Inappropriate Behavior Results in Undesirable Consequences

In previous blogs, we have discussed adjusting parental attitudes and applying appropriate approaches when relating to inflexible-explosive children.  Remember to stay calm.  Note that the initial goal is to help the child regulate emotions to prevent a meltdown.  Be aware of antecedent events and pay attention to the situational factors that trigger “vapor lock”.  Make concerted efforts to minimize such environmental stimuli and become more judicious in choosing what issues to confront.  Your primary goal is to help the child stay coherent, so he or she can think rationally and make an appropriate choice.

One effective intervention is to clarify what undesirable behaviors are negotiable and which are not.  Non-negotiable actions should be few and related to safety.  For example, aggressive or violent actions toward others cannot be tolerated.  These high priority behaviors could be labeled as “Basket A”.  “Basket A” is important because it helps you ensure safety and maintain your status as an authority figure.  When your child emits an inappropriate behavior, ask yourself this question, “Is this behavior important enough to induce and endure a meltdown when I enforce it?” If the answer is “yes”, it is a non-negotiable “Basket A” behavior.

If the answer is “no”, then the behavior is relegated to either “Basket B” or “Basket C”.  “Basket B” includes important and high priority behaviors that you can negotiate to a satisfactory compromise.  When you provide a choice of two or three options, you allow the child to think of alternatives, moving from the emotional limbic brain to the rational frontal lobes of the brain.  Consider the following situation.  Your young teen wants to wear shorts with holes and a cut off tee shirt to a school concert in late November.  The clothing is not appropriate for the school function and the temperature is cold.  Demanding that the noncompliant child wear what you want is likely to result in a big power struggle and meltdown.  After carefully listening to your child’s viewpoint, suggest a compromise such as jeans or a sweatshirt and allow the teen to select from several options, knowing the child will not choose what you primarily prefer.  Many behaviors fall in the “Basket B” category.  This option gives you the opportunity to discuss satisfactory alternatives with your child.  Then your child can view you as a “helper” instead of an “enemy”.

The third set of undesirable behaviors is “Basket C”.  Such behaviors are low priority actions which you do not like, but they are not significantly important to challenge the inflexible child.  Many undesirable actions will be in “Basket C”, and you learn to let them go.

Another important parental intervention is the use of logical consequences.  Logical consequences are those experiences that permit the child to learn from the social order of society.  In contrast to punishment, which is a painful action administered after the undesirable behavior, logical consequences involve giving the child a choice with reasonable consequences.  The parent provides the choice, identifies the consequence and is willing to let the child choose.  The spiritual principle of logical consequences can be recognized in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

For example, a child does not come to the table for evening meal.  The parent states the option: “If you choose to not eat with us now, you cannot have a snack or anything else to eat until tomorrow morning.  It is up to you to decide.”

Other examples are as follows: If a child breaks something or loses an object, the child must pay for it to be replaced or help fix the broken item.  A father utilized logical consequences when his child repeatedly left toys in the lawn.  The father stated, “I have to mow the grass.  If I have to pick up your toys I will put them in a bag in the garage until next mowing time.”  Children who cheat in playing games are instructed that if caught cheating, the game stops.  In each of these situations, there is a reasonable connection between the wrong action and the consequence.  It is most effective if parents speak and administer logical consequences in a calm manner, without a display of emotion, and without lecturing.  Gradually the child realistically learns that inappropriate behavior results in undesirable consequences.

“We reap what we sow”…. and that can become a powerful motivation for choosing wisely.

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Dr. David R. Leaman

Dr. David R. Leaman is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He had been in private practice in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania 1981-2013. Dr. Leaman is a frequent lecturer and professional trainer, nationally and internationally. He conducts workshops and seminars on a variety of mental health issues.

Book CoverDr. Leaman is the author of numerous professional articles as well as two books -- Making Decisions: A Guide For Couples; and MY CHILD IS ANGRY...AND SO AM I: Guiding Youth in Expressing Anger Constructively.

Using humor and cogent illustrations, Dr. Leaman presents vital principles for experiencing an emotionally healthy life.  Whether listening to Dr. Leaman as an event speaker, or attending one of his in-depth training seminars, you will enjoy learning about yourself in a gentle way and developing valuable insights for life.

Dr. Leaman and his wife, Joyce, are a dynamic counseling duo. They have been creating and leading family seminars and marriage enrichment weekends for over 35 years. Visit Dr. Leaman's website for more information.