Law #5: Connect Consequences to Behavior
I guarantee you can get better behavior from your child. But there is only one way to do it. You must make it perfectly, unmistakably, absolutely clear that what he does will determine what happens to him. No amount of nudging, cajoling, or, worst of all, threatening, will do a lick of good until you connect consequences to his behavior.
Psychologists have long struggled with the chicken-and-egg concept of what comes first — attitudinal or behavioral change. One group believes that folks must adjust their perceptions or feelings before they will change their actions. The other camp campaigns for motivating behavioral change first, with changes in desires, perceptions and feelings following.
As a behavioral psychologist I am a dyed-in-the-wool member of the latter camp. I strongly believe that changing a person’s actions leads to changes in thoughts and attitudes. For example, using good study skill behaviors leads to homework completion and good grades, as well as increased knowledge in the subject. When a child is well prepared for class, it is a more enjoyable and interesting experience. Usually that results in greater class participation, even higher grades, and a heightened academic self-confidence. This in turn develops into feelings of mastery of the subject and increased interest. Voila! — a change that began as study skill behavior has resulted in the attitudinal advantage of interest and enjoyment.
I’ve found that the effective use of consequences and teaching what I call the “behavior-consequence connection” are the most efficient ways of gaining better behavior as well as genuine changes in kid attitude. In this law and the two that follow, you’ll learn the simple but effective parenting tactics that make changes fast and make changes that last.
Okay, let’s try some old sayings on for size. How about, “What goes around comes around,” “You get what you pay for,” “You reap what you sow.” All of these mean the same thing — that what you do (your behavior) determines what will happen to you (the consequence). That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the behavior-consequence connection. Try as we may to be new and innovative, those old sayings still fit. We simply cannot avoid this inevitability of human nature.
I truly believe that good things come to good people, that those who persevere and persist achieve their reasonable goals and that slackers end up bitter and resentful. Sure, some folks sneak by and get away with cheating once in a while or run a red light and avoid a ticket, but in the long run it all catches up with you. As parents, we must teach our kids that they are the masters of their destiny. Blaming others for defeats or failures is a waste of time, energy, and self-pride. Most of all, we need our children to take responsibility for their behaviors on a daily, weekly, and long-term basis.
Kids Learn Fast
Let’s take a look at how this learning occurs with your child. She wasn’t born with the knowledge of repercussions of behavior, but the training begins almost immediately following birth. Within a few hours your beautiful newborn started getting the hint that if she cried, she would be cuddled or fed. As a toddler she caught on pretty quickly to the idea that holding on to a table top or your hand would help keep her steady as she learned to walk. After a little more practice, she probably felt confident enough to start cruising around on her own.