Have you been in this scenario before: Your daughter has just come home after curfew for the second time in a row. You are angry and begin telling her what the consequence of her actions will be. Suddenly, instead of being remorseful over her choices, she is now fighting you with more of an indignant attitude than ever before. She may even claim you are being unfair. Finally, you separate, each of you feeling angry. Quickly, you realize that the original reason for enforcing a consequence, in this case over curfew, got lost in a fight about consequences in general. To make matters worse, your daughter never even acknowledged coming home late again.
Here are a few tips that can help keep the focus on your daughter’s responsibility for her actions:
1. Set the consequence of an action and let it be known ahead of time.
“Yes you can go out until 11p.m. but if you are even a minute late you will not be allowed to go to the dance next weekend.”
2. Write all consequences down so there is no room for interpretation.
Standard repeating household rules like those for homework, chores, and curfews can be written down. Consequences for not meeting those responsibilities should be spelled out next to them. This can be helpful for the absent-minded teen who needs a little more accountability in order to stay present with her home life.
3. Ask your teen to participate in the idea of fair consequences.
Get your kid involved. This is one of my favorite tricks. They will honestly tell you what they think is a realistic and fair consequence for a given action. If you have a few kids in the house, this approach is even better because they will get creative together and hold each other accountable. The consequences must be set and agreed to before anyone crosses a line because, once a line is crossed, most teens will want to escape punishment and accountability.
4. Do not set the consequence in the heat of the moment when you are still really angry.
There will always be something your teen does that you would never imagine they would do. When this happens, freely express your anger but don’t set the consequence until you have cooled down. Consequences set in anger are often harsher and require more effort on your part to enforce than you can realistically manage.
5. Review the consequences every so often for additions or adaptations.
It’s good as your teen ages and your relationship with them changes to review and make adjustments to established consequences.
6. Consider making consequences a “give back” rather than a take away.
If your teen’s behavior has impacted the family, re-frame the consequence so your teen can see it as a way of giving back to and improving family life. This style of consequence teaches your teen to be aware of their actions and the ways in which they impact the family. For example, if your teen got home two hours late and family members were up late worrying, she could give-back by making everyone breakfast or vacuuming the house for the next few weeks.
7. Be clear about the expected duration of consequences.
Consequences that sound vague, like “You can not go out with your friends until I say so,” often end in more power struggles. Developmentally, your teen’s mind needs clear parameters. The clear beginning and end points of a consequence give them something to focus on. Being clear will also allow you both to move on to other things once the punishment has been met. Indefinite censure for an action will eventually bring a punishing tone to your entire household, affecting everyone. For that reason, carefully reconsider enforcing any punishment that lasts longer than a month.