have to spend your weekends studying,” your child will likely challenge this consequence.
    • Be prepared for your child to use tactics to make you feel bad or manipulate your emotional state.
    • The power struggle can lead to negotiation, so always be a little stricter than your intention and ask your child, “well, what do you think is fair?” Then, try to meet in the middle.
  • Be sure that consequences are relevant to the behavior.
    • When consequences for behavior are relevant, the consequences will stick better and teach kids to be responsible.
    • For example, if your child is doing poorly in school due to not spending time studying, then restricting access to distractions, like phones or video games, has the intention of teaching your child to focus on schoolwork.

Setting consequences for the choices that your child makes can teach them to be responsible adults. When consequences for maladaptive or challenging behaviors are relevant to the behavior, they are not punitive but rather lessons on being accountable. Our kids might not understand that responsible behavior leads to more freedoms. They might fight us, calling us unfair or using other tactics to manipulate us to get what they want. However, keep in mind that responsibility does lead to more freedom. Kids might engage in challenging behaviors to control their emotional states or environments. We can show them that responsible behaviors can also give them control without the threat of law enforcement, bad grades, or other natural consequences. If your child struggles with addiction or other challenging behaviors, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here for you and your kid. Call our staff today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to make your family’s fire burn brightest!

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