Consequence. It’s a familiar concept to parents looking to discipline an unruly child. If kids refuse to listen, they have to do extra chores. If they get caught in a lie, they can’t watch their favorite TV show. If they talk back, they get sent to their rooms. In discipline, as in life, every action has a consequence.
And so it seems that within the world of parenting, the word “consequence” now replaces “punishment” — but the two are actually very different things. According to clinical psychologist and parenting author Dr. Shefali Tsabary, the best way to deter bad behavior is to enact true, natural consequences rather than the arbitrary, unrelated punishments that are so often enforced. She explains why on an episode of “Oprah’s Lifeclass.”
“There’s nothing more effective, let me tell you, than the power of natural consequences,” Dr. Shefali says in the above video. “What are natural consequences? They emerge naturally from the situation in front of you.”
As an example, Dr. Shefali tells the story of a parent who came to her with a frustrating problem: The child would always leave the lights on at home. Nothing seemed to get her to turn them off. “She got the lecture about kids in Africa and kids in India, and [she’s] so privileged — all of that had been said and done,” Dr. Shefali says. “But the kid was not listening.”
The parent wondered how to enact a natural consequence. After all, it’s not as if an 8-year-old can take on the electricity bills. Dr. Shefali had another idea: Simply remove the light bulbs.
“The kid loses the privilege of having a light bulb,” she says.
The parent gave it a try. It worked. “The kid got so scared, the kid learned,” Dr. Shefali says. “Whatever the situation is, use whatever emerges naturally to institute the consequence.”